Disneynature’s new stunning documentary, “Bears,” is a dazzling, visual treat that engages viewers of all ages in one family’s story of survival against the rugged, raw, and gorgeous Alaskan landscape.
Although Disney, itself, has a long history with nature documentaries (e.g., 1953’s “The Living Desert”), Disneynature’s documentaries began with “The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos” in 2008. Although this exquisitely-filmed story of flamingos in Tanzania was gorgeous, it was not as equally engaging for young, restless viewers. Over the years, Disney has refined its technique and clarified story lines for younger fans while still keeping the breathtaking “you-are-there” visuals. Disneynature has further strengthened its films by repeatedly teaming up with Brits Alastair Fothergill (of Disneynature’s “Earth,” “African Cats,” and “Chimpanzee”) and Keith Scholey (of Disneynature’s “African Cats”), both of whom share co-director credits for “Bears.”
The grandeur and up-close intimacy of the lives of two young brown bears (Scout and Amber), who fight against the odds to make it through their first year of life with their protective mother, Sky, would be entirely transfixing for adult documentary fans even without a cohesive narrative. However, as “Bears” is a Disney-film, great care has been afforded in constructing an understandable storyline for all ages about a mother’s never-give-up quest for the survival and protection of her young cubs in an often stark landscape.
We learn that nearly 50% of all newborn cubs die during their first year and that basic survival is a daily challenge. Sky has to contend with her need to find vast amounts of food in order to continue to nurse her young while staving off those who constantly pose a threat to her little ones: Chinook (a large, socially ostracized bear), Magnus (a giant alpha bear), and Tikanni (a sly, dangerous wolf).
Although the survival storyline is quite straightforward, and not anywhere as complicated or as cognitively fulfilling as BBC or PBS’s nature docs, it is a beautiful, real-life, rare G-rated film that the whole family can readily enjoy. This is not to say that the film is tediously tame without moments of tension or threat, as the need to find food is ever-present, but such real-life concerns with the brown bears are handled in a relatively palatable way for most viewers.
Further, the familiar-sounding narration by “Wreck-It Ralph,” himself, John C. Reilly, rather than the stately voices of prior Disneynature narrators like Morgan Freeman and Pierce Brosnan, make the film’s delivery often playful and always attention-grabbing, a perfect match for a light dramatic presentation. (In particular, Reilly’s comparison of one bear’s lounging to Reilly’s own father is quite amusing).
“Bears” is a highly recommended family film with important implicit lessons about protecting the earth and all the fine creatures who inhabit it. Bears is rated 4+ out of 5 “recommended” stars. And, be sure to stay though the credits for fascinating behind-the-scenes clips of how the spectacular scenes were captured.
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