KEENLY FOLLOWING the scent of "African Cats" and "Chimpanzee," Disneynature's "Bears" combines sweeping vistas and remarkably intimate wildlife photography to typically stirring effect as it documents a year in the life of a mother Alaskan brown bear and her two cubs.
Save for some particularly playful narration provided by John C. Reilly, the film, clocking in at a tidy 77 minutes, adheres closely to the successful blueprint first laid out by 2007's "Earth," pitting a wildlife family unit against the not necessarily nurturing elements.
Released just ahead of Earth Day, "Bears" could snuggle up handsomely with family audiences looking for some holiday weekend adventure, although it will have to fight for a share of the turf claimed a week earlier by the exotic birds of Fox's "Rio 2."
Co-directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, who previously teamed on "African Cats," the adventure takes place along the breathtaking Alaskan peninsula, where first-time mom Sky and her two tiny cubs, Amber and Scout, have emerged from hibernation and need to start addressing the food situation.
For a baby bear, getting to that sustenance isn't exactly a piece of cake, what with avalanches and predatory animals to deal with, including some of their own kind, like Magnus, the dominant alpha male in their neighborhood, and Chinook, a very hungry outcast who constantly poses a threat to clingy Amber and mischievous Scout.
By now it's a familiar tale of one family's survival instinct, but it's hard not to cuddle up to a cute cub, and all that fearlessly up-close-and-personal footage, set extensively against that untouched Alaskan coastline, nevertheless makes for a compelling excursion.
The inherent drama is boosted by George Fenton's seriously symphonic score and contrasts with those delightfully loose, animated voice-overs courtesy of Reilly, a big teddy bear of an actor if ever there was one.