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Parenting is never easy, but it’s especially challenging for a single she-bear named Sky. Watching her try to keep herself and two adorable cubs named Scout and Amber alive makes for gripping viewing in the latest Disney nature offering, Bears.

Writer-directors Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey follow Sky and the brood during the youngsters’ first year of life: from hibernation to hibernation. Between naps, the three have to deal with tide pools that can turn from feeding grounds into torrents of water in seconds. There’s also a clever wolf who’s eager to catch Sky off guard so that he can dine on Scout and Amber while she’s trying to catch food to feed her brood. (Running into fellow bears doesn’t offer much safety either. Male bears might be the worst parents on the planet. They will eagerly eat cubs if they’re hungry enough.)

In between documenting how Sky tries to keep herself and her cubs alive until the next hibernation, Fothergill and Scholey do a great job of keeping viewers from joining the bears in their slumber.

In addition to recounting several encounters the trio has with very real danger, the filmmakers capture the seemingly pristine beauty of an Alaskan wildlife preserve.There’s a consistent sense of awe in Bears, both at the breathtaking landscape and in Fothergill and Scholey’s ability to capture funny, hair-raising and even touching moments with their ursine stars. Viewers even get to see the cubs as infants, and the opening sequence has a sense of mystery that’s usually missing from nature documentaries. The filmmakers toy a bit with viewers before pulling them into the story.

John C. Reilly’s narration is entertaining, and the actor manages to deliver scripted wisecracks without becoming overbearing. Fothergill and Scholey tell the year in the life of Sky’s family so effortlessly that it’s easy to take for granted what a formidable achievement Bears manages to become. If you can get your youngsters to stick through the ending credits, you should.

The behind-the-scenes footage presented throughout indicates how much work it took to capture the life of the bears without interfering with them. Curious bears investigate the campsite. The filmmakers also get rather close to their subjects during filming without becoming prey. They use a variety of airborne photography techniques to capture those gorgeous landscapes. It’s almost guilt-inducing to be a couch potato after seeing what visual delights the real has to offer.

Bears 87 Cast: John C. Reilly and a whole mess of Alaskan bears Directors: Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey Rating: G Running time: 77 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/18/2014

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