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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids can learn a lot about polar bears and climate change's effects on the Arctic's natural environment. The narration may help them empathize with the bears' lives and future. Motherhood and importance of passing down knowledge and skills between generations are highlighted.
Although global warming is leading to "almost insurmountable" changes in polar bears' environment, they are "great survivors" because they pass down knowledge and skills and they master changes.
Positive Role Models
The mama bear cares full-time for her cubs and teaches them everything they need to know to survive in the Arctic wild. The female cub grows up to have a cub of her own.
Violence & Scariness
Bears must stalk, capture, and feed on prey, including baby penguins and walruses, eggs, seals, and a dead whale whose blubber feeds a whole pack of bears. The narrator discusses the bears getting to the "juicy goodness" of the whale under its thick skin, then washing off the blood from their fur after feasting. Female bears and cubs are preyed upon by male bears. Spoiler alert: A bear cub dies in the winter.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Bears "court" and mate (not shown, discussed indirectly as resulting in a family), and cubs nurse from their mother (shown and mentioned).
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the Disneynature documentary Polar Bear -- from the directors behind previous films like Elephant, Penguins, and Planet Earth -- offers beautiful imagery and meaningful environmental lessons. Narrator Catherine Keener recounts the lives of a mama bear and her two cubs from the perspective of one of the cubs. Be ready for moments that show the harsh side of life in the wild: Female bears and cubs are preyed upon by male bears, and -- spoiler alert -- a cub dies. Footage shows the bears stalking, capturing, and feeding on prey, including baby penguins and walruses, eggs, seals, and a dead whale. Narration discusses the bears getting to the "juicy goodness" of the whale under its thick skin before they must wash the blood off of their fur after feasting. The movie also warns that global warming is leading to "almost insurmountable" changes in the polar bears' environment, but assures viewers that the animals are "great survivors" because they pass down knowledge and master changes. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
The majestic footage of the Arctic alone is worth your time in this documentary. The filmmakers behind Polar Bear spent many seasons following and filming bears to create this movie, with overhead shots and close-ups that take your breath away. That's the real job behind a documentary like this one, but in order to bring the "characters" alive, the filmmakers also need a story. In this case, they've opted to narrate the lives of a mama bear and her two cubs -- one male and one female -- from the perspective of the female cub (voiced by Catherine Keener). It doesn't make the film action packed, but there's emotion in hunting ("stalking") and death scenes in particular.
The trick with Polar Bear's narrative approach is that it assigns the bears human emotions. Skeptical viewers might wonder if a bear actually knows when she's had "the best day" of her life. But the animals' behavior surely offers enough clues for when they're feeling happy, satisfied, scared, etc. There are three occasions when the narrative is frustratingly vague -- when a death goes unexplained, when a cub and mama part ways but we aren't told exactly why this is customary, and when two bears mate and the narrator, oddly for a nature documentary, describes it in euphemisms about being "courted" and being "provided" with a family of one's own.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.