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'Arctic Tale' is ruined by pop soundtrack, narration

Arctic Tale

(G)

Despite being in production for more than a decade, the documentary "Arctic Tale" feels like a quick cash-in on Oscar-winners "An Inconvenient Truth" and "March of the Penguins." If it didn't have such a silly pop soundtrack, affected narration or a made-up, Disneyesque plot, you might actually be able to take it seriously.

Husband and wife co-directors Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson obviously went to great lengths and spent years gathering the raw North Pole footage. The final cut of the film divides time equally between polar bears and their natural prey, the walrus. The back-and-forth editing by Beth Spiegel is so innovative, it would be entirely possible to figure out the story without a single word or extraneous embellishment. But if that were the case, young children might grow restless and the "fun" quotient would sink to zero.

It doesn't come as much of a surprise that Queen Latifah's fireside narration was co-written by Kristin Gore, daughter of "An Inconvenient Truth's" Al Gore. When not trite, coy or forced, the voice-over content is pure political, global-warming propaganda. Gore's message has clear merit, but not in this context.

The writers also give the six principal figures human names, another clunky device designed to make them appear more like huggable house pets than creatures of the wild. The use of pronouns ("mama, papa and baby") in lieu of proper names would have still effectively endeared the critters to the audience. This was a major storytelling blunder.

The forced commercialism reaches its nadir with the insertion of the Sister Sledge tune "We Are Family." Carefully edited clips of an extended brood of walruses are made to appear dancing, as the overly-familiar song takes center stage.

In what has become a troubling new trend in family films, there's also a scene that features the walruses passing gas. It, too, is completely out of place, done in bad taste and inserted solely for the purpose of eliciting giggles from the youngsters.

Luckily, the children will walk away with a modicum of new knowledge regarding faraway animals they've possibly heard of but knew nothing about. That is this movie's sole redeeming virtue. (Paramount Vantage/National Geographic)