Starring Bart the Bear, Douce the Bear, Tcheky Karyo, Andre Lacombe, Jack Wallace. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. (1988, 96 min). SHOUT! FACTORY
The Bear was actually released in 1988, so it's technically the 27th Anniversary, but that's just nitpicking. Since it's been at least two decades since most of us have seen it, what does a year-or-two matter? What's truly important is this beautifully-shot movie is finally available on Blu-Ray.
Revisiting The Bear after such a long time was sort-of an eye-opener. When the screener arrived at the house, I set-aside some TV time so my youngest daughter, Lucy, could enjoy it while I did my review. After all, what kid doesn't love animal movies, especially those with bears?
But I'd forgotten that The Bear begins on a heartbreakingly tragic note, with a female grizzly crushed by falling rocks, leaving her cub (Douce) to fend for himself. I also forgot how violent it is at times; Bart, the male bear who takes Douce in his care, is graphically shot by hunters. Other animals die badly as well, including horses and hunting dogs (one of which is shown partially disemboweled after-the-fact, just before its master puts it out of its misery). Nor did I remember Bart's long, loud, grunting sexual encounter with a female while Douce looks on, waiting for him to finish. Then there's the scene where Douce gets high after dining on hallucinogenic mushrooms. Considering The Bear is mostly remembered as a family film, that’s a hell of a lot of sex, drugs and rock & roll.
By the halfway mark, Lucy had enough and wandered off to play Minecraft, leaving me with the conclusion that director Jean-Jacque Annaud never had any intention of making a family film in the first place. Indeed, The Bear is ultimately best appreciated by cinephiles onboard with a director’s attempt to present a story with a minimum of dialogue or exposition. For the most part, Annaud is successful. The Bear has a lot of beautiful moments, both visually and narratively, not-to-mention a considerable amount of character depth (no small feat when you consider half of the cast consists of animals). However, one aspect of the film has always been terrible, namely Touce’s dream sequences (including his whole LSD trip). These haphazard, FX-driven scenes are cheesy, dated and look as though they belong in an entirely different movie altogether.
Other than that, The Bear remains a timeless classic. The relationship between Bart and Douce is manipulatively heart-warming, and only the most cold-blooded individual wouldn't be charmed by these two. Best of all, the film has been nicely restored for this long-awaited Blu-Ray release, meaning its spectacular cinematography has never looked better on home video.
But I'd still think twice before sharing it with wee ones.