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Alastair Fothergill has a great gig with the Disneynature Studio. He’s the director behind films like Earth, African Cats, Chimpanzee and the 2014 release Bears. Imagine having a job that flew you around the world. Of course once you’re on location, you have to spend countless hours in less than ideal conditions, standing as still as possible in order to not disturb your subject. Also, there’s no fancy director’s chair, no comfy trailer to hang out in and certainly no retakes. And you still have to work with the occasional diva.
Okay, maybe it’s not as great as it looks.
Still Fothergill and his camera crew have captured some of the most stunning film footage ever shown in a theater. And in the documentary Bears, they do no less. The story follows a mother brown bear and her two cubs during the little ones’ first year of life in the Alaskan wilderness. The opening scenes show the newborn cubs still inside the den. Their tiny pink paws and almost hairless bodies make it seem impossible to think they could ever endure the harsh environment outside the cave. Yet only weeks later they’ve grown enough to make their first foray into the snow covered landscape.
While the cinematography is spectacular, the dialogue is definitely aimed at a young audience. John C. Reilly narrates. And to be honest, the script gets a little cheesy at times when the movie makes it appear we can read the bears’ minds. (It’s more likely the hungry animals were contemplating how tasty a cameraman would be.) Despite the fact adults might feel this dialogue is manipulative, kids will likely love the silly comments and the antics of the small cubs.
The only real problem for little ones may be the portrayal of the mother grizzly defending her babies from a hungry male bear, along with some other fights between the massive animals. Some blood is shown when the bears go salmon fishing and snag the writhing fish between their mighty jaws. As well, there is a brief comment about a boy bear that likes a girl bear, but it is subtle enough that only the most inquisitive child might ask for more details.
Although the film offers a sanitized view of the wild (and thankfully none of the main characters die), this documentary manages to bring bears to life in a way that a trip to the zoo could never hope to do. Watching this mother and her cubs navigate the perils they endure is inspiring and impressive. Yet the real charm is when we watch them romp, play, explore and soak in the summer sun.
Once again Alastair Fothergill and his team have given us all a reason to care about the environment.
Bears is rated G:
Director: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey
Cast: John C. Reilly, Victoria Naumova
Studio: 2014 DisneyNature
Website: Official site for Bears.