Animation studios cast Big Names in their movies because they figure there’s baggage — the good kind — attached to their voices.
But not everybody is gifted with a naturally funny voice like say, a Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy or Jennifer Tilly.
So it’s surprising to me that more players don’t go the Steve Carell/”Despicable Me” route — find something funny to DO with how you sound.
Couldn’t have hurt Rob Schneider, a physical comic (and walking sight-gag) cast as a talking, marketing/showbiz-savvy polar bear trying to save the Arctic from development in “Norm of the North.”
His comic timing with the odd funny line is still there. Subjected to a disco outfit makeover for a public appearance, his handler (voiced by Heather Graham) asks, “Norm, can you come out?”
“I think I just did.”
Yeah, a dressing “gay” joke. Fits in nicely with the many lemming farts and pee in the aquarium scenes.
If you held a gun to my head, I couldn’t have told you that was Schneider’s voice as Norm, and I do this for a living. But a bland lead vocal performance isn’t the only failing of this scattered, disorganized kiddie cartoon. It’s got a little “Happy Feet” to it, a bit of “Madagascar” and “Ice Age.” And the whole doesn’t add up to much at all.
Norm, the somewhat hapless oldest son of the King of the North, can chase a sea lion — “That’s a SEAL, you generalist!” — but cannot bear to eat one. He’s nervous around the ladies, contemptuous of human arctic tourists (whom he fails to frighten) with only lemmings (this movie’s Minions, or penguins) for company.
“Who needs a bear with too much hair and not enough scare?”
Then a designer condo is plopped on the ice, a TV commercial is sabotaged, and Norm angles to become the star attraction of a hipster/developer (Ken Jeong) and his marketing director (Graham).
“It”ll be like Dubai on ICE!”
To do that, Norm and his lemmings have to stow away to New York.
The idea? He’ll speak out for the shrinking ice cap, and against the developer.
Bill Nighy voices a wise albatross, Colm Meaney is Grandpa Bear and Loretta Devine plays a faux Oprah — a talk show hostess who introduces Norm to America.
The animation — done in India — is about six upgrades behind Pixar’s state-of-the-art.
The sight gags — a polar bear twerking, and the aforementioned toilet humor — don’t offer much.
The result is a Save the Planet comedy that plays much longer than its 86 minutes. And that stars a voice you wouldn’t have recognized if I hadn’t given him away. Not that he says much that’s funny or profound enough to make us even wonder if that’s really Rob.
MPAA Rating:PG for mild rude humor and action
Cast: The voices of Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Bill Nighy, Colm Meaney
Credits: Directed by Trevor Wall, script by Daniel and Steve Altiere, Malcolm T. Goldman. A Lionsgate/Splash h Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:26