Rob Schneider would be the first to admit that much of his film work is not exactly child-friendly.
Yet, with his new animated movie “Norm of the North” (opening Friday), the actor explained, “I’ve got a 3-year-old. She doesn’t really understand what I do and that’s OK. But I decided, here’s one for you, honey.”
In the film, Schneider voices the title character, a gregarious polar bear who has the ability to talk to humans. Norm travels to New York to thwart the plans of an unscrupulous real estate mogul who plans to develop Norm’s homeland: the Arctic North Pole region.
Even though Schneider’s daughter Miranda is seen on his “Real Rob” comedy series on Netflix, which also stars Schneider’s wife, Patricia Arce, “Miranda doesn’t quite understand it all. But then, of course, it’s not for her. It’s a show intended completely for adults.”
As for “Norm,” Schneider explained it is “my first starring role in animation. I’ve done a bunch of little [voiceovers], but I like to call those projects a bit like trauma surgery. They’ve already shot the film, but you come in because they realize they need to quickly operate on the movie — and squeeze in another voice or two to make the story work better.”
Known for his estimated 50 impressions of famous stars — which Schneider showcased for me by doing his Edward G. Robinson and Peter Lorre voices — the actor sounded extremely happy “the ‘Norm’ people wanted me to be me, or maybe just a slightly younger version of me.”
Another hook for Schneider in doing “Norm of the North” is that in addition to the animated antics designed to appeal to the pre-tween set, it delivers an environmental message.
“I like to think I’m something of an environmentalist. How can you not root for polar bears to survive!?
“The trick is to come up with some form of income for the people who live up there. Tourism seems to be the way to go, as opposed to drilling anywhere and everywhere up there for oil.
“Of course, we do have to face the fact that we are going to need oil until at least the middle of this century, so that’s a longterm problem.”
Unlike the usual process in animated films, he was not forced to record his lines in a sound booth all by himself — a challenge for any actor or actress deprived of playing off a co-star.
“Yes, I got to record with Heather Graham. … If you get the chance to be in a recording booth with Heather Graham, I seriously would urge you to do it,” said Schneider with a chuckle.
Before hanging up from our phone conversation, Schneider left me with a thought sure to warm the heart of many Chicago Northsiders (plus perhaps some on the South Side).
“In the next 24 months, I predict a World Series in Chicago,” said Schneider. “[Cubs manager Joe] Maddon is not a guy who loses. He’s a winner. He’s the best coach in the Major League. I can’t wait for that to happen for the Cubs!
You’re not alone, Rob. You’re not alone.