- Acceptable Religious Targets: The Amish family. North doesn't even give them a chance.
- Accidental Aesop: The intended aesop was "Home is where the heart is". However, The Reveal that North's wildly caricatured interpretation of the world was All Just a Dream lends itself to the more-fitting aesop "Just because you're a straight-A student, doesn't mean you have an accurate perception of the world".
- Accidental Innuendo: When North has a panic attack, his dad says, "Quick, loosen his pants!" Unsurprisingly, The Nostalgia Critic went to town with this one in his review of the movie.
- Adaptation Displacement: North, the Rob Reiner film, is one of the most notorious bad movies ever made, yet North, the 1984 novel by Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel, which was adapted into this film, has fallen into obscurity. (helps that the book is, by Zweibel's admission, "a worst seller" that only got an adaptation, let alone a second printing, because his friend Rob Reiner liked it so much he wanted to make a movie out of it)
- Alternative Character Interpretation: Either North is a wonderful child whose parents don't appreciate him, or a raging egotist who doesn't get other cultures. Consider the fact that all the cultures depicted in the dream would seem to indicate that is how he views them, not how they really are. This would seem to indicate the kid's a bigot, and, especially in light of his reputedly high intelligence (i.e., he should know better but apparently chooses not to), subsequently less sympathetic. Of course, the real world ending doesn't seem to vindicate North's accomplishments and intelligence, implying he is at best average if not straight up overcompensating.
- Alternative Joke Interpretation: In an example of how this can go horribly wrong, the film's intention of trying to be a pastiche of children's morality tales gets undermined when the shifting tone of the film renders it an Indecisive Parody. Because of this, one of the film's defining problems is its tendency for its jokes to go horribly awry in that a joke would be made that is supposed to land under a certain context, but because the film struggles with its tone, not only do most of its jokes fail to land, they actually have the tendency to come out completely wrong under the context that they are presented in.
- Take for example the scene where North's dad attempts to loosen his (North's) pants in an attempt at CPR. Rather than being a joke about his line of work, It indirectly paints him as a Memetic Molester. Then when we see him at his factory workplace, the weirdness of the pants tryouts in the background unintentionally reinforces this trope, in that even after the All Just a Dream reveal, it appears to imply that he has a noticeable fetish for pants. As such, this problem repeats itself like a line of dominoes, as you see the problem come up again and again, with Betsy Lou, the Hawaiian billboard, and most of the scenes involving Bruce Willis's character. The result is a tonally upbeat film with a plot and story sequence so mean-spirited it comes off as too nihilistic to be funny or inspiring in any way that helps its own case for standing out as a kid's morality-tale at all, even if intended ironically.
- Anticlimax: The fact that they dramatically-built-up North re-uniting with his parents before he is sent to an orphanage, and then had Winchell's henchman shoot at him could have made for an acceptable One-Scene Wonder moment if Winchell somehow lost. Alas, all it does is deprive the film of any fridge brilliance recognition of it being All Just a Dream and instead replaces it with a big cop-out that nullifies the whole plot and drama of the film, rendering the already tonally befuddled film little more than a waste of time for anyone unfortunate enough to have seen it.
- Audience-Alienating Premise: It's supposed to be a kids' movie with some parental bonuses in there, but the "child-friendly" scenes are too childish for adults and the "adult jokes" are too raunchy for kids... and that's not even getting into the stereotypes. In short, no member of the target audience is pleased.
- Awesome Music: The opening title theme is worthy of note, actually proving to be a very whimsical, inviting tune. And then the movie itself starts...
- Big-Lipped Alligator Moment:
- The over-the-top musical number sung by Ma and Pa Tex, set to the tune of the Bonanza Title Theme Tune. (Note that Bonanza was set in Nevada, which not only doesn't even border Texas, it doesn't even border a state that borders Texas.)note
- As North's plane lands in Alaska, it slowly drops its speed as it gets closer and closer to the airport building, finally lightly bumping off the window. Cut to the next scene.
- It's allegedly a Shout-Out/spoof to one iconic gag from the movie Airplane!. While it would be bad enough that it is from a different, much funnier movie, it has the gall to turn it into (and fail at being) an anti-joke by not showing the plane expectantly crashing through, essentially missing the point of the joke in the original while lacking any original context to fall back on. The Nostalgia Critic didn't "get" the reference, either.
- The Eskimo family starts whistling the theme to The Andy Griffith Show — the entire theme — for the sole, flimsy sight gag that Andy and his son Opie would be shown fishing to this song over the opening credits. However, there's Fridge Brilliance in that scene: the song's official title is "The Fishin' Hole".
