North is a 1994 fantasy film directed by Rob Reiner in what he stated was an attempt to make his own Wizard of Oz. The story is based on the novel North: The Tale of a 9-Year-Old Boy Who Becomes a Free Agent and Travels the World in Search of the Perfect Parents by Alan Zweibel, who also wrote the screenplay and has a minor role in the film.
An 11-year-old boy named North (Elijah Wood) tires of his parents (Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who never pay any attention to him even though he's a model student, athlete, and even actor. He legally emancipates himself from them, and wanders around the world seeking a new family with a deadline of Labor Day; if he doesn't find a new family by then, he will be placed in an orphanage.
Along the way, he encounters parents from a wide variety of backgrounds (Texan, Alaskan, Hawaiian, Amish, etc.), and tries to blend in with each group of parents (well, not the Amish). He finally decides that his own parents are the best with the help of a guardian angel (Bruce Willis) who uses several guises throughout the film. However, a conniving kid friend of his, Winchell, uses the publicity North's escapades garnered to rally kids everywhere to make their parents more subservient to them. Knowing that North reconciling with his parents would undermine this, he plots to have him killed.
This is the film that famously caused Roger Ebert to write, "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it." (This rant later inspired the title of his first published collection of bad reviews — and Alan Zweibel just had to discuss said review as an eulogy for Ebert.)
Not related to the film El Norte, or Norm of the North (a film of slightly superior quality). This film was also Scarlett Johansson's film debut. Additionally, Jussie Smollett plays a small role in the film.
Provides Examples Of:
- Actor Allusion: The Amish couple is played by Alexander Godunov and Kelly McGillis, a reference to their roles in Witness.
- Adaptation Title Change: Downplayed. The film keeps the original novel's title but omits the overly long subtitle "The Tale of a 9-Year-Old Boy Who Becomes a Free Agent and Travels the World in Search of the Perfect Parents".
- Adults Are Useless: Save for the American family North comes across, Bruce Willis characters and arguably North's real parents. Nearly all the adults here are either stupid, corrupt, manipulative or all three.Considering this is North dreaming and him being a kid, well...
- All Just a Dream: The only facet that makes it back to reality is Bruce Willis' character and the good luck charm. Though this might just be a coincidence.note
- Ambulance Chaser: Arthur Belt (played by Jon Lovitz), who is literally seen chasing an ambulance until he comes across North. Apparently, he just uses it to beat the traffic.
- Artistic License: The various cultures depicted. When an 11 year old dreams the whole thing inaccuracies are to be expected.
- Big Eater: The Tex family.Pa Tex: Well I reckon we'll wake up early and eat, then we'll dig for oil and eat, then we'll rope some doggies, bust a few broncs and maybe get a bite to eat.
- Black Comedy: Certainly dips into it a lot at the very least.
- Broken Aesop: The film's message is ostensibly about the value of family and accepting one's parents. There was also "home is where the heart is." It does nothing to convince the audience that North had any real world logic in going back to them.
- How does what happens in a child's dream count as a compelling message? Those stereotypes presumably aren't prevalent in universe, so it fails show that there are far worse parents out there, which should be a relatively easy task.
- Crapsack World: Everyone in the movie aside from North, his mentor figure, and the whitebread family he's with are boorish, insensitive, loud, selfish, ethnocentric, and incapable of showing sincerity. And arguably, none of them are really that much better.
- Cringe Comedy: The film at least attempts this:
- Mr. Ho makes a crack about his wife being barren while she's standing right next to him. Lampshaded by the dirty look she gives him afterward.
- We get a joke from North's first foster parents joke about their own obese son's death, saying it was a "mighty big loss." We then immediately get a happy-go-lucky, over the top musical number with the lyrics "We had a son who was trampled by a ton of longhorns!"
- The scene where the Eskimos exile their elders into icebergs. What truly makes it tasteless beyond belief is how this is pretty much treated as heartlessly as possible, with a guy hurrying people along. Apparently, saying goodbye to your grandparents you'll never see again is time-wasting... home.
- Department of Redundancy Department: When the Alaskan parents describe themselves to North:Alaskan Dad: We have pride, North, and we're proud of our pride!
- Description Cut: When it became official that North will divorce his parents, a pair of parents discuss it with their son:Dad: Come on, Andy, his folks are gonna fight it!
Mom: Of course they are. They're not going to take this lying down.
[cut to next shot where North's parents reading the article and faint ]
- Eagleland: Played straight and inverted. Foreigners and Americans who don't exactly fit Type 1 are shoehorned into Type 2.
- Enfant Terrible: Winchell, who exploits North's achievement to trigger a child uprising and has no problem having North killed to maintain power.
- False Friend: Winchell, at first, appears to be North's buddy from school but he later turns into some evil kid overlord who wants North dead.
- Fantasy Keepsake: North finds the silver dollar in his pocket, complete with bullet hole, that he got in his Texas Family Fantasy after waking up.
- Fan Disservice: When North visits the Ho family in Hawaii, their bid to increase tourism to the island involves plastering every highway with a billboard of his likeness and an octopus pulling down his swimsuit, reminiscent of the early "Coppertone Girl" ads from the '50s and '60s. North freaks out when he finds out about this.
