Release Date: April 18, 2014
Rating: G
Genre: Documentary
Run Time: 77 minutes
Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey
Cast: John C. Reilly (Narrator)

The first thing you notice about Disneynature’s new release is the scenery. It’s breathtaking. Filmed in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, the pictures flow from sweeping vistas to intimate close-ups. An avalanche becomes a cascading river of white as beautiful as it is deadly. The view goes underwater to follow salmon on their journey upstream, high in the air to track a bald eagle’s flight, and so close to a big brown bear’s snout you can almost smell his breath.

Speaking of the film’s title characters: Seen first as tiny babes, the show’s stars—cub twins Amber and Scout—resemble nothing so much as living, breathing teddy bears. They’re just so stinking adorable as they wobble along after their mom, occasionally falling on their furry little behinds. Bears follows the twins and their ‘single mom’ Sky throughout the little ones’ first year. It’s not easy surviving in the wilds of Alaska: they’re in danger pretty much from the moment they emerge from their den to trek across a mountain range in search of food. (And no, the soundtrack does not include “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” but I confess to singing it in my head as the furry family plodded over the summit.)

One would think a creature as big as a bear would be fairly invincible, but bear cub is apparently a menu option for a number of other critters. It seems everything you’ve heard about mama bears is true as Sky frequently puts herself in harm’s way to keep her babies safe. In fact, while the film’s release is timed to coincide with Earth Day, it would have been equally appropriate for Mother’s Day weekend.

The cubs may be twins but there’s no problem telling them apart. Amber sticks close to mom while Scout is the more adventurous type, a trait that often gets him into trouble. The family occasionally meets up with other bears, but they’re not often welcome and usually end up heading out on their own. Other than cranky neighbors, the bears’ biggest challenge is finding enough food to sustain them through winter hibernation. Often this kind of storyline is an excuse to go into gloom and doom mode over the effects of global warming, but not this time. The food is out there, it’s just up to Sky to find it.

The directors do an excellent job of turning all this into a story. The narration, voiced by John C. Reilly, is amusing and informative without being intrusive. There are several bear fights (a lot of roaring at close range coupled with a little biting and slapping) and numerous salmon and clams lose their lives, but it’s just pleasantly gory. None of the youngsters in the audience appeared to be overly frightened or grossed out. Everyone wants to know if anything bad happens to the bears (most of the adults I spoke to threatened to cry if it did) and the answer is... that would be a spoiler. You’ll just have to watch and see.

If the amazing cinematography leaves you wondering "How did they do that?" just wait: behind-the-scenes footage plays during the credits and it’s just as impressive as what came before. Alan Bergman, president of The Walt Disney Studios, said in a press release that Disneynature was committed “to capture nature on its own terms and its own schedule... never-before-seen stories in our natural world that both astound and charm audiences." It's a pattern set by Walt Disney, who produced 13 True-Life Adventure motion pictures between 1948 and 1960 and earned eight Academy Awards® in the process.

A portion of ticket sales from Bears' opening weekend (April 18-24) will go to the National Park Foundation. Bonus for teachers and homeschoolers: there’s a free downloadable Educator’s Guide with nearly 100 pages of lessons and activities at the Bears home page.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drug/Alcohol: none
  • Language/Profanity: none
  • Violence: A lot of growling and a few bear wrestling matches. Several salmon and some clams lose their lives. The cubs are often in danger from predators.
  • Sex/Nudity: The narrator offers dating advice to a male bear pursuing a female bear, but pursuit is as far as it goes. Baby cubs are shown nursing.

*Published 4/17/2014