Director: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey
Starring: John C. Reilly
Rated: Not Rated (Fine for all ages)
A documentary that follows an Alaskan bear family as its young cubs are taught life’s most important lessons.
By Cole Schneider
Disneynature’s latest theatrical documentary, “Bears” is a sometimes fascinating and often frustrating bewilderment. The film follows a mother Grizzly and her two cubs through their first year of life and as we’ve become accustomed to seeing from the Disneynature team, it is beautifully shot.
There isn’t a frame in the film that wouldn’t become the best looking photograph in your home. It’s visuals are truly stunning, even more so as you see some behind-the-scenes footage as the end credits role. How they got these shots is remarkable.
The story is narrated by John C. Reilly, a character actor with dramatic range who also doesn’t mind hamming it up in Will Ferrell movies. Nature docs are usually narrated by strictly “serious” actors like Morgan Freeman and I think finding a lovable alternative like Reilly is a wise move for the industry.
However, his presence in “Bears” is overwhelming, even as he reads his lines with the voice of a timid spectator. While the film succeeds unequivocally as a visual piece, it’s audio gets in the way. The score is a mess and the voiceover personifying the bears every thought with the most Disneyesque of appeal betrays the dangerous intensity of the pictures on the screen. By the end it becomes self-parity.
It would have been better as a silent film with an orchestral piece laid over the top, but what we’re left with does have some basic, primal appeal: survival, beauty, and yes, cuteness. Animal lovers will especially love “Bears”. I’m certainly glad it’s out in theaters.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.
By Matt Greene
Disney has been putting out a nature documentary on Earth Day for the past several years in order to raise awareness and funds for wildlife conservation. It’s an extremely noble ambition, creating docs that are appropriate for children to help raise a generation of environmentally conscious people. Unfortunately in their latest, what we get is the Disney-fication of natural science. Instead of just giving us stunning visuals and fascinating facts, we’re force fed a personified, half-hearted narrative, leaving Bears to be neither entertaining nor informative.
Bears follows a mother and her two newborn cubs as they live out their first year, looking for food and trying to survive the dangers of the world. This mostly amounts to walking around. Animals strolling along beautiful scenery can be nice for a 30 minute TV episode or short doc, but not for a full length movie. The movie is somewhat aware of this and tries to construct a story to fill the space, but it’s syrupy in its sweetness. While Reilly does a decent and mildly funny job with the voice-over, the script is too on-the-nose and corny. Worst of all, I’m not sure it’s wise to personify animals by making them heroes (bears) or villains (wolves/bad bears) when their natural state is engaging enough.
As a fan of Earth and Oceans, I think I expected more from Bears. Our world is a wondrous and complex place, and we get that in Bears with some awe-inspiring cinematography and some engaging natural moments. Nonetheless, while Bears is undeniably gorgeous, unfortunately it’s also undeniably dull.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars