Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★
“Bears” captures a spring and summer in the lives of a brown bear and her two nursing cubs. For the sake of storytelling, the filmmakers name their movie’s mama bear Sky and her cubs Scout and Amber.
Actor John C. Reilly’ narration for this Disneynature True Life Adventure release veers between folksy and fun to deadly serious. The three bears experience many challenges on the Alaska Peninsula, a breathtaking wilderness area between Bristol Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
“Bears” is a filmmaking feat. Director Keith Scholey, Riley and crew photographed the bears up close and personal, in remote, difficult locations. From snow-covered mountains to grassy planes to a muddy beach to forests to a whitewater stream crowded with bears feasting on salmon, their favorite meal, the film’s locations are gorgeously wild.
The Alaska Peninsula is home to a large population of brown bears, making it an obvious choice for “Bears,” a film that’s both immersive documentary and non-fiction narrative. All of the principal and supporting animals get names, becoming characters in the story about Sky, Scout and Amber.
A mother for the first time, Sky dutifully protects her vulnerable cubs. It’s a newfound responsibility that requires challenging adjustments and at least one heartbreaking choice.
By necessity, Sky is all business. There’s no time for her to play. Try telling that to Scout, Sky’s male offspring. He’s a frisky, independent little guy. To the contrary, Amber is a mama’s girl. Staying close to Sky, even riding on her mother’s back, she’s the movie’s cutest character.
The animal population in the 4-million-acre Katmai National Park and Preserve includes predators such as wolves. An opportunistic wolf named Tikaani stalks the bear family in hopes of taking one of Sky’s cubs. The filmmakers show how sly, skilled and persistent Tikaani is.
The darker aspects of “Bears” include the danger posed by adult bears to cubs. While it’s never explicitly said, Riley’s narration makes it clear that big, hungry bears will kill bear cubs.
The dangers to Sky’s cubs include alpha bear Magnus. Another of the film’s easily discernible characters, he’s the huge, powerful, undisputed king of bear country. And there’s Chinook, a male bear whose outcast status makes him an even more dangerous threat to Scout and Amber. If this film has a villain, it’s Chinook.
Shooting scenes with Magnus, Chinook and Tikaani, the “Bears” filmmakers found action and drama for their bears documentary. There’s pathos, too. Sky’s constant search for food, a search hindered by her cubs, turns bleak.
Contrary to brown-bear statistics, “Bears” won’t send audiences home with images of a bear family tragedy. A movie containing cute bears, massive bears, stunning vistas and an age-old story of survival, the G-rated “Bears” is fine entertainment for families and animal lovers.