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Frozen chosen

Movies | Arctic Tale's humor and hubris run cold

Issue: "Minority report," Aug. 11, 2007

In the polar north, In a G-rated nature film, in a picture starring only walruses and polar bears-a flatulence joke. Is there anywhere that one can't go? With the steady and unyielding force of gravity, such jokes have pushed so deep into filmmakers' psyche that not even Arctic Tale (rated, yes, G) can resist.

In a journal of the life-cycle of walruses and polar bears near the North Pole, Arctic Tale's herd of walruses has just returned from a clam hunt and settled into a long spell of lounging when they spontaneously break out into what narrator Queen Latifah calls "a game of pull my flipper." Anyone might imagine what comes next, but no one can guess just how long the body-function soundtrack lasts.

If Arctic Tale is trying to recapture the magic of the Academy Award winner March of the Penguins, it fails. Not because married filmmakers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson don't find good footage of arctic bears and walruses to fashion into composite stories of young females like Nanu the bear and Seela the walrus as they chronicle what it means to grow up near the North Pole. It's that penguins-whose lives are filled with death marches to the sea, winter huddles, and egg passing-are so epic. The species featured in Arctic Tale are so ordinary.

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Perhaps sensing the mundanity of their creatures' lives (hunting, lounging, passing gas), Ravetch and Robertson attempt to inject crisis into the lives of the animals with the looming specter of global warming. In that way, Arctic Tale strays toward the meta-narrative employed by Ice Age. All the wonders of arctic life will disappear, the narrator warns, if humans don't cool down the planet. "What will their children do if it disappears?" Queen Latifah asks. "What will ours?"

And as the credits roll, the film employs children to browbeat their fellow children into adopting a carbon-neutral lifestyle so that the bears can continue to frolic and the walruses can continue to pull each other's flippers.

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