An obvious attempt to combine 2005’s popular penguin documentary, March of the Penguins, with the environmental message of An Inconvenient Truth (2006), Arctic Tale certainly means well, but due to weak storytelling, isn’t as effective as either of those films. Sure, for kids this is solid, occasionally exceptional entertainment, and its message of conservation is a hard one to argue with. But anyone looking for a serious nature documentary—or even an engaging film—should look elsewhere.
The film is directed by documentarians Adam Revetch and Sarah Robertson of the TV-series Nature, but instead of going the normal documentary route, the duo has taken the Penguins approach and created a narrative around a young polar bear, Nanu, and a walrus pup, Seela. The story is created through the magic of editing, as footage of various animals is cobbled together to create the film’s story and characters. Under normal circumstances, this “creative” approach to documentary filmmaking would be questionable, but because Arctic Tale exists more as entertainment, the issue can be overlooked. If only it were that simple to overlook the movie’s utter blandness. It attempts a balancing act between being educational and entertaining—without really getting a handle on either.
As drama, the approach has been used before, such as in Milo and Otis (1986), and while that is a film I haven’t seen in at least 15 years, it’s one I remember as working (well, for a 9-year-old, at least) due to the simple fact that there is an honest-to-goodness story arc. There are good guys and bad guys, and actual characterization is attempted. Arctic Tale doesn’t create characters so much as templates, causing the movie to meander around while the script drops little tidbits about arctic creatures various and sundry. With no attempt at creating a climax—or any type of tension whatsoever—the film doesn’t end, but just kind of stops.
Since Arctic Tale tries to present animals with which the viewer can identify, the creatures are afforded human traits. This becomes a bit odd at times, especially when we’re told that the animals want love, and not just the chance to propagate their species. The approach becomes silly when it’s insinuated that most female walruses are promiscuous, and downright bizarre when we’re shown Nanu making a meal out of Seela’s aunt.
But this isn’t the end of the film’s wrongheaded decisions. The obnoxious flatulent walruses from the trailer are on full display (not just once, but twice), and the gag is horribly out of place in the film. It’s an attempt at a cheap laugh that never materializes—at least for anyone past kindergarten age. Add this to the makers’ tepid efforts at hipping up the proceedings by having narrator Queen Latifah say things such as, “They all up in they business” or “That’s just how they roll,” and it reeks of filmmakers out of touch with their audience.
The film’s message concerning the Arctic’s ever-changing climate is presented in a simplistic fashion, making global warming appear to be something that just cropped up one winter. This isn’t a huge problem since the target audience is youngsters, but by the time kids pop up while the end credits roll stating things like, “Riding the bus saves polar bears,” it begins to feel like an episode of Captain Planet or an old Ninja Turtle PSA from the early
90s. Of course, if it inspires one kid to change the way he or she lives and effect the world for the better, then Arctic Tale has done what it set out to do. Rated G