The Bear (1988 film)

The Bear is a 1988 French adventure drama family film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and released by TriStar Pictures. Adapted from the novel The Grizzly King (1916) by American author James Oliver Curwood, the screenplay was written by Gérard Brach. Set in British Columbia, Canada, the film tells the story of an orphan bear cub who befriends an adult male grizzly as two trophy hunters pursue them through the wild.

The Bear
American film poster
Directed byJean-Jacques Annaud
Written byGérard Brach
James Oliver Curwood (novel)
Produced byClaude Berri
CinematographyPhilippe Rousselot
Edited byNoëlle Boisson
Music byPhilippe Sarde
Price Entertainment
Renn Productions
Distributed byAMLF[1]
Release date
  • 19 October 1988 (1988-10-19)
Running time
94 minutes
Budget120 million Franc ($20 million)[2]
Box office$31,753,898 (U.S. and Canada)[3]
$120 million (worldwide)[4]

Several of the themes explored in the story include orphanhood, peril and protection, and mercy toward and on the behalf of a reformed hunter. Annaud and Brach began planning the story and production in 1981, although filming did not begin until six years later, due to the director's commitment to another project. The Bear was filmed almost entirely in the Italian and Austrian areas of the Dolomites, with live animals—including Bart the Bear, a trained 9-foot tall Kodiak bear—present on location. Notable for its almost complete lack of dialogue and its minimal score, the film was nominated for and won numerous international film awards.


In 1885, in the mountainous wilds of British Columbia, Canada, a grizzly bear cub is orphaned by the death of his mother from a rockslide while digging and searching for honey. Forced to fend for himself, the cub struggles to find food and shelter. Elsewhere in the mountains, a large male grizzly is being pursued and hunted by two trophy hunters, Tom and Bill. Although Tom attempts to kill the grizzly, his shot only injures the bear in the shoulder and thus fails to take the animal down after which the wounded bear flees.

Coming across the grizzly a short time later, the cub notices his wound and attempts to befriend him, but the grizzly gives him a warning growl since he doesn't need help and is not at all interested in him. The cub, however, follows the grizzly and approaches him again, managing to soothe his wound by licking it. A friendship begins between the two bears as the grizzly becomes the cub's adoptive father and takes him under his wing, teaching the cub how to catch salmon and hunt animals. At night, the cub suffers from nightmares, reliving the tragic death of his mother.

Determined to find the grizzly, the two hunters are joined by a third man and his pack of hunting Beaucerons. A chase ensues in which both bears are driven toward a cliff with the dog pack catching up to them in pursuit. While the cub hides in a cave, the grizzly defends the cub by violently fighting the dog pack and severely injures or kills some of them before escaping over a pass with the remaining dogs chasing after him, leaving the cub behind. The hunters arrive to find their dogs dead or wounded, one of them being Tom’s pet Airedale Terrier. Upon finding the cub, they take him to their camp, where he is tethered to a tree and tormented by the hunters and their dogs. That night, the hunters plot how to massacre the grizzly.

The next day, the hunters separate, with Tom manning a spot high on a cliff near a waterfall. He descends from his post to wash up in a small waterfall in the hills. His gun out of reach, Tom suddenly finds himself confronted by the grizzly, who viciously growls at the sight of the man upon recognizing him as the one who shot him earlier. Faced with certain death, Tom cowers in fear. However, the grizzly, upon seeing that the hunter is at his mercy, instead spares his life rather than killing Tom and leaves. Tom, impressed by the bear's act of mercy, attempts to scare him off more quickly by shooting his gun in the air. When Bill joins him, having heard the gunshots, Tom lies to him that the bear is dead. However, spying the grizzly ascending a scree, Bill raises his rifle to shoot, only to be stopped by Tom, who insists that they let the animal go instead. The three hunters return to their camp empty-handed, where they free the cub and then ride off into the wilderness.

Alone again, the cub is soon attacked by a cougar, who corners the young bear near a stream. Trying to defend himself against the cougar's attacks and getting injured, the cub, in pain and in desperation, roars loudly at the cougar. At that moment, the grizzly appears behind the cub and saves his life by letting out a loud roar that chases the cougar away. The cub happily reunites with the grizzly and runs to his side, where he is comforted before being taken under his wing again. As winter approaches, the two bears enter a cave for hibernation and fall asleep together.




