`Arctic Tale' too warm, cozy for its own good

Review C

August 17, 2007|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

The majesty and poignancy of March of the Penguins hasn't dimmed in memory, but good intentions kill great footage in Arctic Tale, this North Pole follow-up that chronicles the life cycles of polar bears and walruses in an age of global warming.

It should give comedian Stephen Colbert's liberal-hating, bear-phobic persona on The Colbert Report enough material for a year's worth of "Threatdowns" and "Wags of the Finger."

Directors Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson capture images that are astonishing in intimacy and action. A mother and daughter walrus memorize each other's features with their whiskers; a polar-bear mother teaches her cubs how to catch a ring seal by smelling it under the ice, then following her snout to the spot and pounding into the ice with her front paws.

And there's a gloriously curious cast of supporting critters. The birds known as "thick-billed murres" swim underwater as well as they fly in the air. The Arctic whales known as narwhals, "the unicorns of the sea," sport a single ivory tusk growing out of their upper left jaws, containing 10 million nerve endings that allow them to read the slightest shifts in the ocean and the atmosphere.

But the movie is edited and, worse, narrated in ways that sabotage the magic and even undercut the movie's message that climate change will make all these animals endangered species.

Not even Queen Latifah's natural warmth as the narrator can take the onus off the script's tendency to make the walrus and polar bear clans as cozy and easy-to-understand as The Brady Bunch while needlessly underlining the perils they face from changing weather patterns. (Linda Woolverton, Mose Richards and Kristin Gore wrote the narration.)

Obviously, the producers have decided to gear this movie to the very young, but even kids don't like to have their soul food come to them predigested.

Unlike March of the Penguins, Winged Migration, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill and Deep Blue, this nature documentary doesn't leave room for the viewer to take an imaginative leap into a wild kingdom; the words and the editing and mostly soft-rock music domesticate nearly everything in sight.

This movie wants to be easy-to-take, but it seems forced, down to the closing credits, during which one fresh-faced kid after another urges the children in the audience to instruct their parents on various ways to save the environment. Arctic Tale comes off as a bedtime story that really does put you to sleep.



See more photos of Arctic Tale at baltimoresun.com/arctictale

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