Wood, Jon Lovitz, Jason Alexander, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Faith Ford, Graham Greene, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Reba McEntire, John Ritter, and Abe Vigoda, with cameos by Bruce Willis and a 9-year-old Scarlett Johansson(in her film debut). It was shot in Hawaii, Alaska, California, South Dakota, New Jersey, and New York. 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 wrote the screenplay and has a minor role in the film.
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