One spring, beneath the snow at the top of the earth, Nanu, a polar bear, and her brother are born. Not far from their home, beneath the waves, Seela, a walrus pup, floats between her mother and her auntie. The trip to adulthood of these two natural enemies becomes a story of mutual survival in a scarily change world in "Arctic Tale."
Married cinematographer/directors Sarah Robertson and Adam Ravetch spent fifteen years fashioning their tale out of observed behavior of two of the earth's largest creatures and while their fictional family fabric resembles that of "March of the Penguins," "Arctic Tale" is the more gripping, moving film by far.
At the opposite pole from those penguins, incredible patience has paid off in magnificent moments being captured on film. Two young polar cubs poke their heads from their birthing cave for the first time. The young male cub, his lack of name foreshadowing his fate, has difficulty navigating that opening once clear of it, resulting in several humorous, sudden drops. Meanwhile, in the sea, Seela is actually cuddled and 'kissed' by her mother, the walruses' sensitive whiskers enabling them to imprint each other's face upon the memory.
But then harsh reality sets in. Nanu's mother must feed her cubs and their natural diet is the ringed seal, which they hunt beneath the ice. When the mother bear succeeded (seen from a tasteful distance), a little girl near me in the theater gasped. There are even harsher realities to be learned in "Arctic Tale," though, and they are important lessons for a new generation. Global warming in changing these animals' environment at an alarming rate. Lack of food forces Nanu's mother to drive her away at the age of two - one year earlier than typical - and Nanu must take giant risks - like swimming sixty miles to Rock Island - to survive. The walrus herds, too, must swim exhausting lengths, and their eventual sharing of the same island makes them new targets for the Polar bears' hunger. In one incredible scene, Seela, clinging to a rocky ledge, must make a dangerous decision when faced with a hunting bear.
Ravetch is a skilled underwater photographer, and some of the images he captures - a polar bear swimming straight at us, a seal hiding beneath the ice, a bear surprised by a flock of birds who take 'flight' beneath the sea - are incredible. "Arctic Tale" gracefully melds in many other species, like white fox, eerily pale Beluga and the almost mythical narwhal.
The immensely likable Queen Latifah ("The Last Holiday," "Hairspray" narrates the story with warmth and understatement and writers Linda Woolverton ("The Lion King"), Mose Richards ("Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure") and vice presidential daughter Kristin Gore (TV's "Futurama") mostly resist the cutesy (a walrus farting montage is forgivable kiddy pandering and admittedly kind of amusing). Original music by Joby Talbot ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") is quietly majestic and tinged with melancholy, befitting the film, although if it was his decision to use Sly and the Family Stone's "We Are Family" to introduce the walrus herd, it was one of the film's few lapses. And while it is obviously unlikely that the Nanu we see in adulthood is actually the same little cub that began the film, just as Seela grown up may well be earlier outtakes, Robertson and Ravetch's structure is solid. The French documentary's overt anthropomorphization of its subjects felt like fakery, while the Canadian/American couple's approach is a more organic, a tool to teach children. "March of the Penguins" even managed to neglect to tell its audience that Emperors can be four feet tall, a massive factual failing, but "Arctic Tale" teaches the realities of nature and man's crippling effect upon it while still drawing comparison to human behavior. Even better, "Arctic Tale's" credit roll features young kids offering environmental measures its young audience can take to make a difference.
Robin did not see this film.
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