CAPSULE: Disney's nature photography team, Disneynature, captures the story of a mother Alaskan bear and her two cubs--newborn at the beginning--and follows them for three seasons until the cubs' first hibernation. The story is aimed to be child-friendly and soft pedals some of the harsher realities of bear life mentioned. BEARS was directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey. John C. Reilly narrates with a style less factual than joking. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Going back to the early 1950s, Disney made memorable nature documentaries like THE VANISHING PRAIRIE, THE AFRICAN LION, and WHITE WILDERNESS. (One project which was intended to be a documentary about undersea life evolved into the film 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.) Over the years the techniques and tools of nature photography have improved and advanced to record some breathtaking images in series such as PLANET EARTH and David Attenborough's many nature series. The new film BEARS has photography that would have been spectacular twenty years ago, but is perhaps not quite as impressive any more. Still, BEARS often leaves the viewer wondering just how a particular shot could be taken. Apparently the filmmakers crept into a cave with a sleeping mother bear with two newborn cubs and started filming without somehow awakening the wrath of an angry mother bear. Really good nature photography is expensive to produce and perhaps costs were cut back by making this an unusually short feature film, only 78 minutes including credits.
The classic film that BEARS harkens back to is Jean-Jacques Annaud's excellent THE BEAR (1988). That film was not documentary but fiction based on a novel by James Oliver Curwood. It traced the life of one orphaned bear cub and an adult male who reluctantly adopts the cub. That film had terrific nature photography and much the same plot that BEARS does, bears surviving in a difficult environment.
We now know that THE BEAR had staged scenes and even stealth special effects and editing effects so the bear cub never actually had to face dangerous animals. In BEARS we never get much of an idea if there are staged scenes and editing effects. The Disney team probably could not have shot this film without considerable control of the animals being filmed. It would be impossible to film if the animals did not hit the expected marks.
We see in BEARS that bears come out of hibernation in a cave in snowy mountains. Young and old they wake up with a huge trek to travel to get to the nearest food they can barely eat. From that point on their lives are long stretches of hunger punctuated with occasional insufficient meals and just a few feasts.
John C. Reilly narrates and makes viewers long for the factual style that Morgan Freeman brought to MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. Here the narration is whimsical with too many jokes and too few facts. Perhaps the tone has to be kept light for the younger audience. Some dangers that threaten bears quickly mentioned in passing include predators like wolves and dangers from other bears including bullying, violence, and even cannibalism. But the biggest enemy a bear faces appears to be hunger.
There is also a song in the middle of the film as well as another under the credits. I could have done without them.
Unlike with THE BEAR, there are no humans in the film proper. That gives the film more of the documentary feel. In the closing credits we do see the nature photographers at work showing the work of shooting such a film. BEARS rates a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2458776/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/bears_2014/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper