Polar Bear Parent Guide
This documentary is beautifully shot but the narration is replete with painfully bad pop psychology.
Parent Movie Review
With its usual impeccable timing, Disney+ is releasing Polar Bear on Earth Day 2022. Parents usually embrace new releases from the Mouse House, but before you get out the popcorn (or kale chips) and settle down with the little ones in front of the TV, I need to sound a note of caution.
Disneynature productions run the gamut from cheerful edutainment to more somber documentaries about the harsh realities of the natural world. Polar Bear falls on the sadder end of that spectrum, with no comedy and plenty of real-life tragedy.
The movie centers on an unnamed female bear (voiced by Catherine Keener) who recounts her life from childhood through her own journey as a mother. She experiences fierce blizzards, moments of deadly peril, seasons of perpetual summer sunshine, successful hunting expeditions, and lean times of hunger and want. All of this is narrated through a heavily anthropomorphized script, which imbues her life with way too much amateur psychology. Are we supposed to take it seriously when a newly independent adult bear starts reminiscing about her mother thusly, “I wasn’t really alone. She was with me. She was a part of every experience. Every decision. Every journey. A part of the bear I had become.” We don’t know how animals perceive our world, but I think we can be certain that the don’t see it through a filter of syrupy greeting card messages.
If you can overlook the psychobabble – and your kids certainly will – the film can still disturb young viewers. More than most other creatures, polar bears are negatively affected by climate change. In this film, the protagonist and her family are threatened not only by predatory males and the natural hazards of living in a harsh climate but by an environment that is literally melting beneath their feet. Children who are old enough to understand climate change could be motivated towards positive change or preoccupied by anxiety for the planet. Younger children might be frightened by some of the hunting scenes (although they are sanitized), and possibly by one scene where polar bears eat a dead whale and lift their faces, smeared with blood and whale viscera, towards the camera. Frankly, Polar Bear may be better suited as a classroom movie than as a choice for family movie night – but that depends on your kids’ appetite for nature films.
Concerns aside, Polar Bear maintains Disneynature’s standards for stellar cinematography. It’s difficult to discuss the filming without superlatives – stunning, amazing, jaw-dropping – all of which describe the otherworldly vistas the filmmakers found in Norway as they followed the bears through their own lethally beautifully corner of the planet. This story will leave you and your children marveling at the wonders of the earth and rooting for the survival of these incredible ice bears.Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jeff Wilson. Starring Catherine Keener. Running time: 83 minutes. Theatrical release April 22, 2022. Updated April 22, 2022
Watch the trailer for Polar Bear
Rating & Content Info
Why is Polar Bear rated PG? Polar Bear is rated PG by the MPAA for some thematic elements
Violence: There are frequent scenes of female polar bears and cubs being stalked and hunted by lone male bears. A dead polar bear is seen lying in the snow. There are several scenes of polar bears hunting other animals; no blood is seen when they attack but they are shown carrying dead animals they plan to eat. Polar bears strip and eat a whale corpse: whale blubber and organs are visible and the polar bears’ faces are smeared with blood and viscera. There are multiple scenes of young bear cubs roughhousing with each other. A bear is seen eating birds’ eggs and fledglings.
Sexual Content: There is brief reference to “courting”. Adult bears roughhouse in a mating context. Mammals suckle babies in several scenes.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None.
Page last updated April 22, 2022
Polar Bear Parents' Guide
For more information about how climate change affects polar bears, you can follow these links:
Polar Bears International: Conservation Concerns
The New York Times: Global Warming Is Driving Polar Bears Toward Extinction, Researchers Say
BBC News: Climate change: Polar bears could be lost by 2100
Loved this movie? Try these books…
For an encyclopedic look at one polar bear’s life, you can read James Raffan’s Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic.
If you still can’t get enough of these magnificent creatures, you can read the Norbert Rosing’s photo essay collection, The World of the Polar Bear.
Young polar bear fans can look for copies of Where Do Polar Bears Live? Written by Sarah L Thomson and illustrated by Jason Chin, this book helps early readers learn more about the Arctic and the challenges posed by climate change.
Kids seeking more non-fiction reading can try Polar Bear: Fascinating Animal Facts for Kids by Tyler Grady or Polar Bears by Mark Newman. Also appealing for young readers are The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond and Polar Bears by Valerie Bodden.
Related home video titles:
A more entertaining Disneynature documentary set in a harsh winter climate in Penguins.
Bearsfollows the adventures of a mother Grizzly and her two cubs in the Alaskan wilderness.
In A Reindeer’s Journey, filmmakers track a young reindeer through his first year in the majestic wilderness of Finland.
If you can’t get enough of jaw-dropping winter vistas, you can watch Alpha, a fictional tale of a young man domesticating a wolf.
Global climate change first came to widespread public attention in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth.Climate activist Greta Thunberg is the subject of the bio-documentary I Am Greta.Acclaimed broadcaster Sir David Attenborough makes the case for battling climate change to protect earth’s biodiversity in David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet.