North is a child prodigy, skilled in academics, sports, and drama, admired by many for his good work and obedient attitude, but unappreciated, he feels, by his own parents. One day, while finding solace in a living room display at a mall, he complains to the Easter Bunny—a man in a pink bunny suit—that his parents, alone among all the adults in his neighborhood, seem unable to see his talents. The Easter Bunny recommends that North simply tell his parents how he feels; but North says if they can't appreciate him, they don't deserve him.
With the help and encouragement of his friend Winchell, who works on the school paper, North devises a plan to "divorce" himself from his parents, and hires ambulance-chasing lawyer Arthur Belt to file the papers. The announcement of his divorce takes North's parents completely by surprise, and renders them comatose. They cannot object when Judge Buckle grants North's petition, and gives him one summer to find new parents; if he cannot, he will have to move to an orphanage.
North's first stop is Texas, where his parental candidates attempt to fatten him up, to be more like their first son, Buck, who died in a stampede. They then stage a musical number about the other horrible plans they have for him. Gabby, a sharpshooting cowboy, presents North with a souvenir from his act—a silver dollar with a bullet hole shot through its center—and advises him to move on.
His next stop is Hawaii, where Governor and Mrs. Ho, who cannot have children of their own, are eager to adopt him. North is overjoyed; but the governor unveils a new state campaign to encourage mainlanders to move to Hawaii. North learns, to his horror, that billboards featuring him in a mortifying pose will soon be on view throughout the U.S. On the beach, he meets a tourist with a metal detector who explains that parents should not rely on children for their own personal gain.
In Alaska he settles into an Inuit village, where his prospective parents send their elderly grandfather out to sea on an ice floe so that he may die with dignity. As the long, dark winter begins to envelop Alaska, North realizes that his summer is almost up. Meanwhile, his real parents, still comatose, are put on display in a museum. North's quest has stimulated children around the world to leave their parents, and to hire Belt and Winchell, who are both now rich and powerful.
North’s next family is Amish, but he is quickly discouraged by the size of their family (and the lack of electricity). His experiences in Zaire, China, and Paris are equally fruitless. At last, back in America, he finds the Nelsons, who give North the attention and appreciation he craves; but he still is not happy. "The Nelsons are good folks,” says a sleigh driver. “They're just not your folks."
In despair, North finds himself in New York City, where Winchell and Belt, fearing the demise of their lucrative business, plot to assassinate him. On the run, North receives a videotape from his newly revived parents begging him to forgive them and return home. Standup comedian Joey Fingers encourages him to do so: "A bird in the hand is always greener than the grass under the other guy's bushes." At the airport, his path is blocked by a mob of kids who have followed his example, and are angry that he is giving up and going home, so North is forced to ship himself home in a FedEx box. He reaches his house just in time to beat the orphanage deadline; but as he runs toward his parents, an assassin takes aim. As he squeezes the trigger, North awakens in the mall, now empty. The Easter Bunny takes him home, where he is greeted warmly by his parents. It has all been a dream—but in his pocket, North discovers Gabby’s silver dollar with the hole through the middle.Elijah Wood as North
Bruce Willis as narrator and benevolent advisors (Easter Bunny, Gabby, tourist, sleigh driver, Joey Fingers, FedEx driver)
Jon Lovitz as Arthur Belt
Matthew McCurley as Winchell
Jason Alexander as North's father
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as North's mother
Alan Arkin as Judge Buckle
Dan Aykroyd as Texas father
Reba McEntire as Texas mother
Alexander Godunov as Amish father
Kelly McGillis as Amish mother
Graham Greene as Alaskan father
Kathy Bates as Alaskan mother
Abe Vigoda as Alaskan grandfather
Faith Ford as Donna Nelson
John Ritter as Ward Nelson
Scarlett Johansson as Laura Nelson
Jesse Ziegler as Bud Nelson
Keone Young as Governor Ho
Lauren Tom as Mrs. Ho
Ben Stein as museum curator
Taylor Fry as Zoe
Alana Austin as Hannah
Jussie Smollett as Adam
Robert Costanzo as Al
Rosalind Chao as Chinese mother
Alan Rachins as defense attorney
Richard Belzer as barker
Marc Shaiman as piano player
Alan Zweibel as baseball coach
On review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, North received a rating of 15% based on 33 reviews, with an average rating of 3.3/10.
North has been called one of the worst films ever made, earning $7,182,747 for a budget of $40 million. Kenneth Turan, in his review, stated "The problem overall is not so much that the humor, especially in the parent-tryout situations, is forced, but that it simply is not there at all. So little is going on in this mildest of fantasies that it is hard to even guess what kinds of emotional effects were aimed at in the first place." Turan also asked "How could director Rob Reiner, whose touch for what pleases a mass audience is usually unfailing, have strayed this far?"
North was a multiple nominee at the 15th Golden Raspberry Awards in six categories including Worst Picture and Worst Director for Rob Reiner.
In an interview with Archive of American Television, Reiner defended the film, saying "I loved doing it, and some of the best jokes I ever had in a movie, are in that movie." He also added: "I made this little fable, and people got mad at me, because, you know, I had done When Harry Met Sally..., and Misery, and A Few Good Men, and everybody said 'Oh, it should be a more important kind of movie.' I said, 'Why? Why can't you just make a little slice of a fable or something?'"
Film critic Roger Ebert seemed especially baffled by North, noting that Wood and especially Reiner had both previously made much better films. He suggested that the film was so poorly written that even the best child actor would look bad in it, and viewed it as "some sort of lapse" on Reiner's part. Ebert awarded North a rare zero-star rating, and even 20 years later it remained on his list of most hated films.
Comedian Richard Belzer, who appeared in North, goaded Reiner into reading aloud some of the review at Reiner's roast; Reiner jokingly insisted that "if you read between the lines, [the review] isn't really that bad." An abridged version of the remark quoted above became the title of a 2000 book by Ebert, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, a compilation of reviews of films most disliked by Ebert.
Ebert and his co-host on Siskel and Ebert, Gene Siskel, both pronounced it the worst film of 1994 — a decision they each came to independently. In their original review, Ebert called it "one of the most thoroughly hateful movies in recent years. A movie that makes me cringe even when I'm sitting here thinking about it." He later added, "I hated this movie as much as any movie we have ever reviewed in the 19 years we've been doing this show. I hated it because of the premise, which seems shockingly cold-hearted, and because this premise is being suggested to kids as children's entertainment and because everybody in this movie was vulgar and stupid, and because the jokes weren't funny and because most of the characters were obnoxious and because of the phony attempt to add a little pseudo-hip philosophy with a Bruce Willis character." Siskel continued by saying "I think you gotta hold Rob Reiner's feet to the fire here. I mean, he's the guy in charge, he's saying this is entertainment, it's deplorable. There isn't a gag that works. You couldn't write worse jokes if I told you to write worse jokes. The ethnic stereotyping is appalling, it's embarrassing, you feel unclean as you're sitting there. It's junk. First class junk!" and concluded the review by saying "Any subject could be done well, this is just trash, Roger." Ebert's future co-host on Ebert and Roeper, Richard Roeper, would later go on to list North as one of the 40 worst movies he's ever seen, stating, "Of all the films on this list, North may be the most difficult to watch from start to finish. I've tried twice and failed. Do yourself a favor and don't even bother. Life is too short."