The Bears and I

Movie review by
Tom Cassidy, Common Sense Media
The Bears and I Movie Poster Image
Live-action Disney drama has violence and outdated terms.
  • G
  • 1974
  • 89 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Compassion and respect for animals and nature are displayed. Learning and understanding is celebrated as a means to discovering what to do in life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bob treats the people and animals he comes across with respect. He also mediates between the Native Americans and the government, helping them to reach a mutually beneficial resolution. However, he also shows an aggressive side. Sam Eagle Speaker drinks, fights, shoots bears, and commits arson. Outdated terms and depictions used for Native Americans.

Violence

Some violence toward people and animals. The three bear cub's mother is shot dead and the body is shown. A cub is shot and is shown bleeding and unconscious, but not dead. A character tries to hit a flying owl with a broom. A fight between two characters involves multiple punches to the face and one of them being knocked out. The same two characters have another fight, exchanging blows on the ground while a dog snaps at their legs. Both have blood on their faces. Character with large knife threatens to scalp someone. Someone burns down a cabin with gasoline. Government workers shot at by unseen sniper.

Sex
Language

Native Americans referred to as "Indians." "Aw, nuts” is used in frustration. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Aggressive character described as having been "boozing it up." They are later told to "sober up" after trying to attack someone.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Bears and I is a live-action Disney movie with violent scenes involving animals and humans, and outdated terms such as Native Americans being referred to as "Indians." The movie is based on the 1968 book -- and true story -- by Robert F. Leslie and deals with issues including hunting and Native American disputes with the U.S. government. Bob Leslie (Patrick Wayne) is a Vietnam War veteran who goes to the lakeside village of his fallen comrade to deliver his possessions to his father, Chief Peter A-Tas-Ka-Nay (Chief Dan George). Seeking the quiet life, Bob decides to stay and starts caring for three bears orphaned by a hunter. Bob finds himself in numerous physical fights, including one in which he repeatedly punches a man in the face, knocking him unconscious. Bob's cabin is burned down in an arson attack and the forest around it catches fire. Some animals are shown in close proximity to the fire, while in other scenes, bears are seen with leashes on -- raising questions about the welfare of the animals during filming. As part of the storyline, bears are shot, with one animal being killed -- its lifeless body is depicted on screen.

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What's the story?

In THE BEARS AND I, Vietnam War veteran Bob Leslie (Patrick Wayne) adopts three cubs at a mountain region and mediates between the Native American residents and the U.S. government.

Is it any good?

The gorgeous mountain setting is the star of the show in this movie, with its natural beauty lovingly captured in Technicolor. The Bears and I lays out its tone with the opening credits, showing a rambler winding through the mountains to the sound of John Denver. Its star, Patrick Wayne (son of John Wayne) gives lead character Bob Leslie the warmth needed to be a man who'll adopt wild bear cubs, mediate violent disputes between Native Americans and the U.S. government, but also readily use his fists when he crosses paths with his adversary, Sam Eagle Speaker (Valentin de Vargas).

The movie's best when showing the natural world, with its brilliant vistas and the innately cute cubs. That said, the movie does depict bears in leashes and animals in close proximity to fire -- a reminder of when the welfare of animals on set was not a primary concern. There's also outdated terms such as referring to Native Americans as "Indians." Still, thanks to a satisfying conclusion, The Bears and I navigates its way to being an enjoyable, steady drama.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Bears and I. Do the violent scenes help tell the story in an effective way? Was the violence involving the animals less, more, or equally as shocking as when it involved the human characters? Why? Does exposure to violent media desensitize kids to violence?

  • Some of the language used in the movie is no longer acceptable today. Why is it important for language to adapt?

  • Talk about how Native Americans are portrayed in this film. How does this reflect the culture of the time in which the film was made, and how does this contrast with how Native Americans are depicted in later films?

  • Talk about the character of Bob. How does he demonstrate compassion and communication during the movie. Why are these important character strengths to have?

  • Discuss the animals in the movie. Is it ethical to train animals to perform in movies? How can we be assured that no animals were hurt or caused distress during the filming of movies?

Movie details

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