"Bears" is exactly the sort of nature documentary we've come to expect from Disneynature, the film division of the company that rolls out a new nature documentary every year at Earth Day. It's gorgeous, intimate and beautifully photographed. And it's cute and kid-friendly, with just enough jokes to balance the drama that comes from any film that flirts with how dangerous and unforgiving the wild actually is.
Here, it's Alaskan brown bears we follow as cute cubs through their first year of life. A mama bear and her two cubs endure a year of hunger, dangerous encounters with other bears, a wolf and a riptide as they trek from snowy mountains, where the cubs were born, down to the coast, where salmon streams feed into the sea.
The mother, Sky, needs to fatten up on salmon to survive and nurse her cubs, Amber and Scout, through their coming second winter. The cubs need to discover the world, and stay out of the way of omnivorous male bears and assorted other dangers. We're told that only half of the cubs born each winter make it through their first year alive. The adult bear fights are intense and frightening.
But John C. Reilly narrates this nature tale with a hint of whimsy, especially when the cubs get into mischief learning how to dig up clams.
The cubs ride Sky's back across freezing rivers, stick close when danger is near and roughhouse with each other and their mother, forcing that involuntary "Awwww" out of even the most jaded viewer.
The filmmakers get right underneath the fur to see the tiny cubs just after birth, and the extreme close-ups and very cinematic tracking shots take us into a pristine wilderness where survival is a matter of instinct, pluck and more than a little luck. It's reassuring to see that there are still places as unspoiled as this, and that Disney is willing to pour some of its theme park and Marvel Studio millions back into documentaries that are more worthwhile than profitable.
PLOT Mama bear and her two cubs fight for survival in the wild.
CAST Narrated by John C. Reilly
BOTTOM LINE A beautifully photographed nature film with "awwww"- inspiring moments.