- In the offices of the pants factory, there are men engaging things such as golfing, dancing, chopping down trees, and saying prayers set against suitable backdrops. The joke is apparently that they're testing how their pants hold up during these activities, but it is so out of left field, and passes by so fast that the "joke" is easily missed. Possibly a case of Fridge Brilliance since this is all a dream, perhaps that's what North (or at least some part of his subconscious) thinks working at a pants factory somehow entails., then there's his dad's method of CPR...
- Bile Fascination: As put by Nathan Rabin, "Ebert went into North expecting another winner from a talented filmmaker on a hot streak. I went in expecting one of the worst films ever made." In short, the ruined reputation means new viewers are only in to see if the movie is as bad as they say (particularly regarding the culturally-insensitive jokes).
- Designated Hero: We're supposed to sympathize with North's quest for better parents as he apparently feels both unappreciated and neglected; the fact that this is barely showcased in any meaningful manner or that he is the one actively dreaming up the many ethnic stereotypes seen throughout his fantastical journey leaves many to wonder whether our hero is simply racist and too full of himself to recognize what he has.
- Eight Deadly Words: One of the biggest complaints with the movie. Nearly everybody North meets is a combination of being either Too Dumb to Live, useless, vulgar, or self-absorbed, piled up with the majority of the families he meets being ruthless, outdated stereotypes.
- Ethnic Scrappy: The main reason why this movie is hated. Texans, Hawaiians, Amish, French. The Inuits in particular are the most reviled due to the use of Yellowface and their backwards tradition of leaving their old out to die in the sea.
- Funny Moments: Perhaps the one legitimately funny joke in the movie:North: (to the Amish) I have always dreamt of a life without the ever-present nuisance of electricity! Uh, just let me grab something from the plane.
(cut to the plane cockpit)
North: (to the pilots) Floor it!
(the plane flies off very quickly)
- Glurge: The film seems to think of itself as an uplifting morality tale. Instead it's the last thing you need to show either an abused child, a legitimately loving yet strapped-for-time parent, or anyone from one of several foreign/non-conventional (to the US) cultures. Unless they have a knack for drawing humor out of self-deprecation or train wrecks.
- Harsher in Hindsight: The bit with North's butt crack on a billboard becomes even more disturbing after Elijah Wood claimed that Hollywood has a pedophilia problem, and he himself only avoided being molested because of his mother.
- Hilarious in Hindsight:
- It's impossible to watch this movie now and not briefly think, "Wait, George and Elaine got married?"note And they gave birth to Frodo, no less!
- North West, anyone?
- This was Scarlett Johansson's movie debut (in case you're wondering, she plays the daughter in the last family that North visits). Lucy, in which she starred, thrashed North director Rob Reiner's And So It Goes at the box office twenty years later (almost to the day, since North opened on July 22, 1994 and Lucy bowed on July 25, 2014).
- Elijah Wood's character has a nervous breakdown and starts seeing a man in an animal costume who claims to be his guardian angel. Where have we seen that before?
- North's friend Adam, who is the only child to come to his aid when North attempts to return home to his true parents, is played by a then-unknown Jussie Smollett. Yes, THAT Jussie Smollett.
- Memetic Molester:
"Quick, loosen his pants!"
- The film portrays the entire populace of the state of Hawaii as this, thanks to the tourist ad with North's ass.
- North's dad comes across as one, thanks to a very unfortunate scene. (which was probably intended to just be a joke about his obsession with pants, given that that's what he designs for a living).
- And seeing as the Hawaii thing, with the octopus and its tentacles, was All Just a Dream from an 11 year old whose dad, in the real world, has some fascination with loosening North's pants...
- North accepting a ride home from Bruce Willis's character (whom he has only just met) at the end of the movie - especially since not getting in cars with strangers is one of the first things children are taught - definitely feels uncomfortable, especially in the wake of the above.
- Moral Event Horizon: Winchell using North's unique situation (extremely unique — pretty sure other parents that were forced to fight in court for their right to be parents wouldn't be rendered comatose beforehand) as leverage to create a "Children Supremacy" movement and when North decides to go back to his parents, sending out a hit-man to kill him in order to keep his power.
Bruce: Look, kid, just because I'm in a bunny suit doesn't mean I haven't—Nostalgia Critic: Yeah, yeah, it does. Whatever you're about to say, being in a bunny suit pretty much destroys all credibility.
- North's panic attack. Apart from the fact the writers apparently didn't know what a panic attack looks like (i.e. not like a violent seizure), his dad's "Quick, loosen his pants" line just hammers the point home.
- The Bonanza-like musical number sung by Pa Tex and Ma Tex. It is the only musical number in the entire film and comes absolutely out of nowhere.
- North and his Eskimo family whistling to the tune of the theme song for the Andy Griffith Show.
