Wildlife movies always make me nervous … Disneynature’s Bears

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Disney has long been synonymous with compelling, awe-inspiring, moving “how’d-they-film-that?” nature documentaries. Starting with the True-Life Adventure series (e.g. Seal Island, The Living Desert) in the late 40s/early 50s, Uncle Walt established a high standard for capturing real-life footage of flora and fauna in natural habitats, layering on kid-friendly narratives with heaping helpings of personification and silly puns – all toward offering the world animal-based metaphors for contemporary society, for the daily challenges of survival, and for the absolute need for kindness and empathy and tolerance.

In recent years, the Disneynature imprint (the only Disney studio based in France) was launched to carry on this cinematic tradition. Their latest effort Bears does not disappoint.

In an efficient 90-minute running time, directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey present the tale of Alaskan grizzly bear Sky as she leads her two adorable cubs Amber and Scout from their mountaintop hibernation through a danger-laden summer of scrounging up sustenance and warding off wolves and hunger and other grouchy bears (oh my!).

The Winnie-the-Pooh-esque John C. Reilly is an inspired choice of narrator with his cuddly baritone and affable goofiness. He amiably sells the cornier jokes, but his best moments are as he soothingly/insistently describes the against-all-odds love a parent can (and does) show their young in the face of great adversity.

Yes, you may scratch your head a few times wondering how much of a stretch the film’s narrative may be. I caught myself creating an alternative voice-over for the bears – something like, “Really? Why are these chuckle-heads circling us with these cameras? We are magnificent creatures; not clowns for your entertainment. Wow. Humans are silly creatures.” And lord knows that salmon carnage (understandably) has to be part of any movie about bears in the wild, but all that raw fish-eating defies Magic Kingdom-style whimsy.

Regardless, I am so glad that Disney and other companies make these films. Insidious forces seem to be at work these days, pushing an anti-animal agenda in the guise of all-American family values – it started with Sarah Palin, continues through Duck Dynasty, and will end heaven knows where. A small angry bunch seem to equate the planet’s unyielding diversification as a threat to their middle-class joie de vivre and have turned to camouflage, crossbows, and misinterpreted Bible verses as their saving graces. (I know there are people who will want to pick a fight with me on these points, but it’s my blog so, if you’re one of them, move along. Seriously. Shoo.)

I can only hope that an army of kids whose parents (and grandparents) were influenced positively by Uncle Walt’s anthropomorphizing of woodland creatures makes a beeline for movies like Bears. There is a wild, wonderful world out there that deserves our respect and gratitude … let’s start showing it.

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Please check out this coverage from BroadwayWorld of upcoming book launch events. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan; by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan; and by Memory Lane Gift Shop in Columbia City, Indiana. Bookbound, Common Language, and Memory Lane also have copies of Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series.

13 thoughts on “Wildlife movies always make me nervous … Disneynature’s Bears

  1. oh, this is my favorite review of yours ever!!!!! wish I could have figured out how to say exactly what you have said…like as in “TAKE ME OR LEAVE ME…I know whereof I speak…I have been to the mountaintop and I am sold on nature, wildlife, and unfortunate “domesticated” throw-away animals…and I am beyond dismayed and bored with self-ish-ness at the expense of what and who may need our help and assistance to NOT BE KILLED, to no longer be IGNORED, and to be RESPECTED! AND there is room in the human heart for concern and consideration for all living beings…not just for people…IF one claims to care about people it has to be that animals are included. Why the H—– not? LIFE IS LIFE IS LIFE and is sacred. Across the board…no selectivity allowed. Just watched an uneven PBS nature show about precious mule deer and their sensitivity and intelligence and ability to know fear and grief and their hierarchy. and the fact that their numbers are diminishing and they need assistance. Guess what? the cowboy type /documentarian had to swagger just enough to turn me off…but largely the photography was stunning…however, his complete and credible empathy got lost somewhere in his “real men” pose for the show-boating effort. And how can folks with cameras tug at our heartstrings yet keep the cameras rolling when a little intervention via even the simplest whistle could save the day for the moment? phooey.

    • beautifully put, Susie! I agree 100% – and this thought popped into my head a couple times during the movie as well, though it was the rare documentary about animals that (other than poor salmon) no animals were harmed in “call of the wild” style activities: “And how can folks with cameras tug at our heartstrings yet keep the cameras rolling when a little intervention via even the simplest whistle could save the day for the moment? phooey.”

      On Sun, Apr 20, 2014 at 2:50 AM, Reel Roy Reviews wrote:

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  3. Pingback: Wildlife movies always make me nervous…by Roy Sexton (Reel Roy Reviews)

  4. Well said. Especially the part about the hardcore right attacking people who care for these beautiful creatures. Such a shame. I saw this movie last night with my wife and absolutely LOVED it. Heartwarming, charming and even at times a bit scary, I thought this movie was incredibly well done and had some seriously remarkable shots. Great review! I’m glad to see you enjoyed it and I’m even mote glad to see you and I share a lot of the same values about nature.

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