A couple of years ago, National Geographic's feature film division struck box office gold on the bottom of the world with March of the Penguins. Now they have traveled to the opposite end of the Earth hoping to achieve a similar feat in this saga of polar bears, walruses, and global warming -- the latter element being the reason why this otherwise benign little G-rated movie has the potential to ignite debate.
While some may call this a documentary, it's best described as a fictional story that uses footage of real animals and events to illustrate the plot. A mother polar bear and her two cubs are the focus of one half of the movie, which opens with the youngsters (the female is named Nanu, the male is only referred to as her brother) leaving their snow cave after a pleasant winter's rest. This is the first time the babies have been in the great outdoors, and we take time for some cute frolicking.
The other part of the tale centers on a walrus and her baby girl, who live an undetermined distance away. Sella clings to her mother while another female -- deemed by storyteller Queen Latifah to be the little pup's "Aunty" -- offers protection from predators. Swimming, somersaulting, and more frolicking ensue.
As summer arrives, the ice thins and the plot thickens. Global warming is causing the landscape to become unpredictable, and the bear family is forced to move as their hunting techniques prove futile in the shifting conditions. The long trek takes the ultimate toll on brother bear, leaving mother and daughter to continue without him. The walruses are also in flux. Their ice island is shrinking, so they abandon it and begin a long journey looking for another refuge. Eventually they find a rocky island where they take up lodgings with other animals and predators, including a polar bear we have come to know.
Using footage acquired by acclaimed National Geographic cinematographers over the course of several years, the images are pieced together to create a seamless mosaic of dramatic events. So seamless in fact that the young viewers this movie is intended to inform and entertain (as evidenced by frequent walrus flatulence sounds) will be convinced they are watching the same "individuals" throughout the movie.
Content concerns are minimal, with the greatest issues resulting from the distress the animals are undergoing due to their changing habitat. A couple of deaths of secondary characters and a painful parent/child separation will likely cause children some sadness and tears. As well, a couple of scenes show animals being eaten by hungry polar bears (we view this from a distance without explicit detail).
Obviously the main purpose of this production is to educate the next generation about global warming, and it isn't afraid to use somewhat manipulative techniques to pull on young heartstrings. That thorny issue aside, this little trek through the Arctic is visually interesting, but somewhat disappointing, especially when compared to the depth and detail we enjoyed as we marched with the penguins in National Geographic's pervious motion picture offering.