It’s an inauspicious start for Los Angeles-headquartered Splash Entertainment (formerly Mike Young Productions), which launched its feature animation division with this dud. According to Deadline, Lionsgate spent over $13 million placing TV ads on networks such as Nick, ABC, E!, and Cartoon Network. The film’s budget was reportedly $18 million, though it’s unclear whether that figure wraps in Lionsgate’s marketing costs, or is Splash’s production budget alone. Either way, both parties spent far too much money pushing out this schlocky direct-to-video quality project into 2,300+ theaters.
But the sad reality about children’s animation is that the film’s quality (and critic’s opinions) don’t really matter. Shaun the Sheep, which was almost unanimously loved by critics, opened with a tepid $4 million weekend. Norm, which is despised by critics, is currently tracking in the $7-9 million range over the four-day Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend.
Once the film’s ancillary markets, like home video, are factored into the equation, Norm stands a chance of being modestly profitable for all parties involved, and Splash might even have a direct-to-video franchise on its hands, which was its goal all along. Bottomline: producers produce what audiences are willing to pay for, and enough parents are willing to pay to expose their children to Norm of the North.
If you’re curious about what critics had to say about Norm, here’s a small sampling:
Geoff Berkshire/Variety: “With plot elements cobbled together from recent animated hits, the blandly executed pic might as well be titled Happy Minions of Madagascar’s Ice Age.…First-time feature helmer Trevor Wall worked with Splash on multiple TV productions (including Sabrina, Secrets of a Teenage Witch), and his visually unimaginative style falls in line with antic small-screen toons that keep the action moving at a breakneck pace to distract from paper thin storylines. That may work, barely, in increments of 15 minutes or less, but fails to engage over 90 minutes on the big screen.”
Katie Rife/A.V. Club: “Yes, this is a movie for children. But using that as a justification for lazy work, as if kids are inherently too dumb to know the difference, isn’t just condescending. In a post-Pixar world, where audiences have become accustomed to quality animated family films, it’s a waste of money.”
Jen Chaney/Washginton Post: “This much is clear: You and your kids could probably craft a richer, more exciting polar bear adventure using nothing but Klondike bar wrappers and the power of the imagination. That’s a power that is sadly missing from Norm of the North.”
Glenn Kenny/New York Times: “Directed by Trevor Wall from a screenplay by three other mammals, Norm aspires to the second-rate smart-aleckyness that characterizes current DreamWorks animated fare but doesn’t even get within, um, swiping distance.…The title character of Norm of the North may be a bear, but the movie is a dog. Actually, that assessment is unfair to dogs — real, anthropomorphic and metaphorical.”
Devan Coggan/Entertainment Weekly: “The animation already looks dated, and it feels as lazy as the bland narrative, which finds Norm traveling to New York City to try stop construction on his home. Norm’s lemming sidekicks, the kind of cuddly, dialogue-free companions who function as blatant Minions ripoffs, feel like a metaphor for the entire movie: there to hopefully launch a franchise first and actually provide some comic relief second.”
Adam Graham/The Detroit News: “Shoddily animated, cheap looking and witless, Norm of the North is a third-rate clunker for the kiddies. This computer animated polar bear tale aims to impart a message to the next generation about the importance of preserving the Arctic. Good on that. But it does so in the dumbest way possible, illustrating man’s interference with the polar ice caps in a way that defies common sense, even for a children’s film.”