Note: As this is a nature film, many of the usual questions asked in our “Things Parents Should Know” series aren’t relevant. Rather than try to stretch this out to 10 items, I’m sticking to just four.
1. What’s the movie about?
Bears. Oh, you’d like a bit more detail? It’s about a mama grizzly bear, named Skye, and her cubs Scout and Amber, trying to make their way across the harsh Alaskan wilderness to find food and better weather. Along the way, they encounter storms, predators, and dull, condescending narration.
2. Is the narration really that bad?
I really wish I could say it wasn’t. I like John C. Reilly fine as an actor, but as a narrator he evidently leaves a lot to be desired. His slow, even tone does nothing to make the movie seem exciting – when the footage is of mama bear Skye fending off a wolf to save her cubs, it’s exciting enough on its own, but when all they’re doing is trudging through the snow you may need a caffeinated beverage to stay awake.
The worst part of the narration isn’t Reilly’s fault, though, but that of whoever wrote it. I can’t stand documentaries aimed at kids that talk down to them and feel the need to throw in folksy jokes every so often lest kids lose interest, and Bears does both constantly throughout the film. When I was a kid, I always enjoyed the documentaries that treated me like a reasonably intelligent person; I may not have understood everything that was said, but I got enough of it that my interest to learn more was piqued. I would have liked Bears a lot more if it had more actual information about bears, and a lot fewer corny one-liners.
3. What about the visuals?
It’s pretty tough to film the Alaskan wilderness and make it look anything but spectacular, and Bears does just fine in this department. The cinematography is excellent, with some absolutely gorgeous shots of snowy mountains and sprawling valleys. And the trio of bears themselves are beautiful, strong, and sometimes adorably playful. Many of the shots of the bears will make you wonder how the cameraman could possibly have pulled it off without using trained bears or being eaten by the wild ones they actually filmed. The visuals are almost enough reason to pay to see the movie in the theater.
4. So, is it worth seeing?
It’s almost worth paying to see it in the theater, just for the visuals. Almost. But, considering how much it costs these days to go to a film like this with kids, I can’t recommend it. Save your money and find a good documentary on bears on Netflix or Amazon Prime, or at your local public library. The odds are you and your kids will learn more from it, and you won’t have to pay $7.50 for a Coke.
Disneynature’s Bears opens today in theaters. It’s rated G, and is appropriate for everyone.
Poster and photos copyright by, and courtesy of, Disney.
Viewing a prescreening of Disneynature’s Bears was part of a press junket I attended that was paid for by Disney. All opinions expressed are my own.