I’ve had to alter my evaluating criteria for DisneyNature. It’s clear the sub-studio has no interest returning to the quality of earlier docs like Earth and Oceans anytime soon. Instead, families receive a cutesy story set to live action B-roll of animals in their natural habitats.
As someone who appreciates the importance of these wildlife documentaries, I find it tough to embrace this type of manufactured product. DisneyNature’s African Cats left me feeling robbed, and I strained to muster a smile through Chimpanzee.
Well, as the saying goes, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. After observing over the years of how these films are set up, I now rate them accordingly to a couple of guidelines. (A.) Did filmmakers Alistair Fothergill and Keith Scholey distract me away from my desired expectations with other strengths, and (B.) does the celebrity narrator appropriately fit? If we look at those two questions and apply them to DisneyNature’s latest endeavour Bears, Fothergill and Scholey surprisingly pull through.
Some movies make you laugh or sob a record amount of times. This is the first film that has made me gush “awwww” a record amount of times. Yes, Bears kills us with kindness by showing the most adorable footage imaginable of the film’s primary furry family traveling across dangerous terrain in search of food. We also get the occasional mischievous goof by younger kin. The cubs tumble and play, and it’s all a joy to watch. If I skipped mentioning how much of this dopey horsing around added to my enjoyment of Bears, I would be a fraud.
Of course, Bears comes equipped with a story. Sky – the momma – treks across green pastures, babbling brooks, and crashing rapids with her son and daughter. They wake up from hibernation and instantly start scouring for food. Sky needs enough grub to survive another Winter, and there’s no time to waste when predatory bears are in search as well.
The narrative gets to be repetitive, but Fothergill and Scholey do their best with the given footage. The audience also doesn’t mind the simplicity because the adventure has enough of an emotional attachment for us to root these bears on. It’s also a great help that most of the action takes place on the screen, and doesn’t have to be hyped by tricky editing.
Bears never gets too scary for kids, and the filmmakers have thankfully detailed this cooked up tale with facts about a bear’s lifestyle. The journey is breathtakingly beautiful as well. This is the kind of gorgeous flick that you show off your new HD monitor with.
Bears’ narrator is John C. Reilly, and he’s cut out for the job. Reilly is a charismatic actor who can be the smartest man in the room, or the dimmest colour in the rainbow. Here, he channels both sides acting as a parental speaker and a rambunctious troublemaker. He’s able to make the script easy listening, and his energy during the humourous bits is appreciated. You can’t not hear his Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! alter ego Dr. Steve Brule, but that almost makes the goofier moments more amusing.
Though Bears gets a pass, I’m still apprehensively resisting the fake traits that DisneyNature insists help these movies. What I can respect is that they’ve found a pleasing harmony between the movie I want to see and the movie they want to make.