LOS ANGELES - Keenly following the scent of African Cats and Chimpanzees, 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.
Codirected by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, who teamed on African Cats, the adventure takes place along the breathtaking Alaskan peninsula, where first-time mother Sky and her tiny cubs, Amber and Scout, have emerged from hibernation and must 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 alpha male in the 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 against untouched Alaskan coastline, nevertheless makes for a compelling excursion.
The inherent drama is boosted by George Fenton's symphonic score and contrasts with those delightfully loose, animated voiceovers courtesy of Reilly.
Bears *** (out of four stars)
Codirected by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey. Distributed by Disney.
Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes
Parent's guide: G
Playing at: area theaters EndText