It's a safe bet that, if not for the unprecedented popularity of March Of The Penguins, we wouldn't be seeing this National Geographic nature film on the big screen.
The photography is impressive. Husband and wife filmmaking team Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson have drawn on eight years' spent filming in the arctic. The nephew of screenwriter Irving Ravetch (Hud), Adam Ravetch is a marine biologist and cameraman whose footage has been used in dozens of TV documentaries, including the BBC's Blue Planet.
Shots of a walrus underneath miles of ice, a bear cub dying of starvation, or the ice floes breaking up into thousands of shrinking rafts fall squarely into the "how did they film that?" category, and vouch for the filmmakers' craft, enterprise and perseverance.
The screenplay - credited to three writers, including Al Gore's daughter, Kristin - is more problematic, a throwback to the anthropomorphic tactics beloved of Walt Disney back in the 1950s, with composite characters and a unconvincingly chatty narration voiced by Queen Latifah ("This is how they roll," she comments as a family of seals plunge into the water).
As the cutesy poster art indicates, the movie is chasing the child audience who lapped up Happy Feet, so it makes sense that they construct an eco-hardship tale around polar bear cub "Nanu" and walrus pup "Seela". Neither of them bumps into Robin Williams or starts tap dancing, but there is a montage to the Sister Sledge disco hit "We Are Family" (along with several songs by Grant Lee Phillips); a lengthy farting episode; and more than one close encounter with incipient doom.
None of this is inherently objectionable, but the manipulation will feel very American to anyone used to the sterner non-fiction sang-froid of David Attenborough. Indeed, an audience weaned on the BBC's superior nature films probably won't find too many compelling reasons to fork out the ticket price for Arctic Tale, unless it's to educate the young-uns in environmental housekeeping (the end credits come with encouragement to switch off your light bulbs to save the polar bears).
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