Overview: A heartwarming yet unflinching look into the life of the Alaskan grizzly bears. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; 2014; Rated G; 86 Minutes
Bare-Bear Necessities: Bears follows the trend of other Disney nature documentaries by being family-friendly, educational, and beautifully shot. That being said, it doesn’t really raise the bar for future films from this production company. What Bears does, it does well. Most of its praise is earned by its bold camerawork. I had to check after the showing to make sure no people were harmed in the making of this documentary (n0 casualties, thankfully). From scenes of the gorgeous Alaskan landscape, to the up close and personal evisceration of salmon swimming upstream, this is a future Blu-ray that will sit comfortably next to your copies of Earth and Oceans. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to the visuals.
Simply Simple: Bears tells the story of a few bears as they survive the Alaskan terrain with their cubs. It’s rather obvious that a bundle of scenes are craftily cut together to form a cohesive narrative, but it is expected, due to the precedent of other Disney nature films, and it sort of works here. Nothing spectacular, just a survival story that sets up the titular bears as protagonists, and establishes a wolf and another bear as antagonistic forces.
John C. Reilly’s narration definitely helps the proceedings. Unlike the narrators of African Cats, Reilly never strays into animated voiceover territory. He remains soft for the majority of the picture but transitions into a serious tone when the occasion calls for it, a welcome tonal guide for children unaccustomed to narrative construction. And these occasions definitely call for the dramatic vocal treatment.
Bearental Guidance: The movie is coated with feel-good vibes as the bear cubs frolic through the wilderness. This also makes any small outburst of violence all the more potent. There’s nothing as violent as the carnage from the aforementioned African Cats, but it still might be jarring for kids younger than 4 or 5. The bears are constantly exposed to danger from other animals. One particular threat from another bear with implications of cannibalistic urges is unsettling but also an interesting learning experience. It’s a prime example of Bears meddling with the more sweet side of Disney movies without forgetting to add realistic nuances for the sake of the sentimental. I only wish more of the movie had made this kind of effort to preserve an informative observation of the factual nature of the bears rather than bogging itself down in the editing room in an attempt to concoct a story.
Final Thoughts: With solid narration from John C Reilly and beautiful cinematography, Bears is fun for the whole family. I just wish there was more educational content.