Paramount Vantage is hoping auds will be as bullish on bears and walruses as they were on “March of the Penguins,” although it remains to be seen if they will warm to “Arctic Tale,” an expertly assembled docu with an underlying message about multiple species threatened by man’s pigheaded behavior. National Geographic imprint ensures the pic will, in any case, have long, healthy life in tube and video preserves.
Married helmers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson spent six frigid years following various animals through harrowing seasonal changes, with special focus on a newborn polar bear, Nanu, and a baby walrus, Seela. The anthropomorphism is relentless, as animal communities are mined for their most recognizably human characteristics — not hard to do, given the outsized personalities of the main subjects.
Some realistic deaths add a tragic dimension, although there’s more emphasis on in-the-wild comedy; when all else fails, a film can always rely on walrus farts for easy giggles.
Al fresco carnality is notably absent — and is perhaps the only reason the filmmakers omit “You Sexy Thing” from the soundtrack, especially when they manage to slip in “Celebrate” and “We Are Family” during a 10-minute seg. Elsewhere, there are crowd-pleasing tunes from Cat Stevens, Aimee Mann and the Shins to help underscore the gorgeous, blue-tinged lensing, while the lush orchestral music sticks to Disneyesque pomposity.
Queen Latifah proves an amiably authoritative narrator, and is allowed more personality than most script readers; Morgan Freeman never told his penguins they’d “best be goin’.” (Co-writer Kristin Gore, Al Gore’s daughter, is the only connection to Par Vantage’s similarly themed docu hit, “An Inconvenient Truth.”)
Beth Spiegel’s editing is the sharpest achievement here, with extremely smooth transitions connecting protagonists over great distances and sometimes time periods. Attentive viewers will eventually realize many of the principal critters rarely or never appear in the same frame, although clever assembly suggests otherwise. Some of the bestand least programmatic moments are interludes featuring other species, such as shots of jellyfish floating underwater, or an overhead sweep of a channel filled with migrating dolphins.
Drama is heightened by the undeniably frightening changes in weather patterns over the past few years. Overall effect, regardless of aesthetic quibbles or kudos, is to make auds aware of how imminent the risk is to these environmentally interdependent creatures.