I’ve never been above the Arctic Circle. Very Important Environmentalists (and Very Important Anti-Environmentalists) get invited on junkets to the polar regions to see firsthand the effects of global warming on the world’s icy caps. I get to stay in Dixie and watch other evidences unfold–salt marshes and coastal vegetation being flooded by rising sea levels, worsening droughts and fires, and killer heat waves (such as the current one, which has already taken the lives of over 50 people). The only ice I see melting is in my tea.
Now National Geographic Films and Paramount Vintage have brought to people like me "Arctic Tale", a "wildlife adventure" movie that shows some of God’s creatures most impacted by climate change.
It’s not a message brought home with a sledgehammer; stricly speaking, "Arctic Tale" is about wildlife, not about global warming (at least not until the final credits, when the cheerful "why not just change the way you do everything?!" slogans are delivered, and subtlety is completely abandoned). The focus of the film is on a couple of baby animals growing and (partially) adapting to a new set of challenges. There’s a polar bear cub sweeter than any stuffed animal and a walrus pup that takes "so ugly it’s cute" to a whole new level. They are thoroughly anthropomorphized in the hippest possible way by Queen Latifah’s commentary, which our family thoroughly enjoyed (that is, they enjoyed the thorough anthropomorphization and Queen Latifah; she’s a striking contrast to Morgan Freeman’s somber voiceover in "March of the Penguins").
The plot is, in a way, standard family nature documentary fare. The animals are cute, but there’s some (very tame) bloodthirstiness as they catch prey and avoid predators, and they engage in various animal antics (including a spectacular walrus flatulence montage which delighted everyone in our family but my wife). And they grow up and find mates. Numerous other amazing animals get their own sidebars. In one sense you’ve seen it before, but two things stand out.
The first is the overwhelming beauty of the Arctic landscape–it’s far different from the way it’s portrayed by those who simply view it as a frozen wasteland or an untapped oil reservoir. This is a place that reflects the Creator’s design and majesty in a way no other place on earth does. The photography is outstanding, as much a visual treat as any IMAX movie, but without video gimmicks and tricks. The handiwork of God in this place is awesome (in the strictest sense), and that sense is supported as the delicately interlocking lives of animals and their environment is explored. (To get the full effect of the wonder of Creation, you’d probaby need to mute Queen Latifah, though.)
The second feature that sets this film apart is the undercurrent of tension between the micro-dramas of the "families" onscreen, and the epic nature of the changes their world is undergoing. Within a few animal generations (and with a single human generation), this icy world may be gone, and may stay gone for hundreds of years. This would be sobering even if it were a natural cycle, but what’s more disturbing is the knowledge that human actions taken in complete obliviousness to this part of Creation are already having a profound effect on the lives of creatures we’ve never seen.
As far as the "global warming" message, this is a completely nature-centric film. Human impacts are not even mentioned–the Inuits and Indians who depend on these regions and their wildlife for their livelihood are not mentioned. But that’s another story, which one hopes can be told in as compelling a fashion as this one.
It’s a family-safe movie, written much more obviously for kids than "March of the Penguins" (which is still great for kids!). There are moments of peril as various animals are hunted by other animals, but the onscreen "violence" is much tamer than anything to be seen on television. I watched it with my 4- and 7-year old sons, and they loved it. Of note, this is a documentary without the usual constant droning about the "work of evolution" (as though such inspiring ecologies could arise by accident). At the start of the film is a comment about the way these creatures are "designed" for their habitat, but the film doesn’t make a big deal about that either.
If you have kids whose appreciation for Creation has not been diluted yet, you’ll probably want the DVD when it comes out. But see it in the theater, to fully appreciate the grandeur of the icy handiwork of God.