The Kiddy Pool: Disneynature’s Bears
Every Tuesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
My daughter and I shuffled through the rows of the empty theatre. I pushed her seat down for her while balancing our popcorn and my purse; then I remembered that she’s not big enough to hold down the seat on her own, so she slid off and climbed into my lap. The room was already darkened, with previews blinking and blaring from the screen. I wrapped my arms around my older girl and settled in for one of our favorite shared experiences: movies.
I’d wanted to take her to see the new Oz movie, but then I read the (terrible) reviews, and chose to use our “date” time for Disneynature’s Bears instead. We’d watched African Cats before at home, and I found the experience a bit daunting; I got pretty attached to Sita and the cheetah and her cubs, and the documentary-style meant that the producers could exert less control over the plot—like the death of two cubs. When I wept during that film, my daughter (who claims she is not afraid of anything), calmly suggested “If this is too hard, mommy, we can watch Little Bear instead.” Seriously. Because there’s always a happy ending for Little Bear and co.
I don’t believe that she’s really not afraid of anything, though she’s less emotional than me or her sister; I think it’s that we’re not afraid of the same things because our perspectives on the world and its meaning are not the same. In any case, I felt a little nervous about how it would all turn out for the mama bear and her two cubs as they navigated their first year together, the year the film (no doubt anticipating its audience of parents and small children) called the toughest year of parenting. Spoiler alert: they all survive. But it’s touch and go for a while.
There’s the adorable snuggling-in-the-den scene, the majestic and harrowing descent down the snow-covered mountain, and then the ceaseless search for food before winter returns. The cubs seriously restricted maternal mobility; she returned to a community of hungry bears just emerging from hibernation, and the dominant males of the group saw no reason her cubs wouldn’t make a great meal. Her priority was the survival of her family—yet that goal was hampered by her inability to fish with the cubs and her inability to leave them unattended for too long. Much of the film focused on her flight, finding unlikely sources of food far away from the groups of other bears. She was brave and resourceful and, I think the film wanted to portray, lonely.
In those respects, it felt much like my years of early parenting: brave and resourceful and lonely. And I say that as someone who is privileged with considerable help from family and friends. It’s often felt like me and my husband, on our own, in our respective hazes of sleep deprivation and (for me) caffeine jolts. But we, like the bears, still have fun. We play and cuddle and grow. My family doesn’t fish at all, but we do like to picnic and visit farmers’ markets and we do the weekly grocery store run to get more bananas. Near the end of the film, I was shocked and nervous about the mama bear’s appearance—noticeably thinner from her repeated rebuffs at the fishing spots. As narrator John C. Reilly emphasized, she needed food in abundance, and quickly, or she and her still-nursing cubs could never survive another winter. And for Alaskan bears, no matter the season, winter is always coming.
We exited the theatre, hand-in-hand and happy, and met up with my husband and toddler. “Did they fish a lot?” my husband asked our elder child, after securing her requisite overall impression of the movie. “I’m not sure” she mumbled, trailing off. “Really?” I exclaimed. “The whole movie was about fishing!” But her attention was already on the play cars near the food court. I’m the one who saw the film as a story of survival and sacrifice and love. I’m the one who cringed and tensed when the cubs wandered off or the mama, again, missed out on the fish. I’m the one bearing the burden of her safety and development while she rides along on my back and enjoys a salmon snack (figuratively speaking). And that’s why I’m the one who prays for her to be surrounded by angels on all sides and drawn to walk with God, and why I walk with God, too. Because there’s no way I could bear this alone.