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Review: 'Norm of the North' sequel is on thin ice

Posted Tuesday, February 12, 2019 at 2:50 PM Central

by John Couture

I have learned plenty since I first became a father seven years ago. As a movie aficionado, I have learned that kids really have no inherent taste in entertainment options and will watch some terrible things over and over again until you want to pull out all of your hair. But I digress.

The latest example of shameless child exploitation masquerading as a feature-length film is Norm of the North: Keys to the Kingdom. The sequel to the theatrically-released Norm of the North, Keys to the Kingdom continues the adventures of Norm as he acclimates to his position as King of the Polar Bears.

The first film was a critical and commercial flop, so the sudden appearance of a sequel was rather surprising. The direct-to-video film literally spawned out of nowhere with a whole new voice cast and even cheaper looking animation, which I didn't think was possible. The result is a highly uneven film that surprisingly was well received by my youngest child.

The city of New York invites Norm back to the wilds of Manhattan to bestow upon him the key to the city. Unlock symbolic keys to cities, this one actually opens up every door in New York and a sinister faction steals the key and robs banks in a polar bear suit, framing Norm for the crimes. Meanwhile, back in the Arctic, a bottled-water company is stealing ice to use in their product.

Let's just address the elephant, er polar bear, in the room. When your sequel is so bad that you can't even convince Rob Schneider to sign on, then maybe you should really evaluate the decision to release it. I get it though, while the animation is this second film looks like it was swiped from the clearance section of a Dollar General, it's not much different from the first movie. If I had to guess, they probably commissioned the animation work for both films at the same time and were stuck with a planned sequel or TV series with no real need for it.

All that said, both of my kids enjoyed the first film which floored me and they were eager to watch the sequel. My son thoroughly enjoyed it, while my daughter must have wisened up in the last 18 months as her praise wasn't as effusive as my son's.

They both watched it together, but after it was over, my son immediately demanded a replay while my daughter went off to read a book. Granted, these films aren't like other animated films that we've seen recently in that they completely cater to the younger set. Many of the bigger animation films are inclusive to the adults held hostage by their kids and sprinkle in enough jokes for us to make the experience much less painful.

Sadly, this is not the case for Keys to the Kingdom. I found the film to be completely uneven and had me questioning as to whether it was a planned film or two episodes of planned TV series spinoff that never came to fruition. There really wasn't much connectivity between the two main storylines and I could easily have seen them split up as two episodes of a weekly cartoon series.

In fact, it may have better served in series form as 91 minutes of Norm was tough to take, even for my kids who showed signs of restlessness from time to time. And yet, my son couldn't get enough and he's seen it at least five times now and counting. My daughter, who recently turned seven, has only seen it the one time and claims that she has no desire to watch it again. So, it would appear that the film's cutoff for an appreciative audience is right around five.

It's hard to imagine that the studio has any future plans for Norm, but never say never as I didn't think we'd actually see Keys to the Kingdom. Of course, with the explosion of streaming options in the marketplace looking to feed their content beast, the low-budget Norm of the North series might just find a home out there.

At the end of the day, the movies aren't terribly original (I mean the first half of Keys to the Kingdom is a blatant take on Paddington 2), but they do convey strong positive messages that resonate with their target demographic. They reinforce communication and teamwork which are key life skills that every fifth grader should embrace.

While it's hard for me to recommend this movie to anyone who has graduated from preschool, if you have children under five, you could do far worse. At the end of the day, I judge a kid's movie by how much freedom it provides them and this film bought me at least three hours of distraction for my son.

Norm of the North: Keys to the Kingdom is now available on DVD.