Arctic Tale

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/03/07 00:00:00

"March Of the Penguins" Meets "An Inconvenient Truth"
3 stars (Just Average)

I can’t imagine that there will be a single review of “Arctic Tale” that doesn’t make at least some mention of the 2005 Oscar-winning hit “March of the Penguins.” In my case, this is especially true because after watching the new film, I realized that I had virtually the same opinion of it that I did for its predecessor–while I was frequently astonished by the amazing nature footage captured by filmmakers Sarah Robertson and Adam Ravetch as well as the massive technical efforts that they clearly underwent in shooting said footage, that astonishment was frequently undermined by the ridiculous and fairly condescending voice-over narration from Queen Latifah that has been slapped onto said footage in what I can only presume to be a misguided effort to attract audiences who might not necessarily want to sit through a straightforward nature film.

The film tells the story of two new arrivals to the world–a polar bear cub dubbed Nanu and a baby seal known as Seela–and follows them as they attempt to learn the ways of their often dangerous worlds under the firm-but-loving tutelage of their respective mothers. Although the two creatures are natural enemies, it soon becomes apparent that they have much in common after all. Both are in a constant struggle to find food–we see Nanu and her mother and twin brother punching through the ice in an effort to snag a hiding ring seal and Seela and her mother scouring the ocean floor for clams. Both are in a constant struggle to avoid becoming food themselves–Nanu and her family are repeatedly threatened by larger polar bears perfectly willing to transform the lot of them into a snack while Seela and her clan fends off attacks from polar bears on land and killer whales on the sea. Most importantly, both find their very existence threatened by the shocking effects of global warming on their environment.

Although “Arctic Tale” has been referred to as a documentary in many circles, that is not precisely the case. In fact, Robertson and Ravetch filmed off and on in the region for a period spanning 15 years and then constructed their narrative out of the material that they amassed during that time. What is interesting about the film is that the seams required to stitch all of this footage together into one story are not as evident as you might imagine. In fact, if you didn’t know the details of how the film was made, you could easily be fooled into thinking that Robertson and Ravetch were able to somehow follow around the same bears and the same walruses for all that time. As for the footage itself, much of it is amazing to look at, even if you don’t normally have a taste for nature films–some of it is beautiful (such as the early scenes in which we see the newborns adapting to their new surroundings), some are terrifying (such as the appearance of the killer whale and the final confrontation between a hungry bear and one of Seela’s loyal relatives) and some are tragic (especially the final scenes in which the results of global warming appear right before our very eyes). While some of the footage may be rough in terms of visual quality, it is never less than 100% compelling to watch.

And yet, as amazing as “Arctic Tale” is to watch, it is just as painful to listen to thanks to the painfully trite narration written by Linda Woolverton (who contributed to the screenplays of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King), Mose Richards (who has worked on many nature documentaries) and Kristin Gore (daughter of you-know-who and a former member of the “Futurama” writing staff). Instead of going for the kind of serious approach that you would think that material of this sort might be best served by, they have instead gone for an aggressively faux-folksy tone that was apparently designed to prevent scaring off audiences who might not appreciate all that science junk–we get allegedly amusing song cues (a sequence involving Seela’s extended family is scored to “We Are Family,” for example), a presumably dubbed-in symphony of walrus fart noises and Queen Latifah saying such deathless lines as “They are all up in each other’s business” and “That’s how they roll.” As annoying and treacly as Morgan Freeman’s narration in “March of the Penguins” was, I don’t recall it coming close to approaching the stupidity of what is heard here and while I presume that it was a requirement in order to get the film released theatrically, I can’t imagine that Robertson and Ravetch can possibly be happy with having it appended to their imagery.

Since I would give the visual portion of “Arctic Tale” the maximum number of stars and the audio portion the minimum, I suppose that I will have to split the difference and give the film as a whole the middle amount. Of course, if you are interested in the subject matter or want to offer incontrovertible proof of the harsh effects of global warming to any naysayers you may happen to know, I wouldn’t dissuade you from seeing it–however, I would suggest bringing your iPod along so that you can supply your own personal soundtrack to the material. For parents, the film might be a good thing to take the kids to so that they can see these animals in their natural habitats–if you do this, however, be sure to have some tissues on hand and be ready to answer some uncomfortable questions about the tear-jerking sequence in which a bear cub lies down in the middle of a fierce storm and doesn’t get back up again. Actually, you may want to bring a couple extra tissues along for yourself as well.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.