Things don’t look good at the start – American accents, songs in the style of failed Broadway musicals, cute wobbly things like Robbie the baby seal and polar bears that don’t kill everything that moves across a prettified icescape.
Lars is a fluffy white cub, who can’t swim. When he makes friends with Robbie, the grown-up bears are horrified. Seals are nosh, not nice, they tell him. Being young and unprejudiced, he ignores them. Lars and Robbie become inseparable.
Slowly charm infuses sentiment and the film wins you over. At the end, after incredible adventures that take him to a tropical island, hitches a ride with a killer whale, finds him trapped on an ice flow in mountainous green seas and witnesses a battle with an evil factory ship, Lars is told, “You are the best little polar bear that ever was,” and you find yourself on your feet, applauding, for heaven’s sake. Can the power of animation be so strong? It helps having the mental age of a six-year-old.
The difference between European films of this kind and Those Who Would Be Walt is subtle and profound. The Americans want little creatures to be like middle-class Californian kids. An exception would be the nasty baby alien monster in Lilo & Stitch, who, at least, learns how to love. The Europeans process their message of goodwill through humour and simple storylines. They don’t patronise; they tickle.
The Little Polar Bear is based on stories by Hans de Beer and made in Holland by Thilo Rothkirch and Piet de Rycker. In the same way that Raymond Briggs, in his Snowman books, creates a world as safe as mummy’s breath, there is always a hint of danger. Without fear, happiness is a plastic duck.
“If you never give up, you can never be defeated,” Caruso, the loopy penguin, says and yet the lemmings continue to jump over cliffs because they’re so depressed.
Little ones, who were scared rigid by Sid’s room in Toy Story, will love this.