Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An Arctic Tale

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM

National Geographic gets Disneyfied in An Arctic Tale: Amazing wildlife footage is edited into a kid-friendly narrative of anthropomorphized creatures growing up in the Great White North. It also functions as a cautionary tale about the startling effects of global climate change, made for a generation growing up green.

It's not hard to see that the filmmakers' hearts were in the right place. The married team of Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson are renowned for their commitment to documenting Arctic wildlife, and their footage is extraordinary in its intimacy with a landscape most humans will never see.

Certainly, constructing that footage into a recognizable timeline — following Nanu the polar bear and Seela the walrus from childhood to maturity — makes what they've observed more immediate and relatable. But it's not hard to wonder if they've done their young audience a disservice by presenting carefully crafted fiction as a nature documentary.

An Arctic Tale is an increasingly familiar hybrid that has proven successful in movie theaters (March of the Penguins) and on television (Meerkat Manor). Directors Ravetch and Robertson overlaid the raw beauty of their images with a heart-tugging narration delivered with both gravitas and verve by Queen Latifah.

She's an inspired choice as the voice of the female-centric Tale, soothing one minute, sassy the next. It's hard to imagine another narrator describing the very close living conditions of walruses as being "all up in each other's business" and it coming off as both funny and on target.

But by personalizing the plight of polar bears and walruses into the struggles of composites Nanu and Seela, and emphasizing fevotion as much as survival instinct, the three narration writers effectively take the wild out of wildlife.

Their backgrounds illustrate the different worlds that came together to create An Arctic Tale: Screenwriter Linda Woolverton specializes in children's animation; Mose Richards provides narration for television documentaries; and novelist Kristen Gore is the environmentally aware daughter of An Inconvenient Truth teller Al.

The end result is neither fish nor fowl, a sugar-coated call to action that fails to inspire. The credits sequence showcases that split personality: remarkable shots of the filmmakers up close and personal with their fearsome subjects intercut with a host of earnest children giving us the same trite list of minor sacrifices for a gluttonous nation to save the planet. Truly savvy kids will tell you that it'll take more than that.


Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.

Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to


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