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Central Park Media presents
The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear: Collector's Series (2003)

"I'm a bear, aren't I, Mommy?"
- Little Bear (Maxwell Frazier)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: February 16, 2005

Stars: Maxwell Frazier, Kevin Sommier, Gwennael Sommier, Paolo Domingo, Dan Green, Benoit Allemane, Carol Jacobanis, Ariane Deviegue. Jimmy Zoppi, Bernard Alane, Michael Alston Baley, Patrick Poivey, Veronica Taylor, Annie Pivon, Rena Taylor, Camille Donda
Other Stars: Kether Fernandez, Chantal Mace, Erica Schroeder, Laurence Dourlens
Director: Jannik Hastrup

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:15m:54s
Release Date: February 08, 2005
UPC: 719987245327
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-BB+ B-

DVD Review

Based on what I've seen over the years, it is unlikely an American director/studio could get away with making an animated film that is geared toward children so peppered with both fantasy and realism as the moving The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear. Sure, this one does have talking animals, but it also features a bear attacking a woman and stealing her baby, a stillborn polar bear cub, animal drownings, bloody and fatal harpoon wounds, wolf pack attacks and even a bit of mild full frontal nudity (both human and spirit). It is this open European sensibility (this was originally released as a French language film), something so woefully lacking in our uptight "protect the children" mentality, that makes Danish animation director Jannik Hastrup's vision of an old Innuit legend resonate with a kind of simplistic beauty and honesty that most children's animated features are missing.

Polar bear couple Father Bear (voiced by Dan Green/Benoit Allemane) and about-to-give-birth Mother Bear (voiced by Carol Jacobanis/Ariane Deviegue) narrowly escape a pack of hungry wolves and a couple of other near death experiences, including a fairly intense near-drowning sequence. But tragedy strikes (yes, it is required), and Mother Bear gives birth to a stillborn cub, which Hastrup shows in a thankfully brief but heartbreaking scene.

Overcome by grief, Father Bear attempts to reconcile the situation by stealing a human baby from a remote Innuit couple, and it is here that the story delves into beautifully mystical realms. As the polar bears raise the boy named Little Bear (Maxwell Frazier/Kevin Sommier) as their own, the Eskimo father spends the duration of the film tracking his child, determined to bring him back, and the question of just where one belongs and what is family is brought to the surface.

There is a lyrical, soft watercolor feel to the look of The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear—aided powerfully by the original score from Bruno Coulais (Winged Migration)—and the simple artwork and animation often make some of the harsh imagery appear all the more intense. The gentle, lilting flow is occasionally interrupted by scenes of death and blood, and though we're hearing and seeing polar bears talk, the characters move and act largely like real animals. All of the life and death struggles, as well as an underlying theme of choosing the proper destiny, radiate in fairly mature levels here, and Hastrup does not sugarcoat the lesson. The film's dominant mysticism theme, represented here by a shape-shifting Spirit of the Mountain, is eerie and fun at the same time (though maybe a bit spooky for very young children), though it is hardly typical lightweight children's fluff.

I'm sure there are a lot of parents who will unfortunately find The Boy Who Wanted To Be A Bear to be too unsettling of an experience for their children. All of the annoying wacky banter of a comic relief character like The Raven (Jimmy Zoppi/Bernard Alane) will probably not soften the impact of the dramatic visuals Hastrup keeps up his sleeve. When Bambi's mother was shot, it was done off camera, though that moment was still undeniably chilling and powerful; in Hastrup's world those images aren't hidden, and the stark realities of living and dying are painted alongside lighter bits such as bears frolicking on the ice. The film builds quickly, running just 74 minutes, to an ending that at first seems rather horrifying, and then transcends into a scene of unusually haunting beauty.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The backcover touts this as anamorphic, and though it appears to be an aspect ratio of roughly 1.85:1, the image does not fully stretch the width of the screen in widescreen mode. As for the image itself, the colors are properly minimal, primarily whites and blues, with brief smears of greens, golds and browns. No evidence of smearing at all, and the simple watercolor look of the animation is cleanly rendered without any specking or artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The original French language track, as well an American dub, are included, both presented in rather ordinary 2.0 stereo. Character voices are very clear, but the finest moments come from the wonderful Bruno Coulais score, which delivers some deceptively rich bass.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Grave of the Fireflies, Doggy Poo, ShadowStar, Patlabor
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Polar Bear Trivia
  2. Art Gallery
Extras Review: Central Park Media has issued two versions of The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear—a barebones release and this Collector's Series containing a handful of modest extras. Interviews With The U.S. Cast (05m:41s) features fairly unrevealing interviews with voice talent Michael Alston Baley (Eskimo Father), Veronica Taylor (Eskimo Mother) and Rena Taylor (She-Bear Cub). An automated Art Gallery (02m:18s) contains a number of stills from the film, and Movie Lobby Cards (:36s) features some of the promotional art. A set of five Polar Bear trivia questions, character descriptions, a Hastrup filmography, a one-screen text blurb about polar bears titled Arctic Viewpoint, and a full compliment of animated trailers round out the supplements. It's a shame the Bruno Coulais score wasn't included as a music only track, or better yet, a CD.

The disc is cut into a slim 6 chapters, with optional subtitles in English or French.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Here's an example of the kind of open, family animation the rest of the world sees, and while it may go against those weaned on less profound fare, The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear lulls viewers with its comparatively simple animation while telling an often frank story that reinforces being who you are.

Recommended for families that can appreciate an animated film that is not geared around a product or theme park.


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