My wife baffles me. She hates animals. She has banned them from our home. She makes us all strip at the door if we’ve been in the home of anyone who owns animals. She shuts down any conversation about owning them. When we are at a friend’s home and they own pets she avoids them like the plague, talks about how awful they are and begs our friends to get rid of them. I know, this should make her a terrible person, right? But, she’s also quite fascinated by them, and from a distance she adores them. It’s strange, but she makes our kids watch nature shows every Saturday morning and drags the whole family to those awful IMAX movies that play in our local museum that are basically the most boring depictions of wildlife put to film, with someone like Morgan Freeman explaining every single detail to us; ad-nauseam. She pleads with us to go to the cinema anytime Disney decides they want to create a fake family of animals to ‘document’ for our enjoyment. She did it with that ‘Chimpanzee’ movie and I wanted to kill her (my god, that movie was awful) and she did it again with ‘Bears’.
Well, she almost did it.
In fact, the film came out and I refused to suffer in the theater for this movie and so we waited until it was released on DVD. She kept prodding me every week, “has it come out yet?” and I prayed we’d never find it, and then we did find it and I wound up sleeping through the whole thing. I needed a nap. I was exhausted. The next morning my kids wanted to watch it again, and I was kind of shocked because they usually complain about these kinds of movies despite my wife’s constant insistence that they are wonderful films, and so my interest was slightly piqued to the point where I decided to laze it on the couch with the kids and watch the movie I’d snored through the night before.
This is in no way shape or form a benchmark for documentary filmmaking, but it is in no way shape or form as pointless, silly and pandering as that awful ‘Chimpanzee’.
The thing I hated so much about ‘Chimpanzee’ is that it felt like it tried way too hard to make this ‘documentary’ a movie. It gave awful names to these apes and gave them backstories that felt forced and it fed in conflict that felt anticlimactic and overly dramatized and it focused on inane things, trying to give it meaning beyond the obvious and by the end of the movie it felt so pointless that it might as well have just been scrapped altogether for an animated film about chimpanzees, since that’s really what they wanted to do. My fear for ‘Bears’ was that it was going to suffer from the same construction issues, but it doesn’t, at least not wholly.
‘Bears’, narrated by one of my favorite underappreciated actors, John C. Reilly, tells the story of a mother bear and her two cubs and their journey from hibernation caves to life giving streams of the open valleys. From first step to last, the journey is dangerous, exciting and rewarding, and the way in which directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey capture this journey (the cinematography is stunning) is a very solid and touching experience. There are some moments that feel overwrought, and this is Disney, and so the film does suffer from a saccharine glaze at points, but for a family wanting to educate their children while entertaining them, this is actually really well done. The weight of the average journey taken on by these majestic creatures is captured in a way that will educate, captivate and touch your whole family.
I was pleasantly surprised here, and while I don't think that it is filled with depth, it is certainly a notch above (way above) what I was expecting. I'd hand this an easy B, but it possibly deserves more than that.