Bears (2014) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences
Running Time: 78 min.
Cast: John C. Reilly (narrator)
Director: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey
Review published May 6, 2014
Bears represents the fifth documentary of the lucrative Disneynature series that spotlights education about its subjects, packaged in an entertaining, family-friendly package. This shoot takes them to the wilderness of Alaska, where we follow a year in the life of a mother bear named Sky and her two young bear cubs, Scout and Amber. We see the trio emerge from their months-long slumber in hibernation in order to venture out into the snowy, mountainous region in search for enough food (tons of pounds of it) to store as fat in order to get through another season of hibernation. Along the way, they deal with several threatening external forces, including hungry male bears and wolves looking to make an easy meal of the cubs, avalanches, floods, and the ever-present possibility of starvation if they do not find their 'Shangri-la': a golden lake full of plentiful, yummy salmon.
Nicely narrated with high degrees of playful energy and genial delivery by John C. Reilly (Wreck-It Ralph, Cedar Rapids), who not only educates but provides amusing anthropomorphic 'voices' for the bears as if they were characters, Bears offers a thoughtfully lighthearted look on cute but dangerous animals that most people will never get to see up close and personal in their lifetimes. We find out about bears' keen sense of smell (seven times the sensitivity of a bloodhound) that allows them to sniff out clams and other potential food buried underground. If there are any complaints, it may be that some of the documentary's exploits feel manipulated in order to draw out interest in the audience, but it does work in drawing out the emotion of the journey, so some dramatic license is warranted for the purpose of the overall enjoyment of the film.
It's amazing to see how close the filming crew, co-directed by series stalwart Alastair Fothergill, have been able to get to the bears and other wildlife in the protected areas of the Alaskan wilderness preserves. Flying in helicopters overhead, running with the animals on the ground, and delving underneath the surface to the hibernation dens and salmon streams, the roving cameras mix up the action very well to give viewers access to sights many will never have seen before. Shot with stunning ultra-high definition cameras, Bears is a gorgeous film on its own, with majestic Alaskan vistas and superb cinematography that is captivating to watch even if it were not a narrative. In unison with the light acoustic score and soundtrack, it is a pleasant escapist journey for the eyes and ears.
At only 78 minutes, it's just short enough to keep kiddies from getting restless in their seats, especially as the small cubs are cute, cuddly, and do some amusing things (in one instance, Scout gets his claw stuck trying to open up a clam that he can't shake off). Though the film is about bears, parents will also relate to the themes of protecting and caring for their offspring, no matter how threatening the danger or difficult the journey, which makes this a film about family, rather than just a clinical observation of bears in their natural habitat. It's a simple movie with simple pleasures, but as charming, gentle, and entertaining a nature documentary sure to please the whole family as you'll ever encounter. Unless you're a salmon.
©2014 Vince Leo