Frontispiece of James Oliver Curwood's The Grizzly King (1916)

American author James Oliver Curwood's novella The Grizzly King was published in 1916. The story was based on several trips he took to British Columbia, and the young hunter, called Jim in the book, is based on Curwood himself.[5] However, many of its plot elements—mainly dealing with the friendship between the bear cub and the adult male grizzly—were fabricated. Curwood's biographer, Judith A. Eldridge, believes that the incident in which the hunter is spared by a bear is based on truth, a fact that was later related to Jean-Jacques Annaud. He stated during an interview that he "was given a letter from Curwood's granddaughter revealing that what happened in the story happened to him. He was hunting bear, as he had done often, and lost his rifle down a cliff. Suddenly, a huge bear confronted him and menaced him, but for reasons Curwood could never know, spared his life."[6] Shortly after the book's publication, Curwood—once an adamant hunter—became a supporter of wildlife conservation.[7]

Brach and Annaud decided to set the film in the late 19th century to create a perception of true wilderness, especially for the human characters.[8] In addition, while both the bears and the two hunters are named in the script, only Tom is named in the film. The bear cub is referred to in the script as Youk, and the adult male grizzly is known as Kaar. Tchéky Karyo's character is said to have been called Tom and Jack Wallace's is Bill. These names differ from Curwood's novel; for example, the cub is known as Muskwa in the novel, and his adult companion is called Thor.


After the commercial success of Jean-Jacques Annaud's previous films, including the Academy Award-winning Black and White in Color (1976) and Quest for Fire (1981), producer Claude Berri offered to produce Annaud's next project, no matter the cost.[9] The French filmmaker had first considered the idea of making a film that included mammal communication through behavior, rather than language, while working on Quest for Fire. He became particularly interested in making an animal "the star of a psychological drama", so he "decided to do an entertaining, commercial adventure and psychological film" that would have an animal hero.[10] He discussed this idea with his longtime collaborator, screenwriter Gerard Brach, who within a few days sent Annaud a copy of The Grizzly King, to which the filmmaker quickly agreed.[11]

Although Brach began writing the screenplay in late 1981, Annaud took on another project, that of directing a film adaptation of Umberto Eco's book The Name of the Rose. Between preparing for and filming his next film, Annaud traveled and visited zoos in order to research animal behavior. In an interview he later gave with the American Humane Association, Annaud stated: "Each time I was fascinated with the tigers, to a point that I thought to do a movie called The Tiger instead of The Bear. In those days I felt that the bear, because they're so often vertical, would give me a better identification, or would provide more instant identification from the viewers."[12] The finished script was presented to Berri in early 1983.[13]


Saslonch, a mountain in the Dolomites in South Tyrol, Italy

Shot from 13 May to late October 1987, The Bear was filmed almost entirely in the Italian and Austrian areas of the Dolomites. Several additional scenes were also filmed in a Belgian Zoo in early 1988.[14] The crew consisted of 200 individuals. Husband and wife team Tony and Heidi Lüdi served as the film's production designer and art director, respectively, alongside set decorator Bernhard Henrich. In their book, Movie Worlds: Production Design in Film, the Lüdis state that as the film's production designers, they "were constantly faced with the question 'What did you have to do?' To which we answered 'We turned the Alps into British Columbia.'"[14] Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot noted that "the only thing Jean-Jacques was unable to control" while filming in the Bavarian Alps "was the weather: he did not manage to have the clouds take part in pre-production meetings."[15]

While animatronic bears were used for several of the fighting scenes, live animals—including bears, dogs, horses, and honey bees—were used on location for filming.[16] A trained, 9-foot tall Kodiak bear named Bart played the adult male grizzly, while a young female bear named Douce ("Sweetness" in English) took on the role of the cub, with several alternates.[17] Three trainers worked with Bart (including his owner Doug Seus), eleven with the cubs, three with the dogs, and three with the horses.[16] One day during production, Bart injured Annaud while the two posed for photographers; Annaud's wounds, which included claw-marks on his backside, had to be drained with a shunt for two months.[18] In addition to the real bears, there were animatronic bears which were used in specific scenes that were made by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.


With its intersecting storylines of animals and humans, The Bear includes a variety of thematic elements. These themes include orphanhood, peril and protection, and mercy toward and on the behalf of a reformed hunter.

