Arctic Tale (documentary)

When I reviewed “Happy Feet” last fall, a few readers expressed dismay that I had failed to warn them of the movie’s environmental message. “Boo hoo!” they sobbed, like the big whiny babies they were. “I wanted to see a movie that didn’t have any messages, and then I accidentally saw one that did! And even worse, I disagreed with the message! BOO HOO HOO!”

I was perplexed, and continue to be perplexed, by the mindset that follows this line of reasoning: “I don’t believe in global warming. Therefore, anything that promotes conservation of the environment is nothing more than liberal propaganda, and I will ignore it, and I will not let myself enjoy any entertainment that mentions it.” You can refuse to acknowledge global warming if you want to, but even if you think it’s bunk, isn’t it still a good idea to take care of the Earth? How could “be nice to animals and try not to ruin the places where they live” be an unacceptable message?

The words “global warming” do not appear in “Arctic Tale,” and concerns about the human influence on the rapidly changing environment up north don’t appear until very late in the film. But they are there, and yes, if you hate the liberal lie-mongers who spout “global warming” nonsense then yes, you will hate this movie. Al Gore’s daughter co-wrote it, for crying out loud! AREN’T YOU ENRAGED JUST HEARING ABOUT IT?!!

If you take your kids to see it, there is a strong chance they will come out of it wanting to take better care of the Earth, to use less electricity, and to recycle. I can see why you wouldn’t want your children exposed to ideas like those.

It’s produced by National Geographic and has the look and feel of the National Geographic nature specials we used to love watching on TV. Through some truly amazing and beautiful photography, and aided (or hindered) by Queen Latifah’s narration, we follow a young polar bear and walrus through the first several years of their lives. We call the bear Nanu, and the walrus Seela. Nobody else gets names, not even Nanu’s twin brother. If you’re not one of the two stars, you go nameless. These animals need better agents.

The plight our adorable pals face is a diminishing quantity of ice from one year to the next. (The film was shot over the course of 15 years.) The bears do their best hunting when the ice is solid and thick, and the walruses need ice floes to live on. Less ice means scarcer food for everyone.

But that doesn’t mean Queen Latifah can’t crack an awful lot of lame jokes! For example, did you know that walruses whiskers serve a purpose? It’s true: “Those sweet ‘staches aren’t just for style!” Latifah declares. When Nanu’s nameless brother tumbles backward into a small cave, she says, “Hole in one!” And the walruses? “When one gets hungry, the whole herd does. That’s just how they roll!” PLEASE KILL ME NOW.

The animals are almost certainly anthropomorphized much more than is realistic, with emotions and feelings ascribed to them that they cannot possibly be having. I’m a little disturbed, too, that while the issue of walrus sex is handled very discreetly, the issue of walrus flatulence is put right out in the open for all the world to hear.

All that said, and regardless of your political ideology, the footage captured by directors Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson is spectacular. Animals are fascinating to watch in their natural habitats, and it’s not often I find myself in the arctic to see them firsthand. I’m willing to overlook some lowest-common-denominator idiocy in favor of some well-produced nature photography.

B- (1 hr., 25 min.; G, with some discreet but unmistakable references to death.)