Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Bears" are like people, preferring "free fish" (and mollusks), according to DisneyNature


John C. Reilly’s “Bears”, for Disney Nature, is about the real thing.  Mama Bear wakes up with her two cubs on a mountaintop in the Aleutians, and has to travel down to the coast for the summer, and then back up a river to fish for salmon.  It’s a desperate race against time in a short summer. If she doesn’t eat enough and fatten up, she won’t be able to provide milk for her cubs, and they won’t survive.  The film says they are brown bears, although these are pretty big, almost like grizzlies.

Along the way, she watches an avalanche, and has to protect her cubs from a roving wolf. She finds a feast of clams at low tide, and finally some “free fish”.  But one good meal isn’t enough.  When she goes upstream, the salmon don’t show up until a heavy thunderstorm raises the water level.  But still he can’t find many of them.  Finally, she finds herself “On Golden Pond” (as in the 1981 film)  after a raven leads her and the cubs to it.  Corvids (crows and ravens) really will “help” large mammals find food or warn them about storms and fires.

What is so striking in this film is how the animals have personalities.  It takes brains to eat a varied diet from different sources in different places, and the bears, sometimes walking like bipeds, do seem a bit like people.  Where is the father?  Why do the women in bear society do all the work?  Well, bears don’t seem to have a familial social structure.  The right wing will love to moralize about this. 

The film also has a little subplot about two big males, with the larger one acting like a bully, stealing fish from the his runner-up. 

The film could be compared to Werner Herzog’s 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man”, about nature photographer Timothy Treadwell, who was killed with his girl friend by a grizzly on the same Katmai area in 2003. 

The new Disney film shows the photographers, working close to the bears, in the closing credits.  The bears seem to accept them.
  
I saw this in the afternoon at a Regal in Arlington, with limited showings remaining.  DisneyNature offers this featurette:


Wikipedia attribution link for picture of brown bear in Denali National Park, which I flew over in a private plane in August 1980 (and even attended a tour “party” at a cabin in the woods).  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:A047,_Denali_National_Park,_Alaska,_USA,_bears,_2002.jpg   

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