"Arctic Tale" is harmless enough, but let's get real here: it's just trying to follow the same trail of money that "March of the Penguins" enjoyed back in 2005. Surely that wasn't the intention when the footage was captured over the last 15 years, but the glaze of Hollywood cash-in coats this baby with a tight seal, and it seriously maims the final product.
While I wasn't as wowed by "Penguins" as most others, I do recognize that taking an obscure creature and detailing its laborious existence is a fascinating endeavor. "Arctic" attempts the same "circle of life" celebration, this time hunkering down with polar bears and walruses in the icy wasteland. Filmmakers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson have assembled an embarrassment of footage demonstrating life and death, feasting and starvation, and ultimately rebirth to simplify their ideas, displaying nature's creatures at their most primal. One would think that alone would be enough to appeal today's audiences, but "Arctic" disagrees.
Since "Penguins" used Morgan Freeman's silky pipes to narrate the action, "Arctic" employs Queen Latifah. The Queen doesn't reign supreme here, encouraged by the production to spruce up the visuals with her acidic sass instead of taking a more austere and regal route. Latifah's presence is indicative of the problems that tear away at the "Arctic" experience, proving the film wants the "Penguin" box office, but doesn't want to put in the same time and effort.
Co-produced by National Geographic, one might expect a film respectful of the chilly creatures continually on the run for their lives, but "Arctic" eyeballs the family audience, and if those little kids out there are bored for one single moment, all is lost. To combat the potential fatigue of watching bears and walruses stalk for 80 minutes (let's be honest, these aren't the most compelling subjects for a documentary), the producers have decided to add in some disco tunes to help underscore the themes. The walruses huddled in a massive, fleshy convention on the ice? How about "We Are Family." The bears triumphant after their kill? It seem like the perfect time to pipe in "Celebration." At least by using hokey music the film has less time for fart jokes.
Did I fail to mention the flatulence humor? Oh yes, "Arctic" reduces the walruses to a quivering, gelatinous pile of gas. However, instead of capturing the natural sound of what must be a stunning orchestration of toots, "Arctic" pipes in sound library noises more at home on the "Howard Stern Show" than a feature film about the fragile beauty of wildlife. It seems to me the penguins did just fine without have to pander this obnoxiously.
While hints are sprinkled throughout the picture, "Arctic" finally reveals its true intention in the final act, turning away from life cycles and urging the audience into action against global warming. Think of it as "Inconvenient Truth Jr.;" the picture underlines the destruction of the crucial arctic winters by man, trusting the previous 75 minutes observing cute and cuddly will make a deep impact on the psyche of the average 9 year-old. Sadly, it's pretty much the only theme the film is triumphant at exploring, but it comes far too late for this witless time-killer. Surely there are better alternatives for kids who deserve a respectful lesson in arctic wildlife. It may have its heart in the right place, but "Arctic Tale" doesn't have much of a brain to back it up.
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