- Foreshadowing: Could be with the Pants Factory scene. Obviously what was going on would not be happening in a real pants factory. Because it didn't, it was all a dream. The Texan parents' song also could fit.
- French Jerk: Averted with North's French parents, who are portrayed as loud and obnoxious, but not actually mean.
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: In-Universe — there's nothing on TV in France but Jerry Lewis movies.
- Hollywood Atlas: Most of the segments are horrific pastiches of cultural stereotypesnote , including:
- Darkest Africa: A primal African tribe complete with grass huts.
- Eskimo Land: The "old people who are no longer of use voluntarily drift out to sea" has been turned into an industrial line.
- Everything Is Big in Texas: To the point that the prospective parents here intend to fatten North up because they pride themselves on having the biggest of everything. And apparently dress like Elvis in his latter days playing Joe Buck in a production of Midnight Cowboy on Ice.
- Gay Paree: Berets, wine, cigarettes, and Jerry Lewis on all the channels, all the time.
- Imperial China: North's Chinese family hails him as a boy emperor. (By the way, China's imperial period ended about 83 years before this film's 1994 release.)
- Hood Hornament: North's first stop when looking for a new set of parents is Texas, where his prospective parents pick him up in the airport driving an airport cart with horns, followed by a Absurdly-Long Limousine with horns on the front.
- Hope Spot: North is an inch away from hugging his parents, several seconds away from the time he was allowed to wander the Earth to find a better replacement running out, everything will be okay if he hugs them because it will nullify the "divorce"... and it is right then and there that the hitman that Winchell sent (who was just there waiting for him after chasing him all over) shoots him. Cut to North having a Catapult Nightmare wake-up.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Ma and Pa Tex casually referring to their previous son, who was grossly overweight and eventually died in a stampede; Pa remarks that it was a "mighty big loss".
- Informed Ability: It is stated that North is a prodigy as well as pretty much the perfect child to where other parents use him as a reference (i.e., North keeps his room clean). However, all of these are stated by North himself. Also since he seems to fully believe in all of these racial stereotypes, he is obviously not as smart as stated.
- Innocent Bigot: North seems to be one of these since his dream is full of broad cultural stereotypes that he appears to take quite seriously. It's not clear if he was meant to come across that way, however.
- Insistent Terminology: North's "crack".
- Karma Houdini: Winchell would've been one if the whole thing had actually happened.
- Large Ham: The Judge.
- Metaphorgotten: "A bird in the hand is always greener than the grass in the other guy's bushes."
- Modern Minstrelsy: The film's depictions of Inuits, Pacific Islanders, Africans, the Chinese, and the French are disturbingly stereotyped.
- Mood Whiplash: The assassination plot in the final third is awfully dark for a light fantasy.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: Winchell, whose proclamations of children freeing themselves from their parents' control as North has done are eerily Third Reich-esque.
- New Job as the Plot Demands: North constantly keeps running into a suspiciously similar character played by Bruce Willis who has a different occupation every time he runs into him.
- One-Book Author: This film marked the lone film role of Brynn Hartman, wife and eventual murderer of Phil Hartman. (She also made a few minor TV appearances here and there such as on 3rd Rock from the Sun. Her inability to land bigger roles - not to mention her marriage to a comedian who was becoming more popular by the minute - arguably hastened her depression, leading to their deaths.)
- Pride: North's Alaskan parents have pride, and they're proud of their pride. They're willing to shove their own parent off on a floating ice patch simply because they're proud of their tradition.
- Product Placement: A particularly egregious plug for Federal Express.
- And if you're watching carefully, Pa and Ma Tex are served Crush soda in their supersized limousine.
- Prophetic Names: The evil journalist kid is named Winchell.
- Pun: "Your Honor, the defense rests."note
- Refuge in Audacity: Big Time!
- Rewatch Bonus: The point where it switches to the dream is obvious on a second viewing, but the first time through it just seems like an unusually abrupt scene change.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The basic summarization of North's reaction to learning the Amish family was one of his stops.
- Small Name, Big Ego:
- North, who seems to believe all the parents around him use him as an example of being the perfect son. And through his dream, he seems to believe that he would be emperor of China, people would want to visit Hawaii just because he lives there, and his friend would become rich and powerful just because of the story about him.
- There's also the fact that in the dream North's horribly neglectful parents are so shocked by his leaving them that they essentially become statues and are put on display for everyone to see for no real reason, and the leaders of Hawaii would want to promote Hawaiian tourism by showing off his "crack," despite the large amount of problems that it would result in.
- That Reminds Me of a Song: The Texan parents sing a parody of the Bonanza theme song to North.
- Unreliable Narrator: All of the background on how smart and popular North is comes from North himself, and includes things he was not present for and could not possibly know. Bruce Willis has a voice-over narration, but his character only gets info from talking to North as well.
- When You Coming Home, Dad?: Subverted in the last act, when North realizes his parents were all right after all, even though they don't heap ridiculous praise on him like other parents.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Winchell fits this trope to a T, and not in a good way at all.
- World Tour: North travels the world looking for new parents, and the ones he finds are giant stereotypes.