'Bears' review: Disneynature documentary a delightful nature trip

Bears

Bears

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:07 PM ET

Blessed with stunning wildlife photography and charismatic stars, Bears is a delightful experience for children.

Many adults, however, might find the narration for this Disneynature documentary a little too lowbrow, perhaps a little too juvenile. There is more “oooo” and “ahhh” and “oh-my-gosh” in Bears than factual explanations. This situation may especially be a problem for people like me who were raised on BBC nature films that featured earnest Englishman David Attenborough as host scientist and narrator.

Disneynature takes a radically different approach from the BBC. Disney’s wildlife films are presented as pure entertainments, even if they are all live-action and legitimately filmed in the wilds. In each case, the Disney approach is to provide a story of animal lives that is anthropomorphic, even though there is also a lot of solid science presented in the films.

As a result, for Bears, John C. Reilly (Step Brothers) creates a child-like mood of enthusiasm and joy, and sometimes worry and fear. It is as if he takes us by the hand as he follows the family saga of an Alaskan grizzly bear and her two cubs. Reilly, who voiced the protagonist of the animation Wreck-it-Ralph, shows he genuinely cares for the bears and passes this along to his listeners. We are meant to identify in a very human way with the she-bear Sky and her two newborn cubs, Scout and Amber, as they go through a one-year cycle of survival.

The important thing is that this is all real footage. Nothing has been faked or staged. Co-directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, along with their shooting crew, actually captured authentic footage of bear behaviour on location in parks in Alaska. It took months. Both have extensive past experience. Fothergill was involved in the BBC’s stunning Planet Earth and The Blue Planet, as well as the Disneynature films Earth, African Cats and Chimpanzee. Among his credits, Scholey co-directed African Cats.

Some of the behaviour that the team got is simply remarkable — and a revelation for anyone interested in the grizzly (or brown bear). In a first for me, Bears features close-ups of Sky deftly opening clams for snack food, and later pulling up shoreline rocks to scrap off paw-sized clutches of mussels. On a more dramatic basis, Sky is shown defending her cubs from predation by a grey wolf, as well as rogue male bears who routinely take other small bears as food. This may be Disney, but survival is no picnic and nothing like the story would be if this was an animated comedy.

Of course, naming the bears is a human conceit. Yet it is impossible not to care about the fate of Sky, Scout and Amber as the filmmakers and Reilly take us on this journey. It does not hurt that the wild vistas are spectacular, too.

Stay for the credits. For the first time in this 77-minute film, you see humans. Footage shows the men and women of the production team standing in meadows with their camera gear filming the wildlife in close proximity. That makes it even more real.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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