It’s been 25 years since the movie THE BEAR was released. Hard to believe it’s been that long but it has. When released the movie was a critical favorite but never did huge box office numbers. If it were released today my guess is that would happen as well with the number of television programs dedicated to nature in all of its many forms. When this came out I had no interest. I was part of a generation who grew up being force fed Disney nature films that we saw repeated every year. I loved nature but not so much movies about it. I hope that doesn’t hold true for those who have a chance to see this movie now in blu-ray format from Shout Factory.
Set in 1885 British Columbia, the movie follows two stories that blend together to be one, both involving bears. A small cub plays and watches as his mother forages for honey in a nearby tree. She’s unaware that the tree holds in an outcropping of rock above her and while shaking the tree digging at it she loosens the stones which fall and crush here. The cub is left alone, an orphan in an unforgiving world.
The second story involves a full grown grizzly, a huge animal wandering the countryside. As he makes his way in search of food, finding mushrooms and berries to eat, a pair of hunters begin to track him down. One shoots, wounding the bear. As they rush to where it was shot it’s long gone, or so the older of the pair says. The screams of their horses make them realize how wrong they were and they return to camp to find one partially eaten and another wounded. Swearing revenge the older of the two heads out to get supplies intending on returning once he’s well-armed.
The two stories collide when the cub comes across the older bear. While the full grown bear has no need or interest in the cub, the younger wants companionship and help to survive. At first the grizzly warns off the cub, but when laying down the cub moves up to the grizzly and begins licking his wounds in an attempt to help him. The two become a team and head out into the wilderness.
As they move on the grizzly goes after game that the two share, a learning experience for the cub. As the two bond we get to see something only the world of movies can show us, the dreams of the cub. Using stop motion animation, the cub dreams of the loss of his mother and of the frog he came across when he first set off on his own. These moments provide us with a reason to care about the cub, a way of putting our emotions into the story. We don’t hate the hunters but we find the bear cub adorable.
Trust me when I say the cub is adorable. While small animals are always cute this one takes the cake. When you see him try to imitate the larger bear for instance as the grizzly topples a tree, the cub pushing over a sapling, it makes you smile through the whole thing. It becomes funnier when you find that the display put on by the grizzly was a mating ritual, another act the cub watches unaware of what is going on. What’s amazing to watch is how they animal wranglers on this film were able to get the cub to act the way the director wanted it to. The same holds true of the large grizzly who I think has been used in several movies and TV shows over the year.
Halfway through the movie the hunter returns with a fresh horse and tracking dogs to find the bear. The pair of animals does their best to avoid the hunters, climbing the nearby mountains to get away. Turning the dogs loose and nearing the pair, the bears become separated. Catching the cub they use him as bait, hoping the grizzly will return for him. What happens from there on I’ll leave to those of you willing to watch this movie. I guarantee you that you won’t be disappointed. I won’t say this is family friendly entertainment because of several bloody sequences but with the exception of that and a few what I call Disney moments (like the mother dying at the start) this is something you could watch with your kids if you talked out various moments with them.
Director Jean-Jacques Annaud does an amazing job here of bringing an incredible amount of emotion from how two main actors, and I’m not talking about the hunters. For the most part real bears were used in the production of this movie but during sequences such as the fight scenes animatronic bears were used, created by Jim Henson’s people. The combination is seamless and Annaud mixes them so well as to making it impossible to tell which is which.
The movie also doesn’t just tell us a story about a bear and a hunter, it brings into play so much more. There is a depth of story here that is far and above what we get from tons of regular movies these days. In presenting it as such it touches your heart and works your emotions to a fever pitch. At the same time the entertainment value found is there as well.
The blu-ray edition from Shout lives up to any and all of their previous efforts. The picture quality captures the beauty of the locations used to their full extent. The extras are limited but having watched the movie start to finish I don’t think extras would have benefited this film. It was enough of a pleasure to watch and touches the heart in so many ways I think it would only take away from the film. What greater praise can one give than that?