Film critic Derek Bousé has made the connection between The Bear and Disney's model of wildlife films, comparing not only the sympathetic characters but also the filmatic structure, to the animated Bambi (1942) and the live-action Perri (1957).[19] In his 2000 book Wildlife Films, Bousé makes a stronger correlation between Annaud's film and Disney's Dumbo (1941), in that both young animals lost their mothers at an early age, creating an unfortunate situation that allows the rest of the plot to develop (although, Dumbo's mother was merely imprisoned for a while, and was re-united with her son at the film's end).[20] Dumbo and The Bear also share a similarly purposed dream sequence, brought on by alcohol in the former and hallucinogenic mushrooms in the latter.[19]

The theme of the reformed hunter is a direct reference to the original novel and its author. James Oliver Curwood, himself a past hunter and trapper, considered The Grizzly King to be a "confession of one who for years hunted and killed before he learned that the wild offered a more thrilling sport than slaughter".[21] During its American release, the film used one of Curwood's famous quotes as a tagline—"The greatest thrill is not to kill but to let live"—and the film was endorsed by both the American Humane Association and the World Wildlife Fund.[22]


The Bear was released on 19 October 1988 in France, and 27 October 1989 in the United States. An official tie-in to the movie The Odyssey of 'The Bear': The Making of the Film by Jean-Jacques Annaud, a translation from the French edition, followed in November. In addition, Curwood's original novel—out of print in the US for fifty years—was republished by Newmarket Press, and a children's book titled The Bear Storybook was published by St. Martin's Press.[23]

By August 1989, The Bear was reported to have grossed $90,685,310 and was yet to open in the United Kingdom, the Far East and the United States and Canada.[24] The Bear later grossed $31,753,898 in the United States and Canada[3] taking its worldwide gross to over $120 million. It was then presented in the following countries:

  • 16 December 1988 in Italy (L'orso)
  • 23 December 1988 in Norway (Bjørnen) and Spain (El Oso)
  • 16 February 1989 in West Germany (Der Bär)
  • 24 February 1989 in Finland (Karhu) and Sweden (Björnen)
  • 9 March 1989 in the Netherlands (De Beer)
  • 10 March 1989 in Portugal (O Urso)
  • 15 July 1989 in Japan (子熊物語)
  • 18 August 1989 in Denmark (Bjørnen)
  • 12 October 1989 in Australia
  • 22 September 1989 in the United Kingdom
  • December 1989 in Turkey (Ayi)
  • 18 January 1990 in Argentina (El Oso)
  • 1 February 1990 in Brazil (O Urso)
  • 28 July 1990 in Korea (베어)
  • 30 May 1992 in Russia (Медведь)

Critical receptionEdit

The film was a critical success, holding a 92% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[25] Some critics pointed to The Bear's adult handling of the wildlife film genre, which is often dismissed as belonging solely to children's films.[26] While positively reviewing the film, critic Roger Ebert wrote that The Bear "is not a cute fantasy in which bears ride tricycles and play house. It is about life in the wild, and it does an impressive job of seeming to show wild bears in their natural habitat" and that scenes from the film, especially those "of horseplay and genuine struggles – gradually build up our sense of the personalities of these animals".[27]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times, however, believing that the film was less about its wild characters and more about personification, wrote: "The a remarkable achievement only on its own terms, which happen to be extremely limited and peculiar...its true emphasis is not on wildlife. Instead, it grafts the thoughts and dreams of more commonplace beings onto bear-shaped stand-ins."[28] Writing for the hunting and fishing magazine Field & Stream, editor Cathleen Erring stated that The Bear not only stripped its human characters of "all sympathetic traits and [gave] them to the bears", but it also created "a caricature that will subject anyone embarking on a bear hunt ... to the kind of scorn previously reserved for 'Bambi Butchers'."[29]

Some reviewers were critical of the film's dream sequences, which heavily utilize special effects and deviate from the overall naturalistic feel of the film. In his review for the St. Petersburg Times, Hal Lipper called the dream sequences "existential flights of fancy are accompanied by psychedelic images that seem better suited for '60s 'happenings.'"[30] In addition, one scene in which the male grizzly mates with a female bear while the cub looks on was criticized as being unfriendly for children viewers.[28] David Denby of New York Magazine stated as much in his review of the film, noting "I would like to be able to recommend The Bear as a movie that parents and children could see together, but I'm afraid there's a scene in the middle that would have to be... explained."[31]

A small campaign was launched for the 62nd Academy Awards to get Bart a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor, with defenders arguing the bear gave such a moving performance he should be the first animal actor to receive consideration for an award. However, the campaign was squashed by the Academy, who said they would not permit non-human actors to be nominated, in the Best Actor category or any other.[32]

Awards and nominationsEdit


  • 1988: National Academy of Cinema, France, Academy Award (Jean-Jacques Annaud)
  • 1989: César, Best Director (Jean-Jacques Annaud)
  • 1990: Genesis Award, Feature Film (Foreign)
  • 1990: Guild of German Art House Cinemas Film Award, Silver Foreign Film (Ausländischer Film) (Jean-Jacques Annaud)


