If a bear could talk, it would sound like John C. Reilly. Right?
Relaxed. Deliberate. A little crabby. A little smart-alecky.
Casting the shaggy “Wreck-It Ralph” actor to narrate is one of the many right moves on display in “Bears.” The latest Disneynature entry (following “Chimpanzee” and “African Cats”) showcases two newborn Alaskan brown bears as they awaken alongside their mom from hibernation. The captivating film chronicles “the story of their incredible first year.”
The filmmakers name the single mom Sky and the two cubs Scout and Amber. (Odd there’s no mention of a father bear.) Mom has one goal: find food. The youngsters tag along and try to sidestep trouble. Luckily, Reilly explains that the nose of a bear is “seven times more sensitive than a bloodhound,” which helps during the trek from snow-capped mountains to the streams below. He also warns, “Almost half of all bear cubs don’t survive their first year.”
Cue one more soundtrack royalty for Phillip Phillips and his hit song “Home.”
The cuteness factor is certainly off the chart in “Bears.” Whether adventurous Scout is getting his claw stuck in a clam or the fuzzball siblings are riding on the back of their mom as she fords a river, the movie is crammed with memorable images. Extreme close-ups, time-lapse, slow-motion, underwater and aerial photography are all employed with artistic precision. But the showstopper features a high-def montage of airborne salmon fish-slapping bears across their hungry brown faces, while others rocket straight into their waiting jaws.
These displays are also enhanced by the gorgeous scenery. Not a hint of mankind’s encroachment is apparent in the Katmai National Park and Preserve. That is until the end credits, when veteran Disneynature filmmakers Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey allow viewers to glimpse the behind-the-scenes action of their team capturing this footage. (Considering the number of famished bears and wolves nearby, what are the insurance rates for this production?)
Despite the circle-of-life dangers involved — from avalanches to predatory male bears — there’s nothing too terrifying for the youngsters. Unless you’re a salmon, then the film is the aquatic equivalent of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Even a fourth-grader will be sharp enough to recognize the creative manipulation in this “documentary.” Like reality TV, the footage may be genuine, but the storyline is determined later in the editing room. Even with Reilly’s affable narration, the characterizations lean toward contrived.
One of the big blunders when dealing with wild animals is to assign them human traits when none may exist. These aren’t people. They aren’t pets. They are animals, and that’s preciselywhy they’re fascinating.