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Disney+ Review: Polar Bear

April 22, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Polar Bear is the latest Earth Day release from Disneynature, this time following a polar bear family in the Arctic, with a strong focus on how climate change is impacting their environment.

Narrated by Catherine Keener, the film takes on the perspective of a young female “ice bear” who is trying to survive with her mother and brother amidst disappearing ice, dwindling seal populations, and the threat of adult male bears who cannibalize their young.

Directed by Alastair Fothergill (a veteran of the Disneynature series) and Jeff Wilson (Disneynature’s Penguins), Polar Bear largely follows the same formula as the studio’s previous “true life” adventures, with its lightly anthropomorphized narration that attempts to turn the harsh animal experience into a relatable, kid-friendly story.

But it’s hard for the film to really gloss over the reality of what these bears are facing, which makes Polar Bear one of the studio’s more sobering films. Much of the film is about the struggles they encounter in a changing climate, such as shrinking ice floes that impacts their ability to escape predatory male bears, and dramatically thinning ice that makes it harder to hunt seals. This lack of food also causes a decaying whale carcass to look like a feast in one of the film’s more squirmy moments, as they try to rip through the flesh to get to the rich blubber underneath.

This makes Polar Bear more effective as a call to action, but it also means that the more cutesy impulses of Keener’s narration can feel a bit tonally off, like lamenting being forced to eat seaweed when there are no seals to be found during the summer as if she is a child being made to eat their vegetables (“I hated seaweed for dinner,” she moans). Though, for the most part, Keener’s narration is more subdued and resigned to the realities of a warming Arctic.

Like with previous Disneynature films, the biggest selling point of Polar Bear is its captivating nature cinematography, including some impressive aerial footage of the bears roaming along the ice. The focus on conservation is also a key component, with the filmmakers encouraging donations to Polar Bears International over a postscript at the end. As a side note, there is no “behind the scenes” footage over the credits this time around, with it having been saved for the feature length companion film Bear Witness, also dropping on Disney+ today.

Polar Bear is now available to stream exclusively on Disney+.

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