'Bears': Warm and Fuzzy

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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Popcorn Column
by Michael S. Goldberger  

Disneynature rounds up a furry cast for an adorable  romp in the woods full of child-appropriate life lessons.

"It was so sad."
"And funny, too."

Such were the sentiments of two little darlings — doubtless the future co-hosts of a Siskel-Ebert style film reviewing show about 25 years from now — after viewing Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey's "Bears." I concur with my esteemed colleagues.

out of 4

A Disneynature production billed as a documentary, but actually a whole bunch of wildlife footage paired with an imagined tale of survival, it's the sheer accomplishment that will prove most impressive to those a tad older than its target audience. But for true believers ages 5 to10 and as unspoiled as the Alaskan Peninsula where it is filmed, the empathic, fantasized delve into the adventurous first year of two grizzly bear cubs should prove good, unquestioned entertainment.

While Mom and Dad might make a note to consult Wikipedia for the bear facts, it's high drama atop the mountains from whence spring Momma Bear Sky and her new cubs, Scout and Amber. Having spent the winter in their den, it's time to eat as well as get educated to the harsh and glorious facts of survival. Delights and dangers await.

Writer-directors Fothergill and Scholey fashion a decently seamless, linear storyline to support their tale's intended chronology, while narrator John C. Reilly's friendly editorialization fosters the romantic anthropomorphization. Whether an intentional reflection of contemporary sociology or sheer coincidence, much is made of Sky's single-mom status ... alone in the wilds to put salmon on the table for her kids. Gee, not even a postcard from the bum.

However, casting political correctness to the wind, Scout is all boy ... mischievous and inquisitive, almost to a fault, whereas the slightly smaller Amber is content to hitch a ride atop Mom's back whenever allowed. It's all rather sweet, and although the Darwinian realities are presented for little Tyler and Brittany's edification, the lessons are never so frightening so as to threaten the movie's G rating.

OK. In truth, we grownups know that the filmmakers have very astutely pieced together and craftily edited the painstakingly gathered celluloid that's essentially been turned into a reality show version of a fairy tale. Having long bitten the apple, we can't help speculate what the real deal is with these ursine creatures. One thing's for sure: It wouldn't be fun to come across one whilst strolling the forest.

Of course we don't want to be like Sid, the engineer my big sister dated who ruined every movie they saw by explaining how it was all done. Hence, accompanying parents and grandparents are advised to conjure the requisite suspension of disbelief and view the saga through childlike eyes. This isn't a time for the cynical shadows of life's doubts or the whims of irony, but rather an occasion to extol the goodness of innate, nurturing love.

It is storytelling in its oldest form, rife with life lessons, and simplistic in order to lay the foundations of concepts to be further explored at a later date. Right now, we're heartened by Sky's instinctive desire to see her offspring benefit from and enjoy every available experience.

All of which is what Sky, the über Mom, embodies as she struggles to find a safe feeding ground for her babies. It's not easy. She must fend off the less altruistic of her species, like Magnus, the gigantic, undisputed boss, and Chinook, the angry renegade he has ousted. Also of concern is Tikanni, the hungry wolf who's always skulking around. We all know only too well what lengths a wolf will go to eat an innocent bear's porridge.

We feel for the old gal, who, unlike her human counterpart, worries that she won't gain enough fat over the course of spring, summer and fall to nurse Amber and Scout through the coming hibernation period. On the lighter side, we'd like to think that on occasion she doffs her apron and shares in her cubs' gleeful amazement, especially when, on their first trip to the meadow, they discover there's a whole world of other bears.

Though keeping the scare quotient low, but still spoon-feeding a modicum of necessary tension,  Reilly informs that only half of all baby bears make it through their first year. Whew … glad I made it past that. Other bear facts pepper the colorful chronicle, photographed in great, big sky hues.

Filmically and dramatically, this nice little ditty is more Ursa Minor than Major. Still, for parents who'd like to inject an intelligent amuse-bouche, a palate cleanser to help neutralize the inundating special effects and rampant cacophony otherwise vying for their own little cubs' entertainment dollar, "Bears" offers a warm and life-affirming hug.

"Bears," rated G, is a Disneynature release directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, and stars the bears and other denizens of Katmai National Park, Alaska. It is narrated by John C. Reilly. Running time: 78 minutes




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