NEW YORK (CNS) – A wisecracking polar bear ventures south to save his home environment from destruction in "Norm of the North" (Lionsgate).
Though suitable for all ages, this animated comedy is unlikely to make much of an impression – either on targeted kids or on the long-suffering adults who accompany them.
Still, while it's certainly not in the Disney/Pixar league, and relies too heavily on scatological jokes to win cheap laughs, first-time director Trevor Wall's film does deserve some recognition for incorporating positive messages about family and friendship.
The eponymous creature (voice of Rob Schneider) suffers from a kind of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" syndrome: He just doesn't fit in with his ursine peers. He dislikes hunting seals for dinner, and would rather disco dance than growl at the gawking tourists on visiting cruise ships.
"I put the soul into solstice," he brags, twirling in the snow.
Norm is different in another way: He can "talk human," a gift shared only by his Grandpa (voice of Colm Meaney), the species' former sovereign.
"Polar bears are the icons of the north," Grandpa intones. "An icon with a voice can be very powerful indeed."
Norm learns that lesson for himself when a maniacal developer named Mr. Greene (voice of Ken Jeong) decides to build luxury houses on the polar ice shelf, threatening the ecosystem and the bears' way of life. Greene's assistant, Vera (voice of Heather Graham), is a reluctant participant in his scheme.
The mogul must be stopped at the source, and only a bear able to speak the lingo can do the job. Since Grandpa has mysteriously vanished, Norm is persuaded by the resident sage, a seagull named Socrates (voice of Bill Nighy), to hitch a ride to Manhattan and visit Mr. Greene's high-rise headquarters.
He's accompanied by a trio of lemmings, the Arctic's smallest creatures. Like Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel in the "Ice Age" films, these voiceless but cuddly stooges get into all sorts of mischief. In a misguided bid for giggles, they also relieve themselves in public as frequently as possible.
Having reached the Big Apple, Norm makes an ally of Vera and of her precocious daughter, Olympia (voice of Maya Kay). Young Olympia heavy-handedly schools the bear – and thus the audience – in the wickedness of corporate greed and its impact on our fragile planet.
Overall, "Norm of the North" is silly and rather tedious. Yet, in less time than it takes the picture's protagonist to shout, "Holy icicle!" all memory of the movie will probably have dissipated – like a morning mist over frozen tundra.
The film contains mild cartoonish violence, some bathroom humor, and a bit of adult wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I – general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Mr. McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.