Article image

Disney documents the plight of polar bears in remarkable film

In celebration of Earth Day today, Disneynature will be releasing an all-new documentary film, “Polar Bear,” which will be available to view on the Disney+ streaming service as part of an Earth Day celebration. The feature, filmed over three years in and around Svalbard, gives a glimpse into the life of a mother polar bear as she navigates the challenges of life for her young family. The story follows the mother bear’s memories of her youth and how these prepare her to face the changes occurring in the Arctic world due to global warming. 

The filmmakers had to overcome enormous challenges in order to film this documentary. Svalbad, a Norwegian archipelago between Norway and the North Pole, is a place of glaciers, frozen tundra, mountains and fjords. Some filming had to take place during the icy winter and early spring when the seas are frozen over and the polar bears begin to hunt. At times, the filmmakers had to work in bitterly cold conditions and total darkness. Add to this the fact that the iconic stars of the show are white against a white background and wander around at will, and the amazing feat of the filmmakers becomes even more impressive. 

The directors, Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, admit that they would not have been able to make this film ten years ago, but advances in technology – including drones – allowed them and members of their team to get closer than ever to the bears. Apart from using drones to film at a distance, the use of long lenses allowed the filmmakers to witness but not to disturb the natural behavior of the polar bears.

The result is a remarkable and awe-inspiring portrait of polar bears and the habitat in which they live. The visual feast is provided by the polar bears themselves, when they exhibit playful, resilient and tender behavior. The film’s musical score, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, sensitively conveys these varied emotions using specific themes for each storyline. The narrator, two-time Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener, uses spare narration and measured intonations to characterize the mother bear as “thoughtful, courageous, and resilient.” 

Film sequences of the Arctic habitat are more sobering, however. They show the deteriorating state of the polar ice and relate this state of affairs to the bears’ decreased chances of survival. As the ice melts, they have to make more dangerous journeys and travel further to find the food they need. In this way, the documentary highlights the plight of this remarkable species in a world beset by climate change. 

In keeping with the Disney philosophy to care for wildlife and their habitats, the Disney Conservation Fund has committed to providing support to Polar Bears International to help their efforts to protect polar bears and their sea ice habitat.

“Polar Bears International is an exceptional organization doing exceptional work for both the polar bears and the environment in which they live,” said Roy Conli, who is a producer of “Polar Bear.” “They bring essential awareness to the general populace of what’s going on in the Arctic, the realities polar bears face today, and hope for how we can all take action to positively change the future for this species. I’m so proud that we’re working with their incredible team.” 

“The reason we wanted to make the film is people talk a lot about climate change but it’s hard to show it. In this film, through the eyes of our female bear, you certainly see it,” said film director Alastair Fothergill. “And I think Earth Day is a very good time to question. You should question your own footprint on the planet, your own use of energy, as individuals we can do an enormous amount.”

By Alison Bosman, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day