Think of every trope associated with animated family movies and you'll find them all in Norm of the North, a thoroughly uninspired story of a polar bear attempting to save his habitat from a hypocritical hippie seeking to develop condos in the Arctic.

Like most movie polar bears, Norm is terrible at hunting seals, but very good at twerking.

Are there other even cuter creatures that serve as adorable comic relief? Yes. As Minions are to the Despicable Me movies, lemmings are to Norm of the North.

Does a lot of the film's comedy rely on scatological humor? It does. Finally, a movie that's brave enough to show what happens when cartoon lemmings pee into a fish tank.

The people who made Norm of the North even manage to shoehorn a legitimate social issue - climate change - into the plot in an effort to persuade adults to take the movie semiseriously.

What happens in Norm of the North is this: After learning of plans to build luxury real estate in the Arctic, where the ice is noticeably melting and cracking, Norm (voice of Rob Schneider) heads to New York to become the mascot for Greene Homes, the company behind the new development. But the evil-yet-zen-like Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) and his reluctant marketing chief (Heather Graham) don't realize that Norm plans to transform from spokesperson into crusader for just leaving his homeland untouched. He also, incidentally, hopes to find his missing grandfather (Colm Meaney).

There are a lot of things about Norm of the North that don't make sense. For starters, Grandpa says that only he and Norm can speak in a way that humans understand. But every other animal in the movie also speaks English, making their special communication abilities a bit confusing. What's more, the idea that anyone would buy a condo in the Arctic - where there appear to be zero amenities - is absurd.

Will 7-year-olds pick up on any of this? Probably not. They'll be too busy laughing at urinating lemmings.

At times, director Trevor Wall and his three screenwriters almost own up to the mess they've made. During a scene in which an attempt to shoot a commercial for Greene Homes goes awry, the spot's director says, "Anything can be fixed in post [i.e., post-production]. In one of my movies, I wrote the plot in post." It's unclear if this is a joke or a confession.

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.

Norm of the North * (out of four stars)


Directed by Trevor Wall. With the voices of Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Colm Meaney. Distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hour, 26 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (mild rude humor and action).
Playing at: Area theaters.