Appellate Judge James A. Stewart only stops for hitchhikers if they're polar bears or walruses.
"Far beyond the world we humans know, there is a remote and ancient kingdom. To most of us, it seems a frozen wasteland, but to creatures designed for astonishing cold, it's always been a paradise on Earth."
No one expected March of the Penguins to make more than $127 million worldwide, as Box Office Mojo estimates. The National Geographic Society's account of the penguin life cycle was a riveting tale of survival in the harsh Antarctic climate.
How do you follow that up? More cold weather, this time in the Arctic. Polar bears and walruses might not be quite as cute as penguins, but they will suffice.
Would Arctic Tale be another blockbuster? Not quite; it had a more modest take of $1,554,410, according to Box Office Mojo.
Facts of the Case
Polar bear cub Nanu pokes her head out of an ice cave, beginning wanderings with her mother and brother. Meanwhile, walrus pup Seela is getting into the swim of life in the herd.
As the bear cub and walrus pup learn how to survive the harsh Arctic climate, a new threat emerges: warm weather. Shrinking ice caps send the walrus herd and the lone polar bear to Rock Island, where the hungry Nanu will try to dine on walrus.
Like March of the Penguins, Arctic Tale makes the icy regions look majestic, and the struggle to survive dramatic. The picture quality here is excellent, and the well-chosen music comes across well.
A scene in which Seela is separated from her herd, clinging to life until she can be rescued, had me captivated, even if the fact that she's been given a name by the writers hinted that nothing's going to happen to her.
Queen Latifah narrates in a storyteller's style with a dash of humor; I could hear the hint of a smile in her voice at times as she read an amusing line or observed animal antics.
Arctic Tale is often fascinating as it takes its polar bear and walrus protagonists from birth to their own motherhood. However, you may be put off as reminders that "the sea, and the air above it, are warmer than in the past" become a refrain throughout the movie. Arctic Tale wraps by telling us that "the Arctic Ocean could be virtually ice-free in the summer of 2040" and showing kids giving advice on saving the polar bears.
The last bit goes completely overboard. "If your mom and dad buy a hybrid car, it'll make it easier for polar bears to get around," a chirpy kid asserts in one of the segments of advice as the credits roll on Arctic Tale. If you can't afford to run out and buy a hybrid car right now, you might not want this DVD and its advice getting into the hands of your little tykes.
The warming Arctic climate plays a large part in this Arctic Tale, and necessarily so. The filmmakers caught the polar bears and walruses struggling for survival on film at a time when scientists are concerned; NASA called 2005 "the warmest year in over a century, according to NASA scientists studying temperature data from around the world," with other recent years—1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006—close behind. Heck, the interest in shipping lanes through the Arctic signals that someone's expecting the trend to continue.
However, I don't like the idea of scaring kiddies into believing that if they forget to turn out a light or their parents can't spring for a new hybrid car, a polar bear could die. Arctic Tale did a good job of showing how the changing climate is affecting wildlife; the young scolds take away the power of its imagery. The kids-nagging-kids element also takes away the all-ages appeal that you'd expect from a nature film.
The changing climate was also a part of March of the Penguins, the trailblazer in cold-weather nature films. However, Penguins handled this aspect of its story more gracefully.
The "Making of Arctic Tale" segment is interesting as the filmmakers discuss fifteen years of work in the Arctic, often getting to work only two days a month because of the weather. One memorable bit showed the filmmakers becoming unnerved by the polar bear that kept coming around to their sleep shed; director Adam Ravench seemed really concerned about winding up on the dinner menu. I noticed that the kids in the short, "Are We There Yet? World Adventure: Polar Bear Spotting," seemed less worried about running into polar bears.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you want to instill in your kids a concern for the environment and the changing climate, the images of survival in Arctic Tale do a good job—just turn down the sound when the movie presses its point too hard.
As I write this review, I'm looking out the window at five inches of snow. While I knew there would be snow, the forecasters couldn't predict how much a day before it fell. Weather and climate are unpredictable, even in the short term.
Global warming is a serious concern, but there's a lot that scientists don't yet know. Arctic Tale aims its discussion at kids who can't suss out what's sure and what's speculation.
Guilty of leaving viewers cold.
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Scales of Justice
• Making of Arctic Tale
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