As anyone who watched Yogi Bear or Winnie the Pooh knows, a good chunk of a bear’s life is spent searching for food. A new Disneynature documentary, “Bears,” has an up-close-and-personal look at how real bears hunt for food in the wild, far away from Yogi’s pic-a-nics and Winnie’s honey pots.
Directed by “Planet Earth” wildlife legend Alastair Fothergill (with co-director Keith Scholey), “Bears” is the result of a year long shoot, following mother Sky, and her cubs Scout and Amber as they fight the elements, wolves and a nasty outcast bear named Chinook in a quest for the “bear” necessities of life.
“Bears” integrates story with an educational point of view. Kids will learn about the bear’s migration via beautifully shot film, stunning time-lapse photography. Unfortunately a strangely conceived voice over from John C. Reilly adds a narrative that anthropomorphizes the animals, adding in an unneeded storyline that seeks to humanize these majestic creatures. Shots of the mother bear delicately eating a clam is elegant and primal, it isn’t necessary to add silly narration to give human attributes to the bears.
It’s meant to make the story more relatable, bit feels a little trite—for instance a scene of Sky and Amber ripping a writing salmon apart is described as a mother and daughter’s sushi date—for a movie with such lush wildlife photography.
In short, let the pictures do the talking. Show me, don’t tell me.
Beyond the distracting VO, “Bears” is a welcome addition to Disneynature’s wildlife canon. There is some intense circle of life stuff that may upset young animal lovers, but the bears emerge with their dignity and majesty intact and kids will learn something while being entertained.
Yogi Bear, the brown bear with a huge appetite for pic-a-nic baskets, has been in hibernation on the big screen for almost half a century. The last time the “smarter than the average bear” and his sidekick Boo-Boo played in movie theatres Lyndon D. Johnson was president and The Kinks were about to release their debut album. The intervening years have been kind to the big brown bear, who is up to his old tricks in a new self titled film starring (the voices) Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake.
Set, as all great Yogi Bear stories are, in Jellystone Park, the beginning of “Yogi Bear” finds the park teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Attendance is down—mostly because of Yogi’s habit of stealing food from any guests silly enough to try and pic-a-nic at the park—and if Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) can’t figure out a way to raise $30,000 the corrupt mayor of the town (played to smarmy perfection by Andrew Daly) will rezone the land and sell it off to loggers. When Ranger Smith gets reassigned to another posting Yogi must use his smarts to help save the park and his home.
“Yogi Bear”—both the film and the character—is hard to dislike. At an economical 75 minutes the film’s goofy slapstick doesn’t overstay its welcome and will even provide a nostalgic kick for anyone old enough to remember the original cartoon series. The big bumbling bear is a classic character—apparently based on another classic character, Art Carney’s Ed Norton from “The Honeymooners”—and the movie does him justice. They don’t try and reinvent the wheel here, this is a very simple kid’s flick that stays true to the spirit of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
The audience of kids I saw the movie with weren’t howling with laughter, but they were engaged with the characters. Aykroyd and Timberlake take pains to do actual character voices, unlike most celebrity voice work which just plays off of the actor’s already established persona, they do bang on impressions of Yogi and Boo-Boo.
“Yogi Bear” is a movie for the whole family but will appeal most to very young kids. It has gentle humor and action, larger than life characters and good messages about loyalty, perseverance and (of course) saving the environment. It may not be smarter than your average kid’s flick but for what it is, it’s enjoyable.