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'Polar Bear' Review: All in the Family
Chilly, calm and thoughtful doc celebrates Earth Day.
On the top of the world, it gets mighty chilly. Of course, if you're an ice bear, that comes with the territory.
As part of the Disney Plus streaming service's Earth Day celebration, Polar Bear calmly and quietly extols the beauty of the unspoiled natural world in the polar regions, following an unnamed titular creature, who refers to herself and her kind as "ice bears," as she reflects back upon her life course. Voiced by Catherine Keener, the bear speaks quietly but carries a big story.
First, though, comes her playful childhood in the company of her twin brother and their mother, who is entirely focused on their survival. During their first year or two, that means she hunts relentlessly for food while remaining constantly on guard against any possible dangers. Male ice bears post the gravest threat, since a full-grown male easily outweighs the female and has no hesitation about killing for survival.
Mother doesn't hesitate to kill, either, since she can't just pop out to a grocery store or call a delivery service for her family's dietary needs. Seals are her primary prey, though they are only available to hunt when they are in season, i.e. when the weather is right and conditions allow for them to survive. It's the old 'circle of life' thing, and somebody's gotta die for others to survive. although handled gently.
Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, Polar Bear treads carefully within the limitations of a documentary intended for viewing by the entire family, including young children and old squeamish people. We don't see bears eating seals, for example; it's simply acknowledged in the narration, something like 'mmm! Good eating!'
Later, when a dead whale washes ashore, the challenges and delights of consuming large quantities of raw meat are lovingly detailed. Those bears are hungry, and they need to eat! Still, the mama bear is sufficiently polite to allow the male bears to go first, lest one of her cubs get mistaken for an appetizer and gobbled up.
The film's stately pace builds respect for the ice bears as they deal with one challenge after another. Yet the hardships are tempered by the occasional lighter, playful moments, even after our heroine leaves home and faces the great challenge of living alone. Really alone. Alone without another living soul in sight, from here to the horizon and beyond.
In these moments, the film's overall focus on the delicate balance of the world becomes more pronounced. It's very light and easygoing on any sort of message. Really, the message is implicit in its presentation. No one survives alone in this world, not even an ice bear. [Disney Plus]
P.S. I keep forgetting that Disney Plus includes National Geographic films. It's one of the building blocks of the service, and new content continues to be added weekly. The Last Tepui, for example, is highlighted today, featuring mountain climbers and gorgeous scenery and far more danger than necessary in one's personal life. [National Geographic]