Despite the National Geographic imprimatur, the family-oriented nature film Arctic Tale isn't a documentary. They say it right there in the title, see? It's a tale. Yes, there's much to be learned about the life cycle of the polar bear and the walrus. But the knowledge is irritatingly selective, compromised by little white arctic lies, and tarted up with runaway anthropomorphism even March of the Penguins wouldn't have dared.
Filmmakers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson construct Arctic Tale from fifteen years of footage, but the resulting narrative is unconvincing in nearly ever way. It's best viewed as an exercise in editing: any one shot may tell the truth, but any two shots stitched together contribute to the film's semi-artful lie. Ravetch and Robertson hope their fiction will tell a greater truth, and in the broad strokes, maybe it does. But the devil's in the details of the eight-year-long span (and it feels that way) in the lives of a female polar bear cub supposedly named Nanu (played by several animals) and a female walrus calf supposedly named Seelah (ditto). All the while, warm and sassy narrator Queen Latifah tells us what they're thinking.
Comedy writer/"daughter of Al" Kristin Gore contributes to the screenplay, which makes inroads for flatulence ("pull my flipper"), party pop ("We Are Family" and "Celebration," right on each other's heels), and shameless pleas—by big-eyed moppets, no less—for environmental responsibility. The core of the picture is an evocation of natural wonder threatened by human carelessness, but beware the high kiddie-movie toxicity levels.
Paramount delivers a spotty hi-def transfer of Arctic Tale in its Blu-ray debut. The source material probably should be expected to be less than pristine, given the conditions under which it was shot, but the transfer itself is clearly lackluster: grain overcomes detail, and video noise crowds out the usual hi-def crispness. As one might imagine, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track isn't going to test your system: it's adequate for the understated source material.
Three bonus features lend added value to the disc. The twenty-three minute "Making of Arctic Tale" tips the hat to the filmmakers' Inuit neighbors while describing some of the filmmaking process, and the six-minute short "Are We There Yet? World Adventure: Polar Bear Spotting" follows Molly and Sam, in a tundra buggy, as they seek out polar bears. Lastly, we get the film's "Theatrical Trailer" in HD.
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