Elisabeth Rappe July 19, 2011
Bears are wonderful creatures. They’re enchanting in the wild and on the big screen, where they are surprisingly versatile. Is there another mammal who enjoys such a flexible filmography? Bears can easily be cute and cuddly stars and sidekicks, or the murderous savages of Stephen Colbert’s nightmares. You certainly can’t say that about giraffes, porcupines, or dolphins; and no matter how many slobbering, villainous bears appear onscreen, kids still go to bed with teddy bears. It’s as if we always knew Teddy was just playing a part.
One reason bears endure in the loveable side of pop culture has to be Winnie-the-Pooh, who returned to the big screen last weekend. Winnie has very little in common with his wild cousins – except for a love of honey – but we decided to use him as a springboard for a list of the very best bear movies, both violent and non. If you’re planning a camping trip in the near future, viewing discretion is advised.
1. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The top spot should go to the bear who inspired the piece. Fans of A.A. Milne (as well as the entire country of England) won’t hold back their fury when Disney’s Pooh is mentioned, and they’re not wrong to be upset. But knowledge of rights and profit fly out of my head when I’m faced with this package of feaurettes. Who can hold onto any rational thought when Christopher Robin begins his wobbly little speech about growing up? Only the most hard-hearted, that’s who.
2. Grizzly Man
Werner Herzog’s documentary has to be one of the most fascinating and infuriating of the genre. It may also be one of the most enduring. Many documentaries wind up as funny relics, but Grizzly Man is timeless, reminding us that the only thing more deadly than nature is the human ego. It’s fantastic, disturbing, and beautiful.
3. The Bear
The Bear is just a tad anthropomorphized (what’s up with the squeaky human sound effects?), but that doesn’t mean it’s not endearing. Who doesn’t love the story of an orphaned scamp being adopted by a craggy old loner, especially when it’s wrapped up with a lovely pro-nature message? No one. It’s also the only mainstream, family-friendly film I know of that features a non-human drug sequence, and that very nearly put it at #1.
4. Kung-Fu Panda
Who better to break up the hard-edged nature films than a chubby panda whose penchant for noodles is only matched by his longing to be a ninja? We waited a long time for a panda hero, and Po rose nobly to the challenge. Plus, he was raised by a goose, which just makes his journey even sweeter.
5. The Edge
And we’re back to the murderous bears again! The Edge is a weird film, half satire and half serious examination of David Mamet’s obsessions – male bonding, cryptic knowledge, backstabbing – but all you really need to know is that a bear chases Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins for an entire film, and yet manages to be less scary than Hopkins.
6. Legends of the Fall
Brad Pitt’s Tristan Ludlow made a big impression on me when I was 13. A good part of that was his hair, another part was his impressive physique, but a healthy amount was due to his communion with the great bear spirit. It may be the earthiest version of “the bad boy syndrome” caught on film, and that makes it a delightful potboiler. Also, there’s a lot of scalping.
Yes, it’s a painfully obvious rip-off of Jaws. But if you need your bear-mauling with less Brad Pitt, and more bazookas, then this is the film for you. Fun fact – the star of Grizzly was the mommy bear of Bart the Bear, who would go on to a long and illustrious career. He’s in most of the films on this list.
8. The Great Outdoors
Vacation movies were never as painfully honest as they were in the 1980s. All right, so your cabin wasn’t invaded by a legendary man-eater of a bear, but didn’t you have a dad who tried to feed Zagnut bars to a bunch of bears? Outdoors stands right alongside Grizzly Man about what you shouldn’t ever, ever do out in the woods.
9. The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams
Grizzly Adams has become such a catchphrase for “wild, unshaven man” that I doubt many remember that he was a real historical figure, or that he initially debuted in this feel good 1974 film. The film was a smash hit, and NBC green-lit the show after conducting market testing that proved bears were the most popular forest animal. And you thought Transformers was crass…
10. The Night of the Grizzly
This is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it revolves entirely around Clint Walker fighting a bear named Old Satan, and that makes it pretty amusing. Walker’s machismo helps balance out the poor special effects (it’s painfully obvious it’s a man in a bear suit) and there’s just enough of a supernatural question mark to make you wish it was better. (You can swap it out for Man of the Wilderness if you like, which likely features the same bear suit, but swaps Satan out for hippy sentiment.)
11. Yogi Bear
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