Norm of the North quickly goes south

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      Featuring the voices of Rob Schneider and Heather Graham. Rated G. Now playing.

      Endlessly creative, technically and conceptually ambitious flicks like Inside Out and The Lego Movie have raised the animated-movie stakes in a big way in the last few years. 

      It means you can’t really churn out a cartoon the way you used to. Which brings us to Norm of the North, a film that will have you longing for ideas that aren’t freeze-dried

      The throw-it-against-the-wall plot can’t decide whether it wants to be a journey-quest, an enviro fable, a misfit story, or a fish-out-of-water tale, so it tries to scramble all four, with ample bits from Ice Age, Madagascar, and even Minions thrown in.

      Norm (Rob Schneider) is a polar bear who can’t hunt, but he has a “special gift”: “speaking human”. He also has a signature dance called the Arctic shuffle (so funny! Like twerking!) that he trots out to entertain the apparent onslaught of tourists who have invaded the Arctic Circle. But a developer, inexplicably, wants to build Arctic condos on the animals’ land, so Norm and his entourage of cute, furry, Minionlike lemmings head to New York to take him on.

      Throw in a corrupt Polar Council that isn’t protecting the Far North, a mother who is trying to get her genius daughter into a private school, and Norm’s missing grandfather, who also speaks human.

      Aside from a few underwater scenes, the animation here is equally uninspired. The humans look strangely inanimate, like those old Flatsy dolls. The jokes would barely get a guffaw out of a sour-candy-addled six-year-old, with lines like “Holy icicle!” and “For the love of salmon!” When killers like that run out, the bear just starts twerking again. Or the lemmings fart.

      For an idea of how little Norm of the North can do with its material, consider a scene where a polar bear visits a high-end sushi restaurant. And then watch it go nowhere, like an ice floe broken adrift. Kind of like the whole movie.