It’s the wrong time of year for us to be having an animated kids movie set in the arctic coming to our screens. However there is slim pickings for families in the lead up to Christmas, so for those wanting to keep their little ones entertained comes Arctic Justice. The film has been marketed overseas under a number of different titles including Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad, Arctic Dogs and Polar Squad, all variations on a chilly theme and it’s probably trying to beat Frozen 2 to the punch. But this movie has some important take home messages, one of which includes an accessible take on climate change and global warming.
Swifty the Arctic Fox (Jeremy Renner) has always dreamed of bigger things. He works in the Arctic Blast Delivery Service assisting with processing packages. But he yearns to be a Top Dog, and part of the elite husky courier crew delivering packages to families. To prove he has what it takes, he offers to deliver a parcel to a remote location. There he stumbles upon Otto Van Walrus’ (John Cleese) lair and uncovers an evil plan to drill beneath the ice and unleash ancient gas and melt the Arctic. Swifty must enlist the help of his friends PB (Alec Baldwin) a neurotic polar bear, Lemmy (James Franco) a scatterbrained albatross, Jade Fox (Heidi Klum) a brainy mechanic and engineer, Magda the Caribou (Anjelica Huston) his grumbly ABDS boss and a pair of conspiracy theorist otters Leopold (Omar Sy) and Berth (Klum on double voice duties) to try and stop Otto from enacting his plan and destroying the town of Taigasville and the world.
Director Aaron Woodley (The Entitled) with a script by Bob Barlen and Cal Brunker (both on animated feature Escape From Planet Earth) craft a story that’s pretty easy for the young ones to follow. The focus remains on Swifty, a character who is unhappy with his current circumstances but is willing to do what it takes to get what he wants. However his obsession and desire for wanting to be the best also results in him upsetting many of those around him. It’s not until he realises that teamwork to achieve his goal and save everybody is a far better tactic. There is a gentle but obvious romantic subplot between Swifty and Jade, but it’s handled quite adorably and with relatable awkwardness. The first ten minutes of the film has a cumbersome voiceover to provide exposition but once we move beyond Swifty’s early years and move into his grown up phase we get a more flowing narrative.
The voice performances are solid but that goes without saying since most of the cast are A-list actors. Not that knowing who Renner, Baldwin or Klum is will make any sort of difference to the young viewers. Renner and Baldwin provide the most capable, but Cleese as the villain and Huston as the disgruntled boss both get to really ham it up and provide some unexpected laughs. The animation is not as colourful and eye popping as Pixar, nor does it have the edginess of Dreamworks but it’s fine enough for the youngsters. The animal designs are cute and have that slight anthropomorphic look to be relatable but not entirely other-worldy. Though I was wildly confused by why the walrus had robotic spider legs? Maybe because that’s creepier than just having two legs? The film is soundtracked and peppered with songs sung by Renner, which feels odd at times when he also voices the main character.
Arctic Justice is an adequate family movie to fill in the time before a much larger release arrives in a couple of weeks. It has some take home messaging about climate change and being true to yourself that is good for kids. But is also unremarkable in its simplicity in design and story so never really lifts enough to be memorable.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Arctic Justice is out in Australian cinemas from 7 November 2019 through Icon Film Distribution