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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Disney's Bears Review: Pretty Pictures Don't Tell Whole Story

Momma Bear tries to protect her young in this decent docu-drama.

Review by: Matt Cummings

Of all the divisions of Disney, one might forget to mention their documentary arm called DisneyNature. Producers and distributors of African Cats, Chimpanzees and Oceans, the company has put together an uneven library aimed mostly at the young ones. Their newest release Bears doesn't get it quite right, but the photography and its lighthearted nature might eventually win you over.

Shot over a year, we are introduced to the momma brown bear Sky, who's given birth to Amber and Scout (all names here are imagined by the film's producers). Amber sticks close to momma, while Scout becomes the center of troubles throughout the picture. From being chased by superior male bears hoping for a snack to a hungry wolf who won't say no, Sky's search for food leads to her ever-thinning frame, while Scout and Amber try not to get killed.

Narrated by John C. Reily, the film tries to mix lighthearted scenes of bears accidentally dropping rocks on each other and being bitch-slapped by salmon, while telling the more interesting story of nature and its various complexities. Giant male bears Chinook and Magnus throw down several times, while the salmon's story of moving upstream provides for a great balance. But it does feel that Directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey add a little too much drama into things, especially as the film heads into the second act. Bears is at its best when it simply allows these massive beasts to be...bears, rather than stitching disconnected scenes into a fake narrative. The story of nature doesn't need such a crutch, and this imagined storytelling somewhat reduces the stellar photography.



Even with these issues, Bears eventually wins us over. Its goofy antics and light-hearted nature might be DisneyNature's best yet. For every cute and cuddly moment of Amber clinging to Sky, we get the ugly slobbering bear, the hunting bear, and the constant challenges nature throws at them. Its message is powerful without standing on a soapbox to do so, which should keep kids returning to it over the years.


Disney's Bears doesn't quite make it as a documentary for adults, filling it with imagined threats to keep us awake. This is a film for the youngest in your family, who will probably find themselves ensconced in familiar themes of love and devotion to mom (sorry guys, there's no dad here), while dramatic avalanches occur right next to Sky. That's the value behind Bears, capturing nature in its rawest form, and one that eventually wins us over. See this on the biggest screen you can to take advantage of the gorgeous vistas, but be prepared for a little docu-drama along the way.

Disney's Bears is rated G and has a runtime of 78 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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