Disneynature’s BEARS – A Year in the Life

Full disclosure:  I hate spoilers in reviews, so there won’t be any in this one.  BEARS is Disneynature’s seventh nature documentary.  Despite the brutal nature of the animals, BEARS is not especially violent in a graphic sense (fish, especially salmon, lovers may want to avoid it); there are battles between bears, but they’re not bloody or gruesome, so even younger children can probably handle it.

Disneynature's BEARS 

BEARS is a slice-of life story, documenting a year in the life of an Alaskan grizzly bear and her two cubs, as narrated by John C. Reilly.  The animals are anthropomorphized, given names and emotions and motivations that are familiar and understandable by humans.  Mama is named Sky and her cubs are Scout (male) and Amber (female).  The opening shot sets us up to fall in love with the cubs.  And I do.  Baby bears are adorable!  They’re still in the den, though, getting ready to break out from hibernation and start moving for the coast to feed in preparation for the next hibernation.

Disneynature's BEARS

Disneynature’s 2014 film “Bears” features a year in the life of a bear family, including the arduous journey they must make from their mountain den to the coast as spring arrives. ©Disney

We learn a lot about bears in this movie.  I have a healthy respect for them, having visited Alaska quite a few times to visit my aunt, including on a trip to the area where BEARS was filmed.  But I’ve always encountered them in mid-summer, fat and happy already.  I hadn’t realized just how hard it is for bears post-hibernation.  They haven’t eaten for months and have to travel over the snow-covered mountains to get to their food sources.  Mama bears have an especially tough go of it, because they have to not only find food, but keep their cubs safe, as well.  Hungry bears don’t have too many qualms about what they eat.  And they’re not the only hungry predators out there.  The lengths that Sky goes to trying to keep her cubs safe show determination, patience, and self-sacrifice.  That must be where the slang comes from about protective human mothers being “mama bears.”

Disneynature's BEARS

Sky & Tikaani, photo by Keith Scholey, © Disney

An interesting note about the movie – Amber and Scout exhibit dramatically different behaviors, which is pointed out in the narration.  The narration, however, glosses over the probable reason for the difference.  Amber sticks close to her mother, while Scout is more adventurous, roaming farther afield than Amber.  The cubs are exhibiting normal behavior for young ones.  Amber emulates her mother, while Scout behaves like the male bears around him.  Amber needs to know how to raise her own cubs some day and Scout will need to learn how to survive on his own.

Disneynature's BEARS

In Disneynature’s upcoming big-screen adventure “Bears,” cubs Amber and Scout curl up with their mother, Sky, in a meadow. Photo by Oliver Scholey, ©Disney

There are other animals featured in BEARS, including a raven, a wolf named Takaani (some of the scenes with the wolf could have been filmed on my bear trip – he exhibited the same behaviors as the wolf we encountered) and salmon.  Lots of salmon.  A sub-story of BEARS concerns the salmon and their migration story.  The paradox of the two competing stories (bears trying to eat enough to get through their next hibernation and salmon trying to get back to their birthplaces to lay eggs for the next generation of salmon) is also glossed over, but it struck me, so you might want to be ready to field questions about it, especially if you have fish-lovers or inquisitive little ones.

Disneynature's BEARS

Chinook, photo by Oliver Scholey, © Disney

Watch the credits at the end for footage of how they got the footage for the film.  Seeing the lengths that the crew went to getting those incredibly close shots of the various animals is inspiring (which I was wondering about the entire time).  The crew was almost as brave and determined as the bears they were watching.

DISNEYNATURE BEARS

This was my first Disneynature film and I was very impressed.  From the opening with the castle revealed as a snow-covered mountain to the up-close-and-personal point-of-view and even the narration/story built around the animals’ behaviors, Disneynature exhibits all of the great techniques that we love so much in their animated features.  The aurora borealis over the mountain castle at the end of the movie was just one more example of the Disney magic in the details.

There is violence in BEARS.  As I mentioned above, there are battles between bears.  They are shown in slow-motion with no real blood, but the violence is visible and may be disturbing to children.  Some of the salmon scenes are bloody, because animals are eating them and they aren’t cooking them and neatly slicing bite-size pieces off of filets.  Disney could have gone a bit further to make it clear that bears aren’t cuddly, huggy animals and shouldn’t be approached in the wild, but, hopefully, children in the vicinity of bears have been trained properly in how to handle a real bear encounter.  For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.