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Messy 'Norm of the North' feels destined for early hibernation
Rob Schneider voices Norm in "Norm of the North," which is scheduled to be released Jan. 15. - photo by Josh Terry
"NORM OF THE NORTH" 1 star voices of Rob Schneider, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Maya Kay, Bill Nighy; PG (mild rude humor and action); in general release

The bad guy in Norm of the North is a real estate developer named Mr. Greene. Underneath a diabolical sharp nose and pointed chin, his body is a manic tangle of ever-moving arms and legs, whipping back and forth across the screen in a manner that is supposed to be funny, but feels more distracting and disorienting than anything else.

Hes a pretty apt metaphor for his movie.

Norm of the North wants to be a cute kids movie with a pro-environment message, but that message gets lost in a sea of disjointed storylines and staccato joke bits. Its almost as if its plot had been written down on file cards, then reshuffled in a panic after a strong wind blew them down Hollywood Boulevard.

Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider) is a polar bear. Hes next in line to be king of the arctic community, but hes such a softy that he cant even bring himself to eat a seal. He also has a gift for talking human, which doesnt quite make sense since all of the other animals speak English too. Then theres some kind of dance he does called the Arctic Shake that feels included to justify musical sequences.

Norms home is under siege, not from climate change, but from real estate developers. Greene (Ken Jeong) is trying to turn the North Pole into a chic destination development, and when his head of marketing, Vera (Heather Graham), arrives with a model home to shoot a promo, Norm and his northern friends decide to take action.

The plan is to send Norm to New York City, where hell infiltrate Greenes company as its mascot, then foil the venture from within, thus preserving his homeland and earning the right to be king. He brings along three lemming friends, which seem designed for Minion-like side laughs, and theres also a subplot concerning Norms grandfather, who vanished some time earlier, and may be Greenes captive.

Once in New York, Norm auditions for the mascot gig, pretending to be a person in a bear costume remember, he talks human and soon gets caught up in Greenes efforts to secure approval for his development. He also meets Vera and her bright, wise-beyond-her-years daughter Olympia (Maya Kay).

This set-up is actually very challenging to discern amid a near-constant barrage of chaotic action sequences, manic pratfalls and spontaneous musical numbers. Any parent bringing their kids along should hope they find the visual humor funny because no one will be keeping up with the plot.

Norm just keeps skipping along ahead of the audience, jumping and twisting like the Arctic Shake, hoping that if it throws enough jokes at the wall, a few will stick. You have to give some credit to Jeong, who gives his confusing dialogue energy (try TVs Community if you want to see what hes really capable of). Bill Nighy also voices an arctic bird named Socrates, if you happen to be a hard-core fan of the British actor.

But its very difficult to find a positive to take from the Norm of the North experience, and it's unlikely anyone will decipher its muddled eco-friendly message from all the chaos. Even the animation feels underdeveloped. Unfortunately, Norms most successful message might be to remind us how good the movies from companies like Pixar really are.

"Norm of the North" is rated PG for mild rude humor and action; running time 86 minutes.
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