The ineptly paced, written, and animated Norm of the North is a cinematic defecation left to be flushed in the month of January.
It’s an evil film masquerading as liberal commentary, a cynical, post-modern grotesquery, devoid of any authentic feeling, message, or characters. The derivative narrative beats, the use of pop songs, the randomly inserted dance numbers, the marketable character designs, and the annoying sidekicks that speak only in gibberish, are all meticulously designed to sell action figures, McDonald’s toys, and a couple of sequels, not to make a compelling or good film.
That’s fine. Marketing teams have been making atrocious movies for decades. What makes Norm of the North particularly aggravating and fascinating, though, is that it is about evil marketing, and is that very thing itself; it’s an anti-consumerist film that uses this idea only because it’s now fashionable and also up for sale.
The film’s lazy self-reflexivity stems from a plot where Norm, who, of course, is a fuzzy polar bear from the North, becomes the poster-boy for Mr. Green’s housing complex that will destroy his arctic habitat. Vera is entrusted with raising demand for the pointless project by “using the North to sell the North.”
If the film had any actual interest in considering the effects of human pollution on the environment, or how big business uses images to fuel consumerism, it might pass off as weak satire. But, in its current state, the film plays like a hollow version of The Lego Movie, where pop songs are used earnestly without the subtle subversion of “Everything Is Awesome” and where the narrative openly rips off elements from Madagascar, Despicable Me, Ice Age and The Lion King — music cue and all.
There is deep-rooted irony in a film that indulges in the very thing it pretends to hate, like a telemarketer who doesn’t like being called at home, or an illegally parked police officer who gives you a ticket for being parked illegally.
For example, when Norm arrives to Vera’s office for an audition to be the face of the project, she remarks how the lemmings would make great marketing, winking at the audience as it fully embraces what it’s pretending to criticize. These supporting characters are superfluous to the story and are blatant rip-offs, riding on the success of past films to sell new toys.
This self-loathing has become an epidemic in Hollywood cinema. Jurassic World continually mentioned how the dinosaurs in the park needed bigger teeth to rouse the audience, as the film embraced more hollow spectacle; Steve Jobs has moments where the characters stop to apologize for the Sorkin-isms while indulging in them; and countless horror movies make self-aware jokes about not going into the basement.
Norm of the North takes this to groundbreaking extremes: it’s like an Aaron Sorkin film where the characters never stop talking about how they’re talking, or a horror movie set entirely in a basement that constantly pokes at itself.
In Norm of the North, there are instances where a filmmaker mentions how “everything can be fixed in post,” where Norm explicitly calls the villain “one-note,” and where he mentions how he hates randomly dancing for the human tourists. If the film weren’t so dubiously methodical, I would consider it clinically insane. It says one thing, and does another. It seems to hate itself to the very essence of its genetic makeup.
We’ve become too aware of convention, too conscious of how images are used to encourage consumption, and too skeptical of the entire system. Now the only way left to market is pretend to detest the very thing being embraced: to use the cynical to sell to the cynical, if you will.