Man vs. nature is a familiar formula with a long history of success. Bears vs. nature isn’t bad either.
Disneynature’s latest panoramic documentary release, “Bears,” is a lightweight but heartwarming feature that gets a lot of mileage out of how spectacularly cute a couple of tiny cubs can be.
“Bears” follows a single-parent family of brown bears in the Alaskan wilderness. It starts in a frozen hibernation cave with the mama bear, Sky, wrapped around two newborns, then follows the trio through the next year.
Together, Sky, mischievous Scout and clingy Amber trek across mountains, brave avalanches, face ravenous predators and try desperately to avoid starvation by devouring many, many salmon.
The film’s only voice is narrator John C. Reilly (“Wreck-It Ralph”), who manages to be sweet and playful without digressing too far into hokiness.
The story itself is pieced together like a fictional tale (with much of the drama likely created in the editing room). There are villains — a lone wolf who stalks the cubs, larger male bears who apparently are not above cannibalism — and touching triumphs.
Co-directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey (who teamed on “African Cats”) largely succeed in humanizing the bears and making them relatable to a wide audience.
The film isn’t particularly heavy on facts and science and such, but there are awesome images, such as salmon flinging themselves upstream — directly into the mouths of waiting bears. I was also strangely captivated by the sight of bears digging for clams.
The gorgeous Alaskan backdrop is a plus, and it’s wondrous how the cameramen were able to get so close to the action. Stay for the closing credits to see some behind-the-scenes footage of how this was possible.
“Bears” isn’t a hard-hitting documentary by any stretch, but viewers of any age will want to cuddle up with a tiny cub of their own.
Rental recommendation: “Grizzly Man” is a fascinating and disturbing documentary about an amateur naturalist’s efforts to live with and study cuddly but dangerous grizzlies. Grade: B-plus.
Email Steve Ouellette:firstname.lastname@example.org
Starring: John C. Reilly (narrator), Sky (bear).
Running time: 77 minutes.