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The Bear Review

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The story follows the adventures of a bear cub in British Columbia at the end of the 19th century. His mum gets killed by a boulder, dislodged as she ferrets around in a bees nest looking for some honey. His future looks bleak until he meets up with a huge male kodiak who looks after him as they try to avoid a couple of hunters.

★★★★

It took six years and cost $25 million to make this extraordinary film. Twelve bears were trained and ably assisted by a supporting cast of birds, frogs, lizards, dogs, moles, a tortoise and three humans. And if your mouth is still closed at the end, you're possibly more blasé than is good for you.

The story follows the adventures of a bear cub in British Columbia at the end of the 19th century. His mum gets killed by a boulder, dislodged as she ferrets around in a bees nest looking for some honey. His future looks bleak until he meets up with a huge male kodiak (very tall, approx. 140 stone) who looks after him as they try to avoid a couple of hunters. The hunters, as is hunters' wont, are less bothered about the welfare of the bears than their bank balances, and they're out for blood, especially after the adult goes on the rampage at their encampment after being winged by a hasty shot. The bears keep running, the men keep chasing. They get a pack of dogs in, they modify their bullets to blow the beasts apart. The bears have various adventures as the cub encounters such mysteries as croaking frogs and magic mushrooms and the old man teaches junior the ropes, all of which is complemented by beautiful photography of the location in the Italian Dolomites.

That's about it really, but mere description could never do justice to this film because The Bear is simply astonishing. Indeed the bears are incredible, as according to their trainer, Jean-Philippe Varin, 'its easier to train a fish than to know what's going on inside a bears head'. But somehow they did manage to train these magnificent animals, with bribes of chicken and chocolate, backed up by a monumental amount of editing. The baby bear had nine doubles - some could swim, some were better at standing up, and all were dyed the same colour with hair dye - and the large male had one stand-in, his brother. Bears are frightening animals at the best of times, and the crew were all trained as in what to do if cornered. They stood like statues when shooting, and when the adult got stroppy with the director, smashing him to the ground, he played dead; apparently the only way, when struck down by a massive kodiak to avoid having a film dedicated to your memory.

Audiences may inevitably compare this film with the various wonderful worlds of Disney, but frankly it's in a different league. Blissfully devoid of cute music when the baby is toddling around trying to catch its supper, and wholly and maturely dedicated to education and enlightenment, The Bear is unlike any animal movie you're ever likely to have seen. Its hardly surprising to learn that this is the biggest-grossing film ever in France, as for once here's a film which genuinely lives up to the epithet 'breathtaking'.

For once here's a film which genuinely lives up to the epithet 'breathtaking'.

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