Disney's Bear

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Article by Teddy Durgin

Bears sends Teddy into hibernation

I like bears. I really do. I'm all for 'em, in fact. My Pooh bear was my favorite stuffed animal as a little child. I snotted on that thing 'til I was at least 7 or 8. Smokey the Bear, Yogi Bear, Sugar Crisp Bear, Huggy Bear. They were all part of my growing up in the late '70s. Heck, I've been called "Teddy Bear" all my life. So, it's because of my love for all things grizzly, polar and panda that I can honestly write that if you're going to make a documentary called "Bears," as Disneynature and co-directors Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill have done, you gotta give the paying public - especially cash-strapped family audiences - a bit more than this. The film follows an entire year in the life of Sky, a momma grizzly bear, and her two cubs, Scout and Amber. We see them emerge from a long winter's hibernation nap and immediately begin the arduous journey to the Alaskan shore, over mountains and through valleys. There, they hope the salmon will be plentiful enough so that Sky can build back up her fat reserves in order for her to make it through the next long hibernation while nursing her young. And as Porky Tiberius Pig so eloquently once summed up, "Th-th-th-that's all folks!" Yup, this is basically an 80-minute munchies run. OK, there's a bit more that happens in the film than that. But... uh... not much. It's really the age-old tale of Bear meets food, Bear gets food, Bear loses food, Bear gets food again. Along the way, the lead bear family is threatened by two large male grizzlies and a shifty-eyed wolf. If we are to believe John C. Reilly's narration, all three predators want to chow on Sky's two cubs. So, we have several scenes where the two male bears and Wolfie approach Sky and her young separately, circle them for a couple of minutes, lick their chops... eh, and then they back down when Sky gives 'em a dirty look. Nothing really comes of these stand-offs. And I'm sorry. I have to think by the way the film is edited that at least a couple of these confrontations weren't really as they were portrayed on screen. Hey, this is rated G and intentionally so. So, I wasn't expecting or even wanting some graphic clashes with bears gnawing on each other's throats, drawing blood and snapping bones. But there is no doubt Scholey and Fothergill are goosing the narrative here. It was also disappointing that precious few facts are given about Alaskan grizzlies. Mostly you get Reilly's jokey narration where he tries to humanize the bears. His lines are good for a few chuckles. But I would have liked to know more about the animals, like "Are all of the males rogue bears - i.e. deadbat dads - or do some stick with their mates and offspring?" and "Do bears really follow birds to find food?" and "Do the bears really resort to eating cubs (!) when deprived of sufficient food?" On the positive side, there is certainly some wondrous Alaskan photography on display here. Scholey and Fothergill are at their best when framing the various bears against the state's majestic mountains and snowy vistas. There is a truly amazing avalanche that the lead bear family watches safely from afar. And I really liked a late sequence in which numerous bears calmly stood at the bottom of a waterfall and waited for migrating salmon to come to them. It's not an unbearable film. But only you can prevent forest fires. And only you can prevent Disneynature from releasing further underwhelming docs like this... by waiting to see it on pay-per-view.


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