The logline: a heartwarming Disney adventure about a single mother raising two kids, who has to work hard to keep them safe and fed while dodging domineering males and common criminals. The setting: remote Alaska. The cast: grizzlies.
Since 2007, Disneynature has given families the chance to pay twelve bucks a head to watch an animal documentary on the big screen. Aware that this is something of a tall order, they’ve employed a savvy strategy with their original productions, and Bears, their newest offering, is no exception to this two-prong approach. The first aspect is the reliably stunning visuals, both in the theater-ready vistas and the up-close-and-personal portraiture of the fauna du jour. (End credits offer a behind-the-scene glimpse of what’s required to achieve some of director Alastair Fothergill’s incredible shots.) The second is the particularly Disneyfied narrative; boosted by bedtime-story narration courtesy John C. Reilly, the first year of the cubs’ lives becomes one tick short of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey anthropomorphism. Certainly the social structure of bears is more unfamiliar than wolf pack or lion pride dynamics, and benefits from explanation, but Bears makes sure to also include a story of a bear cub looking for a role model ... when maybe the best role model a bear could ask for was beside him all along. (Spoilers: It’s his mom.)
It’s worth noting that, in line with previous Disneynature productions and despite an Earth Day release, there’s not a whisper of conservation anywhere in this gripping hard-luck story of salmon scarcity, desperate wolves, and overcrowded living spaces; the world of Bears is an untouched Northwest seemingly free of any human encroachments. Still, despite that bit of myopia, Disney offers up enough sharp-focus landscapes and adorable cub close-ups that it might make this worth a family trip, after all.