014 is one for a lot of big movies. Already we’ve had “Divergent” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and in the next couple of months we’ll have sequels to “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Transformers” and “X-Men.”
But if I had to say which movie I’ve been dying to see ever since I saw the first preview, it would have to be “Bears.” And lucky for me, it did not disappoint.
The latest documentary from Disneynature, “Bears” follows a mama brown bear, Skye, and her two adorable cubs, Scout and Amber, in their first year as a little family in the Alaskan wilderness. During that first pivotal summer of Scout and Amber’s life, they have traversed avalanche-prone mountains, avoid territorial other bears, drive off other opportunistic carnivores and, of course, find enough food to survive.
Obviously, the cute factor is through the roof. These are tiny baby bears. Our first glimpses are them sleeping and then stretching in the den. If that’s not the cutest thing you’ve seen all year, I envy your life. I don’t know how the camera crews did it, but somehow they assimilated themselves enough with the bear population to be able to get fairly close to the action without relying on super long-range lenses. The entire journey from den to salmon spawning pond and back again has a very personal feel to it.
Watching intelligent animals like bears, too, makes it obvious why we try to anthropomorphize them so often. Sure, some of it could be John C. Reilly’s narration, but a lot of the reactions of the bears seemed genuinely relatable and applicable to, well, kids and parents. Probably my favorite scene was when Scout is trying to open up a clam by himself (Did you know bears eat clams? Apparently, they do. They also eat grass. The things you learn from documentaries.) and isn’t quite strong enough to break it open on his own, but got it open just enough to get a claw stuck. Then he has to try to get his claw out or open up the clam the rest of the way or otherwise remove the clam from his claw.
I’ve got to say, Scout, man, I’ve been there. Maybe not with a clam stuck to my claw, exactly, but who hasn’t had something stuck to an appendage and every effort to get it off just made it worse?
It’s not all clams and grass and rolly-poly bear cubs. It’s a perilous world for a baby bear — roughly, as it lets us know first thing, half of all cubs die in the first year. If you ever wondered where the term “mama bear” came from, here’s your chance. Skye has to fight and chase off dominant males, outcast males and hungry wolves. And then there are the elements against them — first they come within feet of an avalanche, and later on a rising tide brings danger of its own. Any parent can attest to the increased difficulty of traveling or getting meals when children are involved verses when a person is single, and that is starkly evident here.
Despite the bear fights and other dangers, “Bears” is decidedly kid-friendly. Reilly’s narration explains the challenges in a way even young kids can understand, and it’s funny, too. Plus, with a running time of just 74 minutes, even the wiggliest viewers — old or young — should be able to sit through it without problems. Grown-ups should also find the narration amusing and informative, and be captivated by the sweeping views of the Alaskan landscape.
In short, “Bears” is fantastic for kids of any age, and one I’d like to see again.
Time: 74 minutes