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Bears / Rated G, Except that Mean and Nasty Bears Could Be Scary To Really Young Children

Bears is the 2014 annual Earth Day nature film released by Disney Studios. They have released eight of these films so far, with one in the works for 2015. I went to, and reviewed, the first film in 2007, Earth. About 15 minutes into that film I had a strong feeling of deja vu. At about the 30-minute point I realized that this excellent film was not made by Disney. It was, in fact, a BBC production narrated by Richard Attenborough that I owned as part of a Planet Earth DVD set.

What Disney did was: buy a beautifully made, release-ready product; rewrite the narration for American audiences; and add a recognizable voice to narrate the film. James Earl Jones was the new voice of the show.

After that experience, each year as Disney released a new Earth Day film, I re-watched one of my DVDs in the Planet Earth set and saved a trip to the box office. For those who don’t have or haven’t seen the BBC series, the theater re-release is highly recommended. The photography is gorgeous and top-notch film composers have added appropriate music.

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Bears takes the same path. It is the story of three bears. Not Papa, Mama and Baby, but Mama and two babies. The story starts in the hibernation den and follows their attempts to survive their first year. The cubs stay with mom the first three years of their lives, returning to hibernate with her at the end of each season.

During late spring through summer and early fall they make a long trek from the mountains to the Alaskan coastal area. Here they eat grass and any marine life they can entrap or dig up. If things get desperate, they eat each other. During their summer sojourn, they await the return of the salmon that are going up river to spawn. Then the bears, wolves and other predators gorge on salmon until they return to sleep off their feast.

Actor John C. Reilly is the narrator of Bears. His voice is childish and the narration has been dumbed down so two year olds can understand it. When the cubs eat salmon, JCR says things like “Hey, mom, this is my new favorite food.” Don’t expect a lot out of the narrative portions. Expect a lot from the endurance and love mom has for the babies. Life is not easy in the Alaskan wilderness even if you weigh 700 pounds and have big teeth. (Other bears weigh in at over 1,000 pounds and have even bigger teeth.)

There’s also an added treat from the George Fenton musical score. GF has been at it since 1971 and my favorites from his resume include High Spirits (1988), Memphis Belle (1991) and Ever After (1998).

Bears runs only 77 minutes including about eight minutes of end credits, and scenes of the cinematographers at work. Their work here is spectacular: close ups of the bears in their den, on the snowy peaks, hunting in the meadows, napping and fighting are all superb.

However, a warning. These bears are big, and when they get vicious on screen it looks like Godzilla vs. Smoky the Bear in a battle to the death. Really small kids beware. Adults enjoy. Call me when it’s safe to come out of the restroom.

Rated 2.9 out of 4.0 reasons the porridge is just right.

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