There are three great reasons to watch Bears, the latest documentary in a series of theatrical releases from Disneynature.
Reason No. 1: The Title Characters
Who doesn't love bears?
This is a beautifully shot film about Alaska's brown bears, particularly focusing on a family of three—a momma bear named Sky and her cubs, Scout and Amber. They're just arbitrary names that the filmmakers assigned to the creatures for the sake of telling a kid-friendly story. The movie follows our ursine friends on a nearly year-long adventure, starting with some how-did-they-do-that footage of the cubs' birth while still in their den.
We see their ridiculously cute first wobbly steps as they emerge from the den at the verge of spring. We see them trying to keep up with Sky as she leads them down the mountain slopes—dodging an avalanche along the way!—to a verdant meadow, where they feed on grass with other bear families. We meet the massive Magnus, a half-ton alpha male who strikes fear into all the other bears, and his rival Chinook, an outcast who apparently won't hesitate to gobble up one of the cubs. (He doesn't, but these films always include perils—some quite real, some concocted—to keep the story moving along. Our protagonists need to face some sense of danger, right?)
We learn that Scout is a rambunctious, fearless rascal who sometimes wanders away and gets himself into trouble. We learn that Amber is more of a momma's girl, staying close to Sky while taking it all in. And we learn that Sky is a mostly competent mom willing to do anything for her children—including fight off intruders who regard them as a potential meal. It's a joy to watch her lead the cubs from the appetizer (the sweet grasses and berries of the meadow) to the main course (the protein-rich salmon that are spawning upstream).
And we learn some fascinating bear facts along the way:
- To prepare for hibernation, adult bears must eat 90 pounds of food per day to store up enough fuel for the winter.
- A bear's sense of smell is seven times more sensitive than a bloodhound's.
- When salmon are unavailable, bears still find protein by streams and riverbeds—by digging up clams from the mud and cracking then open.
- Bear cubs stay with their mothers for three years before venturing out on their own as young adults.
For the most part, the story in Bears feels "real," organic to what's unfolding on the screen. Some storylines in previous Disneynature films, especially 2012's Chimpanzee, felt a bit forced, edited almost to excess to fit the footage. But as a chronological story, Bears follows a natural plotline that feels just right.
We meet other animals along the way. Wolves. Foxes. Bald eagles. Squirrels.
Reason No. 2: The Narrator
The narrators for previous Disneynature films have been hit-or-miss. Patrick Stewart and James Earl Jones were two of the four narrators on 2009's Earth, the debut from the Disney spinoff studio—and they were marvelous. Pierce Brosnan did 2010's Oceans, and while the film was terrific, the narration was just okay. Samuel L. Jackson was a pretty good storyteller for 2011's African Cats, and then Tim Allen zonked in Chimpanzee. (To be fair, the golden-voiced Allen—sensational in the "Pure Michigan" radio and TV spots—had a lame script to work with.)