Documentary, 78 Minutes, 2014
This is the latest in Disney’s “True Life Adventure” series of nature documentaries. This time we follow an Alaskan Grizzly bear and her two cubs through their first year of life. It’s very tempting to say “if you seen one, then you’ve seen them all” here. Mostly because it’s basically true.
True, but not necessarily a bad thing. Forgiving the occasional misstep – for example when they killed bunches of lemmings simply because they didn’t have the courtesy to kill themselves on queue – Disney Studios have consistently produced highly impressive nature films. A pedigree indicates quality, not originality, and Disney definitely has a pedigree in this genre.
The nature photography is gorgeous and often surprisingly intimate. You’ll wonder at how the film crew was able to get the footage it did. Those intimate moments expand outwards to encompass the entire ecosystem. It’s difficult not to gape when faced with the raw vitality of the Alaskan spring.
It’s easier to appreciate the backdrop when the subjects are approachable and comfortable; bears are interesting, but – let’s be honest – not terribly complex. They’re furry, they wander around and eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. Not all that different from you and me, I suppose.
Like most of the True Adventure films, the footage edited into a rather simple, storybook style narrative. The bears are personified with names and stark personality traits catering to the toddler set. In a bit of ever-so-slight racism, the main characters are given western names – mama “Sky” and cubs “Amber” and “Scout” – while all the other characters are given vaguely meaningful Inuit names.
The narration is provided by John C. Reilly [IMDB] and is warm, friendly and clear. The simplistic writing staples meaning to every action of the bears. We see the bears standing there and are told they’re very worried. We see them standing there again, but are told that they’re now relieved. Later, they’re desperate and still later, overjoyed.
It works for the kids, I’m sure, but the constant heavy-handed humanization gets old quickly. I’m likely in the minority on this, I know. Turning this wonderful nature footage into a live-action coloring book is probably what most people are looking for. On a positive note, the story does include at least some animalistic realities; as when the cubs are chased by older males seeking to expand their diet.
The cinematography is stunning. The story is crap. That’s the way of it in Disney Nature Land. Still, the family film landscape is glutted with loud, explosive adrenaline-soaked action. It’s nice to have a quiet, quality option like this available as well.