To the Arctic



Educational documentary explores life in the frozen wild.
  • Review Date: May 21, 2012
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 45 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Like most nature documentaries, To the Arctic offers an in-depth view of its animal subjects and how they survive and thrive. Kids will learn that the frigid arctic environment is all that these animals know, and as the summer season gets longer due to global warming, the bears and walruses and caribou of the far north face starvation -- and even extinction.

Positive messages

The movie's overall message is to pay attention to climate change and how global warming is affecting the polar bears and other animals that call the arctic their home. Without a human push to curb the effects of global warming, the animals will be wiped out sooner than we can imagine.

Positive role models

Although it's always tricky to ascribe human characteristics to wildlife, the mother polar bear is clearly a selfless mama determined to keep her cubs alive, whether that means swimming longer and farther or standing up to a much bigger, much stronger male polar bear threatening to kill her cubs.

Violence & scariness

There are a few scenes of peril and suspense as a predatory male polar bear is in pursuit of a mother polar bear and her two cubs. Also, the narration explains that baby caribou born during the migration usually don't make it to their destination and that a baby polar bear wasn't able to withstand the long distance its mother swam to look for food. A seal is caught and shared between a mother and her cubs, but audiences only see glimpses of the meat and the bloodstained bears.

Sexy stuff

Caribou give birth along a migration trail. Talk about male polar bears during mating season.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that To the Arctic is an educational 3-D nature documentary about the animals that thrive in the world's harshest climate. Filmed in IMAX, the movie puts a special emphasis on polar bears and the plight they face as global warming continues to extend the arctic summer season. There's nothing objectionable in the documentary, but some very young kids might be disturbed by the tense scenes when a male polar bear pursues a mother and her cubs or when the white cubs get bloody from eating freshly hunted seal meat. The narrator also explains that some cubs and caribou newborns have died because of the elements or starvation. Since the documentary is only 45 minutes long, it's just the right length to educate and entertain kids about life in the arctic's frozen world.

What's the story?

Narrated by Academy Award winner Meryl Streep, TO THE ARCTIC follows life in the arctic for polar bears, caribou, and other animals that call the frozen landscape their home. Like the BBC-Discovery series Frozen Planet, this IMAX documentary explains how global climate change is thawing the polar ice caps, extending the arctic summer by one month, and wreaking havoc on the habitats of the bears and other arctic residents. Despite their ability to thrive in the icy world, the polar bears are starving, the caribou aren't making it to their migratory destinations to give birth, and the entire future of the arctic is literally on thin ice.

Is it any good?


Streep, a master of tone and diction, is a wonderful narrator -- injecting the movie's fairly didactic script with the emotion and urgency necessary to convey just how dire the arctic situation is. With a running time of just 45 minutes, even younger children will be able to follow along as To the Arctic introduces audiences to the industrious mother cub who can sense danger and will stop at nothing -- even growling at a much larger, much hungrier alpha male -- to protect and feed her babies.

Thanks to the participation of Paul McCartney, To the Arctic's score is full of poignant, familiar songs that match the dazzling visuals (all of that white landscape punctuated by the swimming or galloping animals) and the at times heart-wrenching story of the animals desperate to survive in their unforgiving surroundings. This isn't an uplifting story -- the arctic is facing full-on extinction by 2050 if we humans don't help stop global warming -- but it's an important one that will stick with kids long before Streep has uttered her last dulcet-toned sentiment.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of wildlife documentaries and how they provide insight into the natural world. What are some favorites? Do you prefer ones with a narrator or those with more interviews and experts?

  • Why are wildlife documentaries well suited to the IMAX/3-D format? Do you think you get more out of documentaries in 3-D or other kinds of 3-D movies?

  • How can audiences take the lessons espoused in the documentary and make changes to help stop global warming?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 20, 2012
DVD release date:March 26, 2013
Cast:Meryl Streep
Director:Greg MacGillivray
Studio:Warner Bros.
Topics:Science and nature, Wild animals
Run time:45 minutes
MPAA rating:G

This review of To the Arctic was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 11 years old September 2, 2012

Good Movie

liked this movie and it's for anyone!!
What other families should know
Educational value
Kid, 11 years old April 19, 2013

Emma M's Review for To the Arctic

Well, I think this movie is very educational. I don't ave many words for it. You'll have to watch it for yourself. I am in the 5th grade and this movie has come up very interesting to me. I would give it a higher level. Maybe 10? Hopefully any viewrs who see this take their children or just go to see a very good movie!
What other families should know
Educational value
Kid, 11 years old May 27, 2012

To The Arctic

To The Arctic is kind've my kind of movie. There is nothing innapropiate in the movie. The only parts that are a little scary are when the male polar bear is chasing the mom and her cubs. Otherwise it is a very short heartwarming movie.
What other families should know
Educational value


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