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film review

Norm, ‘a bear with too much care and not enough scare,’ teams up with the lemmings to save the Arctic from an unscrupulous condo developer.

Is Norm of the North as fine a bear-based film as 2014's adorable Paddington? Well, does a bear rape The Revenant's Leonardo DiCaprio in the woods? No, it absolutely does not. And, alas, Norm of the North is more ursa minor than ursa major.

This computer-animated comedic fur-fest is in a long line of family-friendly movies about animals lost or toughing it out in the big city – everything from Paddington and last year's quite fine Shaun the Sheep Movie, all the way back to 1969's Midnight Cowboy (in which a stud named Buck – played with deer-like skittishness by Jon Voight – was preyed upon by Brenda Vaccaro).

Where amidst its high jinks Paddington subtly addressed xenophobia in a sidebar way, the rambunctious, heavy-pawed Norm of the North is much more on the snout with its own message. Voiced without distinction by comedian Rob Schneider, the titular Norm is a polar bear who takes it upon himself to save the Arctic from an unscrupulous Manhattan condo developer who wants to populate the North Pole with his luxury prefab structures and the 1-per-cent people who can afford them.

The young-adult Norm is not your normal white bear – in fact, you might even say he is the polar opposite of one. (You might, but this reviewer will not.) Norm is no hunter. He is, according to the others of his species who mock him, "a bear with too much care and not enough scare." He also, and this is important to the whole plot, can speak "human."

The peculiar genetic/linguistic quirk is shared by Norm's grandfather, but otherwise is unexplained. The grandfather was the King of the Arctic, but he's gone missing, his absence leaving a leadership void among animals that include a wise, bald and suspiciously hook-beaked bird named Socrates. He serves as a catalyst to the story and a much-needed mentor to Norm, who lacks in confidence and sense of identity.

Norm not only speaks and emotes like a human, he can dance – putting the "soul into the winter solstice." His unique talents get him more or less nominated to head to New York to disrupt the real estate plans of the story's villain, a skinny-jeaned, new-age Snidely Whiplash type involved in political bribery.

Helping Norm in his mission to save the North from humans are three lemmings, bounding, biting, farting little rodents who are too cute by half. They pee in inappropriate places – funny to kids, but perhaps raw fare for older generations raised on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and such.

The film's action is relentlessly paced, an unbreathing rhythm more suitable for Saturday morning cartoons than this feature's 86 entertaining enough minutes. Indeed, the film's producer is Splash Entertainment, specialists in children's television series.

In sum, Norm of the North will occupy the attention of young audiences while getting a message across to them about the dangers of humans going where they don't belong. Older audiences are less well served; they'll just have to grin and bear it.

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