'Bears' star John C. Reilly: 'I felt that I really watched a family story'

(Handout)

(Handout)

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:48 PM ET

In honour of Earth Day on April 22, Disneynature is releasing its latest wildlife documentary on Friday, with part of the proceeds going to wildlife projects. In honour of Bears, which he narrates, actor John C. Reilly is hoping that the film will inspire audiences to care for bears in a profound new way.

“I think this is a good thing that they are doing because, in a world of shrinking habitat and shrinking government budgets for things like national parks, people need to care in a really relatable way!” Reilly says in an interview. “I agree that this is not the driest, most intellectual way to go about learning about bears, but it is important. Once you get this close to these animals, you really do see what they are going through.”

Bears was co-directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, British filmmakers who worked together on Disneynature’s African Cats. Bears tells the saga of how a mother grizzly (whom the filmmakers name Sky) takes her newborn cubs (Amber and Scout) on a year-long journey. It is fraught with peril, including the spectre of starvation and threats of predation by wolves and rogue bears. Reilly’s narration tells their story in an anthropomorphic way that turns the saga into a human-like story, although all the footage is real and shot in the wilds of Alaska. Reilly, Oscar-nominated for his role in the musical Chicago, is on the phone from Los Angeles. He said he got deeply involved in Bears. “I found myself amazingly emotionally connected to these animals by the end of the film,” he says. “I felt that I really watched a family story.”

That is exactly what he tried to convey in his narration. “I wouldn’t call it ‘dumbing-it-down’,” Reilly says of his boyish approach. Instead, his goal was “making it factually correct and emotionally resonant.”

The factual elements are scientifically sound. “And I have to say,” the outdoors enthusiast adds, “that I learned a lot about bears from watching the movie. I thought I knew a fair bit about bears, but I think I was underestimating how dangerous it is. You think of them as the top of the food chain, as these enormous, solitary creatures that don’t have any problems surviving. But then you realize that, wow, it’s a challenge every year, whether you’re a cub or a huge bear. So it was pretty eye-opening to see what it is really like.”

Reilly says one revelation was seeing the “super-high mortality rate” for newborn bear cubs and the critical need for she-bears to find enough food in the summer months to last her and her cubs for an entire year.

“One of the great things that the movie does is show you that these bears really do need our care,” he says of the inspiration that Bears may provide. Reilly says the public needs to back efforts to save natural habitat where grizzly bears — and all wildlife — can survive and thrive on their own.

“It is very moving,” he says of Bears, “and I think that is good in terms of motivating people to care.”

 

'BEARS' DIRECTOR: EVERYTHING HAD TO BE BIOLOGICALLY ACCURATE

It takes five times as long to film a movie for Disneynature than it does to film a conventional wildlife documentary. That is the surprising news from Alastair Fothergill, a veteran British nature filmmaker whose credits include memorable classics for the BBC as well as five films for Disneynature. His newest release is Bears, opening Friday.

“Disney is a key partner because they give us the kind of budget that allows us to spend a long time in the field — more than we do for TV,” Fothergill says in an interview. The extra time is required to film enough natural behaviour to tell the story that a Disneynature movie requires. Fothergill later confirms that this longer fieldwork is five times as much as his production team would spend shooting a similar nature scene for television documentaries such as Planet Earth and The Blue Planet.

Fothergill’s Disney credits include Bears and Monkey Kingdom, which is now in post-production for a 2015 release. He also directed Earth (a Disney spin-off from Planet Earth), Chimpanzee and African Cats.

“What I like about Disneynature is that they’re not documentaries, they are movies. That is a real challenge for us as filmmakers because we have to make a narrative that really engages people, in just the same way as a human narrative engages people in the cinema. We wrote a classic 60-page Hollywood script. But, of course, the bears never read them.”

Bears tells the family saga of a mother and her two cubs during a year-long odyssey in the wilds of Alaska. Fothergill and his Disneynature production team, including co-director Keith Scholey, spent months on location to get the footage they needed to convincingly tell this story.

The narration layered over the wildlife visuals is emotional and aimed at children, with narrator John C. Reilly voicing what one of the bears might say if it was human. “The balance is a tricky one,” Fothergill says. “But one thing we were absolutely adamant about — and that we said to Disney — is that these movies have to be true to nature. Everything that the bears ‘say’ has to be biologically accurate!”

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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