- Bruce Willis dressed as a pink Easter bunny. That is all.
- Never Live It Down:
- Rob Reiner never fully escaped the shadow this movie cast upon his résumé with its "family-friendly" plethora of racially insensitive humor and unlikable characters.
- It was also the subject of one of the most infamously scathing reviews from critical duo Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who both named it the worst film of 1994 and attacked its "cataclysmically unfunny" premise.
- Nightmare Fuel:
- The octopus' face on the billboard. Come to think of it, the whole concept of that billboard may count.
- North's panic attack; it's very unlike what a real panic attack typically looks like for those who've seen them, but is still very unsettling.
- The entire third act focuses on North trying to escape being murdered by the hitman sent by Winchell.
- One-Scene Wonder: Adam, the one boy who comes to help North after he makes the decision to return to his true parents. As one of the few remotely likable characters in the film, he sadly doesn't stick around for very long.
- Retroactive Recognition: See Hilarious in Hindsight.
- The Scrappy: North is ultimately not a very likeable character due to the reveal that the entire movie was a dream giving the implications that he's a self-centered bigot who cannot tolerate cultures as different such as the relatively tame Amish.
- Shocking Swerve: The fact that the whole movie is a dream by North may come across like this since the movie didn't try very hard to imply that in spite of its fantastic themes.
- Signature Scene: The moment when North's Eskimo parents send his new grandfather off to die on the ice floes along with the other elderly members of the tribe as a "dignified" way to die after they've outlived their value to society. Many a critic and viewer have singled out this scene as symbolic of the film's reputed insensitivity.
- So Bad, It's Good: Considered this in some circles for just how utterly ridiculous the plot of the movie is, with a few likening it to a badly written live action cartoon. The fact that it was based on a book written by an SNL writer and intended to be a parody of morality tales for children definitely helps.
- North's butt shown in Hawaii's ad with that hideously grinning octopus. It's a parody of a famous Coppertone/Water Babies ad (which had a puppy and a little girl), but comes out wrong...
- During the song, it's stated that when North grows up, he'll "marry Betsy Lou". An adult woman then appears and waves at him.
- Took the Bad Film Seriously: Arguably, Elijah Wood was the only one to actually do so, and despite the character he played and the fact he was in The Good Son, another film that wasn't too well received, with Macaulay Culkin only months prior, he was able to escape the Star-Derailing Role trap (though he wouldn't be very visible until Deep Impact), and came back in The Lord of the Rings.
- Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Assuming we're meant to like North, they certainly failed to make you do so, considering that, even if you ignore the fact he's a racist, bigoted egoist, there's the fact that the entire conflict of the film comes down to him feeling his parents don't love him. However, given that he makes a big deal about how everyone else loves him for being super special, while the parents aren't actually shown to be particularly bad, it seems to be less that he's neglected, and more that he's self-entitled and thinks they should worship him more or something. Add in the way he dreams about how everyone wants to adopt him and the fact that his dream parents are so shocked by his leaving that they essentially become statues, he clearly has some massive ego issues.
- What an Idiot!: A lot of North's prospective parents fit this bill, quickly driving North away with all kinds of Innocently Insensitive actions that, suffice to say, wouldn't fly in reality. Perhaps most egregious of these though is his parents in Hawaii, who try to promote their state by advertising North as their leading citizen on a billboard where an octopus pulls down his swim trunks on the beach. Naturally, North is disgusted and when they can't supply any justification for why this would work, he quickly bails out to the next client.
- What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: This was one big reason why Roger Ebert loathed this movie. The stereotype humor and lazy puns are far too juvenile for adults, but the sex jokes and various expletives make it too raunchy for kids, and that's not to mention that one wouldn't want their kids to watch such blatant stereotypes.
- WTH, Casting Agency?: Most of the cast could fit into here.
- The most unexplainable is probably Kathy Bates and Abe Vigoda with their faces painted brown playing Eskimos, which was criticized as racially insensitive and "an ugly piece of cinematic prostitution" by The Nostalgia Critic and labeled a "new low in bad taste" by Ebert at the end of the year the movie premiered (Bates also got a Razzie nomination for that appearance).
- Alan Arkin as Judge Buckle may count as another, whose performance Ebert also panned in his review.
- Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as North's parents are a little jarring, considering the two were co-starring in one of the best-known sitcoms of all time when this movie was released, so it's a little hard not to imagine them as George Costanza and Elaine Benes.
- WTH, Costuming Department?: Several instances, but perhaps most notable would be Kathy Bates' facial makeup and minstrel wig to make her look like an Eskimo (which earned her a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for "Worst Supporting Actress"), and Bruce Willis dressed as a pink Easter Bunny.
YMMV / North