A mother polar bear shepherds her twin seven-month-old cubs as they search for food in the IMAX movie To the Arctic. The sight is awesome because nature is awesome — in the universal instinct for survival that drives living creatures, in the singular, glacial isolation of the Arctic wilderness, all that. The sight is also awesome because IMAX movies are scaled for awe. It is not, however, a testament to the particular ''courage,'' ''love,'' ''patience,'' or ''bravery'' of this particular polar bear that she and her cubs happen to be able to prevail. Those are false sentiments poured over this very square ''inspirational'' documentary whose impersonal warmth, coupled with a score by Steve Wood and gooey songs from Paul McCartney, might well be the reason the Arctic is melting at a worrisome rate.
Certainly the script, written and edited by Stephen Judson and narrated in Goodnight, Moon tones by Meryl Streep, offers no other specific explanations for the global warming that is shrinking the polar bears' preferred turf. Any children moved by the plight of this particular bear (mercifully, she is not given a name, like Cuddles or Tiffani) and inspired to become a climate activist will learn nothing about what (and who) caused that warming in the first place and what might be done to slow the process.
Instead, the message to those children — and to the parents or grandparents who accompany those young ticket-holders, placing big IMAX glasses on little faces — is that snow is pretty and bears are cute. Filmmaker Greg MacGillivray, a specialist in gigantic-screen nature movies including The Living Sea, is up to date in his use of 70mm IMAX film, but he's stuck in the past about how to tell a story.