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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this nature drama depicts realistic animal violence: a bear kills and eats deer for food, kills horses in act of revenge, and a cougar bloodies a bear cub. Human hunters shoot bear. Bear sex is shown -- indistinctly, from a distance -- but no question what is going on. Ditto for bears pooping in the woods. Weird sequence has an innocent bear cub eating hallucination-inducing mushrooms.
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What's the story?
Unlike some other animal dramas we could mention, there are no talking-critters-with-celebrity-voices in THE BEAR and very often no dialogue at all, as director Jean-Jacques Annaud blended trained wildlife with realistic animatronics by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. In the North American wilderness of yesteryear, a grizzly bear cub is orphaned when a his mother, digging out a bees' underground hive for honey, is killed in a rockfall. The defenseless cub starts to follow a huge alpha-male bear, who gruffly tolerates the tiny sidekick as he goes about his routine of eating, preying, and mating. But the "grizzly king" is himself the target of a pair of hunters accumulating bear skins to sell. They shoot and wound the adult bear, who takes murderous revenge, destroying the men's camp, and maiming/killing their tracking dogs and horses. The hunters happen to capture the cub, and they tease and warm up to the helpless furball. But still a confrontation looms between the humans and the deadly male grizzly
Is it any good?
Seven years in the making by French filmmakers (though the minimal dialogue in most versions is English), The Bear is a simply told but visually and emotionally spectacular all-ages drama. While depicting the playfulness, the fear, and the personalities of its ursine characters, it never turns its animal actors into substitutes for people -- a remarkable feat in itself, and very much key to the theme of respecting nature and all life, human and non-human.
The bear actor Bart (who weighed around a ton when the film was made) and his offscreen handlers do astounding work, evoking a primal ferocity worthy of a sci-fi epic's T.rex when the grizzly king is riled, yet also show a range of gentleness and mercy. When this film premiered in Europe it drew crowds comparable to E.T. - The Extraterrestrial and actually outgrossed another, very different animal movie competing at the box office: Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Take that as evidence that this is a must-see. The same film team would later do Two Brothers, another recommended pro-animal-rights drama concerning a pair of exploited Bengal tigers. This film is also on the New York Times list of the 100 "essential" children's movies.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the relationships between people and animals. Hunters in the movie seem to have much less compassion than the animals do. What do kids think about hunting? Animals hunt other animals regularly -- is that different than humans hunting animals?
How is this animal movie different from others? What is the appeal of talking animals? Is it cruel to force animals to work in the movie industry?
Talk about the violence in this movie. Were the scenes of animals fighting scarier than the scenes of humans hunting? Did you feel afraid for the baby bear?
- In theaters: October 25, 1989
- On DVD or streaming: March 7, 2000
- Cast: Jack Wallace, Tcheky Karyo
- Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Curiosity
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: February 20, 2020
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