January 31, 2012

The Great Bear (2011)

IN CASE IT NEEDS TO BE SAID, great animated films don’t always come from Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, or Blue Sky Studios. Sometimes they don’t even come from America (i.e. Japan’s Studio Ghibli, home of legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki).

If The Great Bear is any indication, we might soon be looking at Denmark as a future hotbed of well-crafted animated storytelling. The film follows big brother Jonathan (Markus Rygaard) and little sister Sophie (Alberte Blichfeldt) as they visit their grand-dad (Elith Nulle Nykjær) at his home in the woods next to The Great Forest. Grand-Dad warns the kids never to enter The Great Forest because “it’s full of strange animals,” including The Great Bear – a gigantic brown bear (we’re talking stories high) with a forest of trees growing out of its back. When Sophie mistakenly enters The Great Forest and vanishes, Jonathan goes in after her, crossing paths with a lone hunter (Flemming Quist Møller) who’s determined to kill the bear after it demolished his village.

Comparisons of The Great Bear to Miyazaki’s classic My Neighbor Totoro are fair: Both feature a pair of bickering siblings who discover magical creatures in a neighboring forest. To that extent, The Great Bear is My Neighbor Totoro’s rougher, tougher older brother. There’s danger, gunplay, and more perilous action in Jonathan and Sophie’s adventures, which has them encountering such surreal creatures as a herd of miniature moose, comical blackbirds, and frogs that bring rain when you make them croak.

Then there’s The Great Bear himself, an ursine behemoth and a masterwork of CGI animation. Yet despite his gargantuan girth, Jonathan soon learns what Sophie’s known all along: The only thing monstrous about the bear is his size. He’s actually a gentle giant who only lashes out when provoked or threatened. Jonathan then stops trying to rescue Sophie from The Great Bear and starts helping her protect him from the determined hunter.

With The Great Bear, first-time feature film director Esben Toft Jacobsen mines the many strengths of CGI animation to create a rich, deep, captivating experience, just like Miyazaki did with Totoro’s gorgeous 2-D animation nearly 25 years ago. Jacobsen’s film features beautiful, fantastic scenery, plus a distinct European style of animation that may seem slightly different (and a bit less refined) than what American audiences are used to.

A hit at international film festivals, The Great Bear touches all the sweet spots that a children’s film should: friendship, loyalty, adventure, and love for all living things. Sadly, it has yet to find a U.S. distributor. If you or anyone you know can help distribute The Great Bear in America, contact the filmmakers and let them know. This film deserves an audience here in the States. [UPDATE 6/16/14: The Great Bear is now available in the U.S., including Amazon Instant and Walmart.]

Danish, with English dubbing.

Is it suitable for your kids?
The Great Bear is not rated, but does have some violence/scariness: Jonathan tells Sophie scary stories about The Great Bear; he slaps her when she calls him “dumb;” he falls in a hole and gets a bloody wound on his wrist; he follows drops of blood to locate the bear after the hunter shoots him; and he pulls a bullet from a wound in the bear’s mouth. The size and growls of The Great Bear may be scary to very small children. The hunter gets scarier and more violent as the film progresses: He shoots into a cave, nearly hitting Jonathan; he shoots at the bear multiple times, hitting him once in the mouth and causing Sophie to plummet from the top of the bear’s head to the ground; he calls Sophie a “little brat,” takes her away from Jonathan, and locks her in a closet in his cabin; he crushes one of the blackbirds in his hand (we’re to believe it’s dead); he sets fire to the forest to flush out the bear; when Jonathan tries to stop him from shooting the bear, the hunter hits Jonathan in the face with the butt of his gun, knocking him to the ground; in the finale, he shoots the bear again, this time in the back. Also in the finale, someone is killed by a falling boulder; the screen cuts to black upon the impact. The only questionable language is Sophie calling Jonathan “dumb” and, when Jonathan says he smells something funny, she asks, “Did you fart?” 8 years and older is probably the appropriate age for viewing.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she’s a fan of animated films and magical storytelling, and can handle animals and children being put in peril along the way, she’ll surely enjoy The Great Bear.

Don’t even think of asking me if I want a pic-a-nic basket.

The Great Bear trailer:

The Great Bear
* Director: Esben Toft Jacobsen
* Screenwriters: Jannik Tai Mosholt, Esben Toft Jacobsen
* Stars: Markus Rygaard, Flemming Quist Møller, Alberte Blichfeldt, Elith Nulle Nykjær
* MPAA Rating: N/A


James (SeattleDad) said...

Never heard of this one, but it looks great. Thanks for the heads up on it. We will have to check it out.

Anonymous said...

Just bought this movie the other night, was watching it and noticed the little boy says, Oh shit in it... WOW!

FilmFather said...

Anonymous: For real? Hmmm. I didn't notice that in the British-dubbed screener I watched for this review. I think someone said "Oh, shoot"...were the voice dubs in your version British or American?

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