Judging by the reviews, the latest DisneyNature film Bears follows in the footsteps (paw-steps?) of decades of Disney wildlife documentaries, dating back to the 1948 short “Seal Island.” Disney’s documentarians have long been criticized by some naturalists for anthropomorphizing animals—as Bears does—and creating the false impression that the actual creatures of the earth, air, and water are just goofy cartoon versions of human beings. But as Roy Disney points out in the interview clip below, those same “True-Life Adventures” films also inspired generations of younger viewers to take an interest in zoology and ecology—and on balance may have been a greater benefit than detriment to the animal kingdom.
More importantly, as Roy Disney also notes, the early True-Life Adventure shorts and features took chances with the documentary and narrative forms, sculpting some phenomenally vivid, technologically advanced footage of nature into gripping little stories. The highlight of that interview segment is the roughly three minutes of clips from those old films: an insect and arachnid in battle; an archerfish spitting water at its prey; a desert cat chased up a cactus tree by warthogs; and so on. Whether or not these documentaries constituted responsible filmmaking—either in terms of what the filmmakers had to do to get the animals to play along, or in terms of the misperceptions they encouraged in the audience—they remain incredibly entertaining, and for many kids who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, they were the best part of any given school day’s science class.