In our Four Films series we pick a theme and examine four different kinds of films on that theme. This week, Bears – stories that revolve around these great animals and the adventures that befall them.
Big grizzlies on the big screen are often bringers of doom, as demonstrated in Legends of the Fall and The Revenant, but there are some films that paint them in a more colourful light. From the cute and cuddly to the big and scary, here are four pictures where bears are at the centre of attention.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is not one of their most celebrated pieces of work, but this sweet-natured animated feature about our favourite dim-witted bear and his friends in Hundred Acre Wood is an utter delight. Split into various loosely connected stories based on the books by A.A. Milne, this charming film follows Pooh as he gets into all sorts of wild escapades that are sure to enchant viewers of any age. The most memorable scene comes in its final chapter where Christopher Robins tells Pooh that they can no longer spend much time together as he will soon begin school, which is a poignant reflection on growing up that rivals any moment in Toy Story 3.
Before Steven Spielberg made War Horse, which was told entirely from the horse’s viewpoint, Jean-Jacques Annaud did the same with bears in The Bear. Adapted from the novel The Grizzly King by James Oliver Curwood and set in the late 19th-century in British Columbia, the film tells the story of a large male grizzly that takes an orphaned cub into its care when its mother is accidentally killed in a rockslide. The two central characters, played by professionally trained bears named Bart and Douce, give some of the finest animal performances that I have ever witnessed, and although a few technical tricks are used to make the bears more humanlike, the director does a fine job in conveying emotion in these animals without making them seem like cartoon characters.
“I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder”. This is the line that continues to ring in your ear long after watching Grizzly Man from legendary German director Werner Herzog. This horrifying yet moving documentary explores the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, an avid bear enthusiast who, along with his girlfriend Amie Huguenard, was savagely mauled to death by a 28-year-old brown bear in October 2003. But, although it is Treadwell who is the undoubted subject of the film, it is the unmistakable presence of Herzog that makes this such a fascinating watch. Not only does he act as an observer or narrator, but as a man quizzical, sympathetic and critical of the Grizzly Man’s irrational actions.
You may think twice about going on that camping holiday you booked after watching Adam MacDonald’s grisly horror set in the Canadian backcountry. Supposedly inspired by a true story, Blackfoot Trail (or Backcountry as it is known in other countries) follows a young couple, played by Missy Peregrym and Jeff Roop, who ventures on a backpacking trip to the great unknowable wilderness where, unbeknownst to them, a hungry black bear resides. The film is deliberately patient in its build-up, but when the inevitable horror reveals itself, the tension racks up and there is no holding back on the blood and guts. Though not completely ineffective or bereft of scares, there’s little to lift this beyond anything more than just a competent thriller.