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Blu-ray Review: Disneynature's Bears

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Disneynature Bears Blu-ray

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THE SET-UP
A year in the life of an Alaskan brown bear and her two young cubs is chronicled in this breathtaking documentary.
Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey. Co-directed by Adam Chapman.

THE DELIVERY
Disneynature is a French film division of Disney that has produced a number of documentaries by Alastair Fothergill, including Earth, Oceans, African Cats, and 2012’s Chimpanzee. Their latest offering, Bears, is a gorgeous-looking film that explores a year in the life of a family of brown bears in the Alaskan wilderness. With John C. Reilly (Wreck-It Ralph) narrating, Bears aims straight for younger viewers, but the Blu-ray offers some nice extras that parents will appreciate as well.

Bears tells the story of Sky, a female brown bear, and her two young cubs, Scout and Amber, as they struggle to survive in Alaska’s remote southern peninsula. The film begins with Sky in her winter den, up in the snowy mountains, with her newborn cubs. It is fascinating footage, but the visuals become even more impressive, as it quickly moves to the end of winter and we watch Sky and the cubs emerge from their den and trek down the mountain. The vistas are breathtaking, and in high-definition, the effect is jaw-dropping.

Reilly’s narration is obviously geared to a younger set - he explains just about everything that is going on, and he often gives voice to the bears, like he’s reading a story to kids. While kids will likely enjoy it, adults might find it a bit annoying at times. Reilly is a great comic actor, but here, the narration often falls flat. I would have preferred a more traditional, minimalist narration, but I understand what Disneynature is doing here. This is a kid’s film about nature, so if you are hoping to find out more about bear behavior (like why bears seem to be loners, and not travel in packs), you won’t find it in the film.

However, in the case of the Bears Blu-ray, parents and adults will likely enjoy the special features far more than the kids will. Whereas the film itself is aimed at younger viewers, the featurettes are geared to adults, providing much more information about the bears, and especially, how the film crew captured such amazing images. It actually enhances the viewing experience for adults, especially upon repeat viewings. A detailed breakdown of the special features is listed below.

While Bears is a true-to-life story about a bear family, it is obvious the filmmakers often adapted their footage to fit a narrative so children could easily follow along. In that sense, it does harken back to the Disney documentaries of the 1950s and 1960s, and makes it extremely watchable for kids. Thankfully, adults will also appreciate the film, especially after watching the behind-the-scenes extras.

At only 78 minutes, the film moves along quickly, but it does take the time to let us watch and appreciate the incredible footage. There are not quick edits here; each shot is nearly perfectly framed, and the action captured by the film crew is nothing short of amazing. Bears is a delightful, entertaining story, and brings with it an appreciation for the often-misunderstood brown bear. It is the perfect remedy for the mind-numbing CGI fests that kids get at movie theaters these days.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
Once again, Disney gives us an impressive high definition video transfer. Detail is razor sharp, and the natural colors are consistent. Blacks are well-rendered, and there is little enhancement or tweaking of the image in post production. The audio is surprisingly good, with a good balance between the sounds of nature and the folk music which plays at key emotional points in the film.

SPECIAL FEATURES
As mentioned before, the special features are geared more for adult viewers, providing the background the film itself does not provide. You’ll almost wish the film itself took the approach of the extras, framing the bears’ story through the filmmakers’ experience in the wilderness puts it all in the right perspective.

“Welcome to Alaska” provides a nice behind-the-scenes look at how the film was filmed in the Alaskan wilderness. Director Keith Scholey narrates the treacherous conditions the crew endured to film the bears in their natural habitat. The six minute featurette will give you a nice appreciation for the lengths the crew went to just to document Sky’s adventures.

“The Future for Bears” is a seven minute featurette that addresses conservation efforts to protect brown bears in the wild. In particular, there is a focus on conserving the environment and food sources that affect the bears. While the bears themselves are protected, the salmon population they rely on for food is not. Bear experts who appear in the featurette stress the importance of protecting the sea around Alaska (where the salmon spend most of their lives), as well as the salmon population itself, which is vulnerable to depopulation due to commercial fishing. Dr. Jane Goodall, who visited the filmmakers when Bears was filming on location, also appears in the featurette.

“A Guide to Living with Bears” is a seven minute featurette focusing on the nature of bears, and the obvious danger of filming in their habitat. There is a focus on the many guides that supervised the filming and helped keep the filmmakers safe when they get close to a ten foot bear. Adam Chapman (co-director and producer) narrates.

“How Did They Film That?” is a seven minute featurette provides more detail into how the film crew managed to capture the amazing scenes. In particular, filming from helicopters in the air is contrasted with the crews on the ground. The featurette also follows an underwater camera crew, and a crew that spent weeks in the mountains trying to find Sky’s den to film for the film’s opening scene.
In addition to including a DVD of the film, the Blu-ray set also includes a digital copy of the movie, to add to your Disney Movies Anywhere and other digital video platforms.

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: August 12, 2014
Rating: G
Running time: 78 minutes
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS HDMA, English Descriptive Video Service 2.0, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish (film only).
Special features: “Welcome to Alaska” featurette, “The Future for Bears” featurette, “A Guide to Living with Bears” featurette, “How Did They Film That?” featurette, Olivia Holt “Carry On” music video, digital copy.

Disneynature's Bears is now available on Blu-ray/DVD from major retailers, including Amazon by clicking here.

Victor Medina is the editor of CollectoRamaShow.com, and his other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com, and SportsIllustrated.com. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com. To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SUBSCRIBE link at the top of the page.

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