Arctic Tale | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Arctic Tale 

This enviro-docu-drama set amid the creatures of the Arctic from Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson misses its mark by anthropomorphizing its subjects, rigging a story, and delivering its message ad nauseum with a jivey hammer.

click to enlarge Arctic polar bears, on thin ice
  • Arctic polar bears, on thin ice

If you or your kids enjoy nature films featuring spectacular scenery and the playful antics of unusual animals, then Arctic Tale should fit the bill. Likewise if you're freaking out about global warming, and want to see another inspirational/bummer film documenting shrinking polar ice and endangered wildlife designed to reinforce the simple ideas you already understand.

I don't want to sound like a meanie, rippin' on baby polar bears with no home because I left the light on last night, but this enviro-docu-drama from Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson misses its mark.

From National Geographic Films, this is a polar bookend to its widely popular Antarctica feature March of the Penguins. But where that movie charmed and educated, Arctic Tale suffers from trying too hard -- it anthropomorphizes its subjects, rigs a story, and delivers its message ad nauseum with a jivey hammer.

In our journey, narrated by Queen Latifah, we follow a few Arctic creatures over several years -- a polar bear, her daughter and son (who "lacks focus"), a walrus pup, her aunt and the odd polar passerby. Dramas, many of which feel re-created in the editing bay, include melting polar ice, lost offspring, melting polar ice, My First Hunt, melting polar ice and tending a family ... on melting polar ice.

In this nature "tale," every animal is a feel-good star -- you won't be surprised to learn that our walruses and polar bears meet up and nobody is eaten (the one death is a sentimental Hallmark Moment). Anybody in love with Coca-Cola's cuddly, friendly marketing partners won't leave convinced that polar bears are, in fact, some of nature's most impressive killing machines.

For a work that claims to celebrate nature, it disingenuously assigns human behavior and emotions to wild animals. And what of Latifah's dignity? She has a warm voice, perfect for delivering a story, but the Queen should have put her royal foot down on the narration's phony hip-hop phrases. Is it fair to her, to viewers, or to sea-going mammals, to describe walrus behavior as "that's just how they roll"?

Educating viewers is a fine goal, but Arctic's tone -- both cloying and doom-laden -- strikes a wrong note, as does Latifah repeatedly pausing dramatically in the story before darkly intoning: IF the polar ice is STILL THERE. C'mon, even kids understand the concept of ice melting -- and they know when they're being treated like morons. Polar bears live on ice; ice melts; bears in trouble -- got it the first time.

But the filmmakers saved the worst for the end credits with kids chirping simplistic admonitions at us. Switch to compact fluorescents; ask our parents to look at hybrids when buying a new car (because the planet's woes will be solved through continuing consumption). A cynic might add: Tell your friends not to waste energy to see this film, but then the baby polar bears are soooooooooo cute.

Starts Fri., Aug. 17.



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