04/17/2014 02:08 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2014

Disneynature Film Bears Opens Friday, April 18

Disneynature Bears is a perfect film for the whole family, particularly if you have young ones with an interest in science and nature. This film, the fifth theatrical release from the Disneynature division, transports viewers to parts of Alaska that most of us will never visit and puts us up close with a mother and her two cubs as she helps them navigate the first year of life.

From the opening shot where a camera lens is embedded in the hibernation cave to the breathtaking vistas, mountain crests, and open skies of Katmai National Park and Preserve (located on the southern peninsula of Alaska), the camera work is stunning. The filmmakers capture experiences most of us are unlikely to be near in our lifetimes. Among the memorable scenes is that of an avalanche that occurs very near the bears on their way down the snowy mountain. We are also treated to a peaceful view of many bears at the "golden pond" doing just what bears do when they are well-fed, relaxed, and not quite ready to settle down for a nap.

The bears and other animals in Bears are given names, probably necessary for the purposes of a narrative. The mother bear is Sky and her two cubs are Amber and Scout. Scout is well-named as viewers soon note that if one of the cubs is wandering off to explore something, it is always Scout.

The Story
After the very early sequence of the tiny, almost-hairless cubs nursing, the story picks up with the moment when Sky needs to get the cubs out of the cave and on their way to the water where they will find the food that she badly needs in order to continue to nurse her cubs.

The film narration, by John C. Reilly, is set up to tell a story but is also informative. We learn that a mother bear must consume 90 pounds of salmon a day during the time that the fish are plentiful in order to store up enough fat to last her through the winter. And we witness that getting to that food is not easy.

Sky is starving after five to six months of hibernation, and her first challenge is hurrying the cubs along an arduous trip through the mountains to get to water's edge. There, she begins to eat grass and hunt for clams; these are small morsels but with a bear-sized appetite, she needs to eat what she can find.

There are many dangers for Sky and her cubs, and the audience is told early on that our concern for the cubs is real. Only about one-half of these young cubs will survive the first year. Only one-third will make it through the first three years of life to adulthood.

Sky contends with many challenges, beginning with balky cubs as she makes a very hurried trek toward food. Amber hitches a ride on her mother's back; Scout is often picked up by the head and neck and lifted along so that he'll understand he needs to move more quickly. There are also predators (a wolf and a hungry male bear who has been exiled by the other bears). Any location where there is food also draws the danger of these predators, so Sky must evaluate each location carefully.

Over the course of the film we experience fear -- when it seems that Scout may have been hunted down by the exiled male bear -- and humor. Scout, of course, is the comedian. In one scene, the cub gets one of his claws caught in a good-sized shell he finds at the beach, and the camera stays with him several minutes as he tries extricate his paw from the appendage hanging from it. He shakes his paw hoping it will fall off, then he drags it along with him in frustration calling for help to an unresponsive Sky. John C. Reilly's narration supplies anthropomorphic thoughts of what the cub is enduring. While I have mixed emotions about attributing human emotions and reactions to an animal, Scout's body language is so clear that he may indeed have been thinking those thoughts.

The filmmakers leave the bears as Sky and her cubs return to the mountains where she will create another cave where they will hibernate through the next winter. While this first year of parenting for a bear is the most difficult, Sky will have two more years where Scout and Amber will still be with her, and she will try to safely launch them into adulthood.

Filming in Katmai
Stay for the closing credits where you see the filmmakers at work. Viewers see how the cub-eye view of things was obtained as well as how they did the underwater shots.

According to the production notes, the filmmakers spent a two-year period in Katmai Park to get the footage they needed; it was a slow process. Some days the filmmakers would film as little as two to three minutes, partly because they devoted time to letting the bears adjust to their presence. The filmmakers were accompanied at all times by nature guides who knew the bear population well enough to know if there were certain signs that indicated danger.

Percentage of Ticket Sales to Benefit the National Park Foundation

A percentage of ticket sales from opening week (April 18-24) will be donated to the National Park Foundation, the national charity of America's national parks, to protect wildlife and wild places across America's national park system. There are also certain items available through the Disney stores and parks where a percentage of sales will be contributed to the National Park Foundation.

Disneynature also helps fund the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, which has planted 3 million trees in Brazil's Atlantic Forest, established 40,000 acres of marine protected area in The Bahamas, protected 65,000 acres of savanna in Kenya, protected nearly 130,000 acres of wild chimpanzee habitat, and educated 60,000 school children about chimpanzee conservation.

For other stories about the bald eagle, Alaska and the American experience, click here: