How Educational is Disneynature’s ‘Bears’?
The latest release from Disneynature, Bears, follows a year in the life of a family of Alaskan grizzly bears. As they emerge from hibernation and begin the long search for food, we see the cubs’ growth throughout their first year of life and witness the harsh reality of surviving in the remote Alaskan wilderness.
First-time mother, Sky, and her adorable twin cubs, Scout and Amber, are the stars of Bears. Being at the top of the food chain, you’d think these grizzlies would have it easy, but as we learn throughout the film, this is far from the truth. Our bear family faces dangers at every turn—avalanches, predators, and the very real threat of starvation are just a few of the problems that threaten Sky and her young cubs.
Opens: Friday, April 18, 2014
Director: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey
Cast: John C. Reilly
Run time: 77 minutes
Bears is brought to us by the directorial team of Alistair Fothergill and Keith Scholey who previously directed Disneynature’s African Cats. Fothergill also directed Chimpanzee, Earth, as well as the incredible nature mini-series Blue Planet and Planet Earth.
Like previous Disneynature releases, Bears has a G rating and is geared toward a younger audience than your usual nature documentary. With beautiful cinematography, a universal story about family, and playful narration from John C. Reilly (the voice of Wreck-It Ralph), Bears is a movie the whole family can enjoy together.
Is Bears Educational?
Bears is different from typical documentaries in that it follows a storyline. While it’s not scripted, the story does have a definite beginning, middle, and end, and includes familiar storytelling elements. The animals are anthropomorphized with names, personalities, and motivations that you wouldn’t find in a traditional documentary.
Given the young intended audience, this choice makes sense and helps to make the film approachable and enjoyable for children who may be more accustomed to cartoons than documentaries.
While the film does not dive into scientific explanations of the ecological concepts at work throughout, it does provide an introduction for young children and a natural jumping off point for learning about animal adaptations, habitats and ecosystems, food webs, and other topics. Disney has also provided a free downloadable Educator’s Guide to the movie, with activities, discussion topics, and additional information about the making of the film and the science behind it.
For young children, Bears is also an excellent introduction to the world of nature documentaries. If your kids enjoy Bears, it’s a perfect opportunity to branch out into more education-focused documentaries, many of which are available on Netflix. For instance, kids who enjoyed Bears‘ look at the Alaskan wilderness might also be interested in the BBC’s Frozen Planet series, which offers a more in-depth look at the animals that live in the coldest parts of our world.
Will my family like Bears?
The film is beautifully shot and tells a sweet story about a fascinating species most of us will never encounter up close. Parents and kids alike will enjoy the movie, though adults might find that the narration of the bears’ inner monologue wears a bit thin at times.
Bears moves along quickly, and at a short 77 minutes, even the youngest members of the family are likely to find it understandable and engaging enough to hold their interest.
There are several tense scenes in which the cubs are in danger, and the grim reality of the bears’ situation—if they don’t find food soon, they’ll all die—is driven home throughout the film, however these scenes are not overly scary for little ones. They’re interspersed with adorable peeks at the cubs personalities as they play, explore, and cuddle with their mama, providing comic relief and sweet moments throughout. Overall, Bears is a rare G-rated film that’s appropriate and entertaining for the whole family.
In honor of Earth Day on April 22, if you buy a ticket to see Bears during opening week (April 18-24, 2014) Disneynature will make a contribution to the National Park Foundation to help protect wildlife and wild places in America’s National Park system.
Images © Disney
Ashley MacQuarrie began writing professionally more than ten years ago and has covered education, technology, current events, pop culture, and other topics. A former homeschooler, she studied English and Film & New Media, graduating with a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University. Ashley has classroom experience working with children who have autism and other special needs. She has also tutored students from kindergarten through college and taught English to teens and adults at a language school in London.