Hidden within Arctic Tale is a captivating documentary yearning to be free. Husband-and-wife filmmakers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson have spent more than a dozen years chronicling the wildlife of the Arctic Circle, excursions that have resulted in some astonishing footage. That alone makes Arctic Tale worthwhile viewing, and it nearly makes up for the movie's misguided attempt to piggyback on the success of 2005's March of the Penguins.
Focusing on the lives of polar bear and walruses, Arctic Tale boasts images of startling drama and intimacy. We see a mother walrus nursing her young, a male polar bear attacking a herd of walruses and the heartbreaking death of a bear cub (a sequence sure to upset younger viewers). The cycle of life takes center stage here -- attacking prey and eluding predators, birth and death and mating -- and a good deal of it is breathtaking.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers didn't have enough faith that these images would sustain audience interest. Subsequently, writers Linda Woolverton, Mose Richards and Kristin Gore (Al's daughter) have used the footage to stitch together a family-friendly tale about a female polar bear cub named Nanu and a female walrus calf dubbed Seela. A quasi-throwback to the days of Walt Disney's True-Life Adventures, the movie follows our two protagonists through a harsh environment where challenges and dangers lurk behind every glacier.
The storyline is manufactured but, given the film's target audience of children, it proves generally effective. We follow Nanu and Seela from birth through their adventures trying to eat and survive in the icy wilderness. Less successful are the shameless attempts at pandering. A voiceover narration by Queen Latifah is full of self-consciously hip colloquialisms -- walruses travel in herds because "that's just how they roll" -- and the soundtrack can get a bit cutesy (Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" plays over our introduction to Seela's extended clan). In one particularly eye-rolling scene, we are treated to a cacophony of walrus farting.
Coproduced by National Geographic Films, Arctic Tale is at its most pointed in detailing how global warming has transmogrified living conditions for the Arctic's animal inhabitants. Lengthier summers mean fewer months with enough ice for polar bears to hunt and fewer ice floes for walruses to group. The changes in terrain force both Nanu and Seela to a faraway rock island where food is in short supply.
The film's approach here is persuasive and reasonably subtle -- at least until the ending credits, when the movie offers a succession of children telling us how to be better stewards of the environment. The point is well taken, but the shift in tone is jarring. If global warming is the biggest enemy of the Arctic, then patronization is the biggest enemy of Arctic Tale.
Presented in widescreen 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, Arctic Tale boasts a stellar picture quality. Details are sharp and crisp; colors are vivid. There are no noticeable problems with grain or pixilation.
Viewers have the option of 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround or 2.0 Surround. The 5.1 mix is solid and clear, but disappointingly unimaginative in its use of rear speakers. Audio is also available in Spanish and French. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.
Making of Arctic Tale (24:05) is a fascinating mini-doc that gives viewers a better impression of the substantial commitment that went into filming. It took Adam Kevetch and Sarah Robertson an estimated four years to even find a newborn walrus for Arctic Tale. To capture some of the incredible footage at rock island, Kevetch camped out by himself for days on end.
"Are We There Yet" World Adventure: Polar Bear Spotting" is a segment from a Canadian TV series aimed at preschoolers. In this seven-minute, three-second piece, two young travelers scour northern Canada for, you guessed it, polar bears.
Other extras include a theatrical trailer and previews for An Inconvenient Truth, Shrek the Third and The Spiderwick Chronicles.
Arctic Tale is passable family-oriented fare, but it is hamstrung by a grafted-on narrative that mimics the success of March of the Penguins. There is much to admire in this G-rated wildlife adventure, but to do so, older audiences will have to endure mawkish narration and walrus farts.