Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey
3 (out of 5) Globes
Earth Day is right around the corner. So, you know what that means: Disney is ready to drop another nature documentary into theaters. Under their Paris-based Disneynature, the Mouse Factory is giving the kids “Bears,” an obviously fuzzy, visually spacious look at the wild behemoths (and Stephen Colbert’s legendary foes) in their natural habitat. Like in previous Disneynature docs, there is a storyline at work here. The film follows Sky, a mother bear, and her cubs Scout and Amber as they spend a year trekking through the Alaskan Peninsula, over wintry mountains and lush fields, in order to find some watery spots and fish for/gorge on salmon.
As adorable as it makes Sky and her kids out to be, “Bears” thankfully reminds audiences that these creatures are still hardcore killers who can turn on their own in a minute. This is certainly the case whenever the trio comes into contact with more treacherous bears, like king-of-the-mountain Magnus, who starts eyeing the cubs when fish food becomes sparse. (The movie still gives Magnus a sympathetic side by showing him pitifully trying to mate with a female bear.) They even have to contend with Tikaani, a scheming wolf who’s constantly lurking around.
All the while, John C. Reilly provides cheeky, off-camera, color commentary for what’s happening onscreen. While Reilly’s signature, dopey voice adds a consistently playful tone to the proceedings, one wonders if the movie needed Reilly’s voice at all. Directors/Disneynature vets Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, teaming up again after 2011’s “African Cats,” assembles enough of a clean, obvious narrative with the footage they shot, complete with mood-shifting music cues (“oh, a harmonica is playing – fun stuff is about to go down!”) from veteran wildlife-doc composer George Fenton, that kids could probably figure out what’s going on without it.
While “Bears” puts the fam through several suspenseful moments, you suspect that these animals won’t be in any serious, desperate danger. After all, this is still a Disney movie. (However, this would explain what happened to the other mama grizzly and her cubs that, according to the movie’s original synopsis that came out last year, were also supposed to be in the movie.) As always, “Bears” is another Disney doc that, along with proving that IMAX doesn’t have the lock on kiddie-attracting nature docs, manages to entertain children while subtly drilling some knowledge in their heads about animals and nature and whatnot.
Follow Craig D. Lindsey on Twitter @unclecrizzle