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Bob Hoose

Movie Review

Bears come down from their mountain den, eat salmon and clams (with a little grass salad on the side), then head back to dig another hole for winter.

There ya go. That’s a bear’s life boiled down to its basics.

But fans of Disneynature documentaries already know that such a bland recitation leaves out all the fun, all the grand and vivid visuals, all the smile-worthy mix of real-world observations, character asides and first-person patter generated here by affable narrator John C. Reilly. It doesn’t begin to hint at how cool and awesome it is to watch ultra-slow-motion high-def shots of jumping salmon, rushing waters and leaping beasties. And, hey, let’s not leave out those cute-as-a-teddy-bear cubs!

Like the four other Disneynature Earth Day-linked docs before it, Bears takes up-close and intimate video of animals in their natural habitat and reshapes that stock into an enjoyable, anthropomorphized journey dosed with challenge, villains, love and joyous victory—you know, the kinds of things we animal-loving humans like to see in our stories.

From that perspective, this mom-and-cub chronicle becomes a grand adventure that demands a bombastic descriptor, maybe even underscored with a majestic musical score: Alaskan grizzly Sky and her two babies, Scout and Amber, venture down from the snowy peaks of the Katmai National Park on a year-long quest to hunt salmon-packed waterways while searching for both sustenance and family bonding.

There are early spring avalanches to circumvent and predators to avoid. And when the food supply gets particularly scarce, the cubs have to even be wary of their own kind. Magnus (the huge, dominant alpha male) and Chinook (a famished outcast) both pose a threat to the defenseless cubs.

But never you worry! Mama Sky is no pushover as she fearlessly stands by her brood. She sees them through thick and thin, and teaches them the ways of survival in the wild until it’s time for another winter’s hibernation.

And it’s worth noting that this particular furry frolic is the most kid-friendly journey of all the Disneynature flicks. There’s nothing, really, that’s unbearable. At “worst,” we see hungry bears relishing their catches of salmon and clams, and maybe cuffing any critter that gets too close to that precious feast.

There. Now isn’t that a better told tale with a bit more than just the bear basics?

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.