Silence is never more golden anywhere than it is documentary features. Most, if not all of them, have to employ some sort of voice-over narration to impart certain information.
Unfortunately, that narration can be as much a hindrance as a help with the genre. When it is done badly, or it is overdone, there are times it can take attention away from the subject at hand – times when you may be tempted to yell “Just shut up already!” at the screen. And there are times in Disneynature Bears where you may feel the need to do just that.
The film’s narrator is John C. Reilly, a well-respected actor whose somewhat goofy but affable tones would seem perfectly suited to this type of material. But he’s not just reading an outline of the story the filmmakers are trying to tell. No, at times he also has to read “lines of dialogue” from the perspective of the film’s ursine characters, whom the writers have tried to “anthropomorphize” to an almost overbearing degree.
It’s an unnecessary, cutesy affectation that makes the film seems dumber, more superficial than it actually is. And luckily, the movie does gets out of its own way (eventually) and tells a somewhat engaging, “true-life” nature tale. (It’s still not up to the standards of the infinitely better Chimpanzees, from 2012.)
Crews from Disneynature, the studio’s independent documentary production house (headquartered in France) followed brown bears over the course of a year in the Alaskan wilderness. Documentarians Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey (African Cats) and their camera crews focus on a mother, Sky, and two young cubs, Scout (a male) and Amber (a female).
Sky and her cubs have recently emerged from their winter hibernation, and are trying to make their way to However, threats to their safety are constant, including those from a pair of frisky males, Magnus (the battle-tested “leader” of the local pack) and Chinook (an outcast), who might be hungry enough to feast on other bears. There’s also a clever wolf, Tacani, who keeps dogging the trio’s tracks.
As it turns out, Sky is smart enough to run from these potential confrontations, and is clever enough to get enough food to keep them all alive. That includes consuming some less-than-tasty, but-at-least-filling forest grass and digging up rocks at a nearby, low-tide shoreline, where the three bears enjoy some mussels and clams.
However, their ultimate destination is in the mountains: a so-called “golden pond” that’s filled with enough salmon to sate their bearish appetites and allow them to store up enough fat reserves to survive the next winter. (Complicating things: Sky is eating for three. She has to make sure she has enough food storage to produce mother’s milk for the quick-growing cubs.)
Fothergill and Scholey do take some liberties with the story and possibly make sequences seem more dangerous than they probably were (the wolf never seems like much of a threat, to be honest). And they try to set certain moods for scenes with noxious musical interludes, including the overplayed-to-death “Home,” by American Idol winner Phillip Phillips.
Luckily, they focused on the right subjects. This trio already has enough “character” to keep our interest throughout, though 86-minute running time may make really young audiences a little antsy.
Jeff Michael Vice can also be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and can be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).