"Arctic Tale" is the latest documentary work from the people behind "The March of the Penguins". This time around, directors Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson (Al Gore's daughter Kristin is a co-writer) explore various cute creatures - mainly a polar bear cub named Nanu and a walrus pup named Seela -living in the brutal conditions of the Arctic.
"Arctic" is gorgeously filmed, and does manage to piece together a tale about these creatures as they progress from young pups towards adulthood. The footage is frequently stunning, but the narration by Queen Latifah sinks the picture as fast as a melting polar ice cap. A family of walruses are described as "all up in each other's business". Another scene a montage of the creatures farting (As Queen Latifah notes in the narration, it's a game of "Pull My Flipper"), which seems to go on for a minute. Most cringe-worthy line of narration (and there are quite a few) in the movie: "Seela's tusks have filled out nicely, and the boys are taking notice. She knows what they're after."
It's disappointing that the filmmakers apparently felt the need to present something meant to be beautiful (a scene with narwhals is particularly fascinating) and educational in a manner that's often lowbrow. This is a completely different approach than "March of the Penguins", where the lives of the little birds was presented as incredibly difficult and demanding. With only an exception or two, "Arctic Tale" presents an artic that's largely a cute nature sitcom.
The documentary does do a fine job of pointing out some of the challenges that these creatures face as a result of global warming (a pack of walruses can barely cram themselves onto the few blocks of ice available, it takes longer each year for the sea ice to return, but 2040 there will be no Summer sea ice left in the region for these creatures), but the message is overshadowed by the lackluster narration and the unnecessary step of putting "cute" children over the credits telling us some tips on how to save the planet (my favorite - "If your mom and dad bought a hybrid car, it would make it easier for polar bears to get around." Gee, mom and dad may be all for recycling or planting a tree, but maybe a $20,000 car isn't so easy for them right this second.) I'm all for saving the planet, but the end of the film didn't need to hammer home these points. Like the rest of the film, it should have trusted that kids and adults are intelligent enough to see the troubling situation the film is presenting and make their own conclusions.
Overall, "Arctic Tale" tries to present its case for global warming and for the hardships of life in the Arctic and is only mildly successful at both. The narration is really the most dismaying part of the movie, and takes away from both the enjoyment of the footage and the message that the movie is trying to get across.
VIDEO: "Arctic Tale" is presented in approximately 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen by Paramount. The film has obviously been pulled together over a number of years and has been filmed in multiple formats. However, despite all the variation, the film still ties together visually fairly well. Most scenes are crisp and well-defined, with good fine detail. However, a few scenes here-and-there can look noticably a bit softer than the rest.
The presentation did show some slight grain at times, but I'm guessing that this was always an element of the cinematography. Some very minor edge enhancement in a few scenes is a bit of a concern, but no artifacting or other issues were seen. Colors remained appropriately chilly and looked accurately presented.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offers what one might expect from this sort of documentary feature. Surrounds kick in at times to deliver some ambience and reinforcement of the oddly perky pop score, but the majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is terrific, with crisp narration and well-recorded animal sounds.
EXTRAS: A 23-minute "making of", the trailer and a shorter 6-minute piece on "Polar Bear Spotting".
Final Thoughts: Overall, "Arctic Tale" tries to present its case for global warming and for the hardships of life in the Arctic and is only somewhat successful at both. The narration is really the most dismaying part of the movie, and takes away from both the enjoyment of the footage and the message that the movie is trying to get across. The DVD presentation offers a few minor extras, but fine audio/video quality. Skip it, as there are IMAX nature/wildlife docs ("Beavers", "Dolphins" are two examples) that provide better edutainment for audiences.