Judge Clark Douglas is currently filming a much less expensive documentary about his cats.
An incredible journey across the Alaskan wilderness.
In recent years, DisneyNature's animal-themed documentaries have become something of an annual event. All of the films sport lush, intoxicating cinematography, simple titles, warm-and-accessible narration from a celebrity with a friendly voice and a gentle message of conservation. Since 2010, we've had Oceans (narrated by Pierce Brosnan), African Cats (narrated by Samuel L. Jackson), Wings of Life (narrated by Meryl Streep) and Chimpanzee (narrated by Tim Allen). DisneyNature's latest installment is Bears, a dramatic change of pace which takes a blunt-yet-insightful look into the world of large, hairy men seeking love in the midst of a culture which…wait, sorry, no, I'm being told that's incorrect. It's actually the story of a family of folk-singing bears whose efforts to reunite are being thwarted by an evil businessman (Christopher Walken). Things take a turn for the better when…oh…I'm sorry, I've made another mistake. Bears is a documentary about bears. Plain old regular bears.
Our central characters are a mama bear named Sky and her children Scout and Amber. I was not aware that bears were fond of names like Amber and Scout, but that's what nature documentaries are for. Anyway, Sky's primary mission is to reach the coast by summer, so that she and her children can take advantage of the yearly salmon run. There will be plenty of dangers along the way—not so many for a big old bear like Sky, but quite a few for cubs like Scout and Amber. Older bears, wolves, natural elements and other threats could easily turn this inspirational journey into a tragic one, so Sky must always be on the lookout.
Bears is narrated by John C. Reilly, whose genial, cheerful voice is perfect for the film's intended goals. This is a nature documentary aimed squarely at children—it doesn't fudge the facts, but it does leave plenty of room for Reilly to engage in a bit of America's Funniest Home Videos-esque running commentary: "Agh! I got a clam stuck on my claw! Dumb clam! Uh…I mean…I meant to do this! Yeah! I'm just carrying my clam around." Those seeking the heavily informative, gently philosophical straightforwardness of a David Attenborough documentary are going to be sorely disappointed, but the film will click with its intended audience and teach them some valuable lessons.
It must be admitted that the movie downplays the harsh realities of the world in consideration of its intended audience. You won't find any heartbreaking moments here—the threats lurk around the edges of the film, but never do any real harm. Interestingly, the film also avoids digging into the relationship between humans and bears, instead focusing exclusively on its title subject. I found that a somewhat refreshing change of pace, as too many nature documentaries are intent on defining animals in terms of how we feel about them and interact with them. Plus, there's already a masterful documentary along those lines: Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (definitely not a good pick for young kids).
Bears (Blu-ray) has received a gorgeous 1080/1.78:1 HD transfer. These DisneyNature flicks always look fantastic in hi-def, and this one is so no exception. You see every blade of grass, every askew wolf hair and every bit of crust in Sky's eye. Colors are bright and vibrant, depth is terrific—it's a fantastic showcase disc. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track doesn't leave tons of room for natural sounds, but rather focuses primarily on Reilly's upbeat narration and George Fenton's terrific, lovely score. Supplements include a handful of abbreviated featurettes ("Welcome to Alaska," "The Future for Bears," "A Guide to Living with Bears" and "How Did They Film That?"), a music video, a DVD copy and a digital copy.
Bears is another thematically light but visually stunning doc from DisneyNature. Kids will enjoy the friendly tone, and their parents will appreciate the exceptional bear footage.
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