To the Arctic treats its audience as children. This spotty vision of the life of a mother polar bear and her two cubs in the changing Arctic wilderness opens with a nursery rhyme, conveying not so much the splendor of the natural world as the experience of looking up at a musical mobile. But this crib toy, which clocks in at a scant 45 minutes, has the cheapness of a trinket you'd get from a carnival grab machine. It's unsafe too, as the names of the cast and crew are presented as chunks of ice that break into shards, to be foisted at one's face in dramatic 3D at an IMAX theater near you. Final Destination, anyone?
Though the film is light on anthropomorphization, its aesthetic is nothing if not infantile. Three-time Oscar-winner Meryl Streep intermittently gives dry expression to generic pronouncements about climate change, how it slows down caribou herds, how we must try to keep the Arctic white (except, presumably, for the seal guts that infrequently dot the melting ice caps), and how this part of our natural world is paradise to a polar bear, at which point a kumbaya musical doodle by Paul McCartney cloyingly rises from the incessant score by Steve Wood.
Though the story largely revolves around the struggle of a mother polar bear and her cubs to literally stay afloat in a region of ever-melting ice caps, there are brief, largely distracting timeouts that give witness to other animal adventures and human endeavors. A biologist and his filmmaker wife breathlessly follow a caribou herd from central Yukon to the herd's calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the survival instincts of the Inuit people are celebrated across time, or at least since the making of Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North, and using ice-framed PIP effects that went out with Photoshop CS1.