  • 1990: Academy Award, Best Film Editing (Noëlle Boisson)
  • 1990: American Society of Cinematographers Award, Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases (Philippe Rousselot)
  • 1990: BAFTA Film Award, Best Cinematography (Philippe Rousselot)
  • 1990: Young Artist Award, Best Family Motion Picture - Adventure or Cartoon
  • César - Best Cinematography (Philippe Rousselot)
  • César - Best Film (Jean-Jacques Annaud)
  • César - Best Poster (Claude Millet, Christian Blondel, Denise Millet)
  • César - Best Sound (Bernard Leroux, Claude Villand, Laurent Quaglio)


  1. ^ "The Bear (1988)". UniFrance. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  2. ^ "It's The Berris Behind Those 2 Pagnol Smashes". Variety. 18 February 1987. p. 84.
  3. ^ a b "The Bear". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  4. ^ Cerone, Daniel. "How to Train an 1,800 Pound Movie Star: What It Takes to Turn a Kodiak Into a Screen Sensation: A Bear's-Eye View of Grizzly Country," Los Angeles Times, 22 October 1989. Online at, retrieved 16 May 2015.
  5. ^ Eldridge, p. 7
  6. ^ Mahar, p. E01
  7. ^ Eldridge, pp. 7–8
  8. ^ Thompson, p. 2
  9. ^ Benabent-Loiseau, p. 7
  10. ^ Nichols, p. 23
  11. ^ Benabent-Loiseau, p. 8
  12. ^ Milosevic, Yvonne. "Film & TV Unit Profiles: Jean-Jacques Annaud". American Humane Association. Retrieved on 6 June 2012.
  13. ^ Benabent-Loiseau, pp. 11–12
  14. ^ a b Lüdi, p. 72
  15. ^ Baron, p. E1
  16. ^ a b Nichols, p. 26
  17. ^ "EL OSO making off (Jean-Jacques Annaud)". YouTube.
  18. ^ Schickel, p. 97
  19. ^ a b Bousé (1990), p. 31
  20. ^ Bousé (2000), p. 138
  21. ^ Curwood, p. vii
  22. ^ Wilson, p. 154
  23. ^ McDowell, Edwin. (20 September 1989). "Book Notes". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  24. ^ "$90,685,310 [The Bear advertisement]". Variety. 16 August 1989. p. 50.
  25. ^ "The Bear Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  26. ^ Bousé (1990), p. 30
  27. ^ Ebert, Roger. (27 October 1989). "The Bear". Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  28. ^ a b Maslin, Janet. (25 October 1989). "The Bear (1988) Review/Film; Two Bears Who Are Just Plain Folks". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  29. ^ Errig, p. 172
  30. ^ Lipper, p. 13
  31. ^ Denby, p. 70
  32. ^ White, Adam. (7 July 2017). "From Marcel to Keiko: whatever happened to some of film and TV's most famous animal stars?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 October 2020.


  • Baron, David. (11 November 1989). "The Bear". The Times-Picayune, EE, 3pp.
  • Benabent-Loiseau, Josée and Jean-Jacques Annaud. The Odyssey of the Bear: The Making of the Film by Jean-Jacques Annaud. New York: Newmarket Press, 1989.
  • Bousé, Derek. (Spring 1990). "Review: The Bear". Film Quarterly, 43(3), pp. 30–34.
  • Bousé, Derek. Wildlife Films. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8122-3555-X.
  • Curwood, James Oliver. The Grizzly King: A Romance of the Wild. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1916.
  • Denby, David. (30 October 1989). "Wild Thing". New York Magazine, p. 70.
  • Eldridge, Judith A. James Oliver Curwood: God's Country and the Man. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993. ISBN 0-87972-604-0.
  • Errig, Cathleen. (March 1990). "Books & Comments: The Bear". Field & Stream. 94(11), p. 172.
  • Hal, Lipper. (27 October 1989). "The Bear Makes the Beast of it: Tale of Survival is 'Bear'ly There". St. Petersburg Times, p. 12.
  • Lüdi, Heidi, Toni Lüdi and Kathinka Schreiber. Movie Worlds: Production Design in Film. Berlin: Edition Axel Menges, 2000. ISBN 3-932565-13-4.
  • Maher, Ted. (5 November 1989). "Filmmaker calls 'Bear' Challenging Production". The Oregonian, Lively Arts Fourth, 4pp.
  • Nichols, Peter M. Children's Movies: A Critic's Guide to the Best Films Available on Video and DVD. New York: Times Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8050-7198-9.
  • Thompson, Ann. (September 1989). "Quest for Fur". Film Comment, 25(5), pp. 2–4.
  • Schickel, Richard. (October 1989). "The Bear Review and The Bear Facts". Time, 134(18), p. 97.
  • Wilson, Alexander. The Culture of Nature: North American Landscape from Disney to the Exxon Valdez. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992.

External linksEdit