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Smarter Than Your Average Documentary

by Laura Leon on April 24, 2014

Directed by Keith Scholey, Alastair Fothergill


When I was a kid there were nature films showing at the theater a few times a year. These were horrid events, very dry and hardly entertaining, unless you were a budding veterinarian. (I was not.) In recent years, Disney has produced a nature documentary to coincide with every Earth Day, and these movies are far more entertaining than those I grew up with—not to mention visually dazzling. This year’s installment is Bears, which features John C. Reilly providing an “aw, shucks” narration that, rather than annoy, actually underscores the story of survival that unfolds.


Mama bear Sky has two cubs, Scout and Amber, and in order to prevent them from being part of the grim statistic that one in two cubs doesn’t survive to adulthood, she needs to make the trek to the annual salmon run, eat something like a ton of that fish, and, along the way, protect the cubs from natural menaces like avalanches, rogue bears, and hungry wolves. That this is a Disney movie doesn’t detract from the very real dangers we see the ursine co-stars withstanding; there is one moment when it appears as if Scout has become somebody’s main course.

The filmmakers restrain themselves from too much anthropomorphism, although it’s hard to deny that the baby bears are awfully adorable as they scamper in the surf or explore new vistas. The cinematography is nothing short of majestic—Bears was filmed at Katmai National Park & Preserve, and if the Alaskan Tourism Board hasn’t already, it may wish to license many scenes from Bears for its own purposes. This isn’t to detract from the movie, which is a solid and (at 77 minutes) efficient bit of storytelling about our natural world.