Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Bears and I

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Bears and I

Year: 1974

Source materials: Based on The Bears and I by Robert Franklin.

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Box office: $4 million

Plot: Bob Leslie, a Vietnam veteran goes to the remote homeland of a fallen commerade to deliver his artifacts to his father, a revered Chief and Shaman. He is very taken with the beauty of the west and decides to stay a while to find himself.

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Bob finds 3 orphaned cubs and takes to raising them, with the intent of teaching them to be independent. While he grows evermore attached to them. The Chief insists that the bears can not live with Bob, and their presence will only cause problems.

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The First peoples face eviction by the government who want to build facilities in the area of the national park the First peoples reside. Bob, completely naive to the long history of wrongs committed against first Nations, tries several times to speak to them on behalf of the national park board. His ignorance of First people’s history with the US Government agencies leads to conflict between him and his friend’s people.

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Some of the First nations resist with threats of violence, which escalates the situation; while others protest with understandable frustration. One man turns his anger towards Bob and attacks his home and the bears, leading to a forest fire that endangers the park for all humans and wildlife. As he comes to understand the wisdom of his friend’s father and the danger the bears face, Bob realizes he must push the bears away. A promise he appeared to break earlier due to the bear’s attachment to him, and the food he continues to provide, despite their freedom.

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The problem is solved by an off hand comment by Bob suggesting that the First people could become Park Rangers, as only Rangers can live on the land. One of the government agents makes each member of the tribe deputy rangers, meaning they can stay on the land. The film ends with Bob driving off the bears so they may live in the wild.

Cast:

Patrick Wayne as Bob Leslie. He made eleven movies with his father: Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, The Searchers, The Alamo, The Comancheros, Donovan’s Reef, McLintock!, The Green Berets, and Big Jake.He also appeared in The Sun Shines Bright, The Long Gray Line,and  Mister Roberts. Wayne had many appearances on popular television series of the 1970s and 1980s, including Fantasy Island, Murder, She Wrote, Charlie’s Angels, Sledge Hammer!, and The Love Boat. Wayne appeared in the movie Young Guns as Pat Garrett. Chief Dan George as Chief Peter A-Tas-Ka-Nay. He was also a musician, poet and author; his best-known written work was “My Heart Soars”. As an actor, he is best remembered for portraying Old Lodge Skins opposite Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and for his role in The Outlaw Josey Wales , as Lone Watie, opposite Clint Eastwood.

Andrew Duggan as Commissioner Gaines. Duggan appeared in some 70 films, including The Incredible Mr. Limpet with Don Knotts, and in more than 140 television programs between 1949 and 1987. He was the main character in the Disney theme parks’ Carousel of Progress and the singer of the accompanying song, “The Best Time of Your Life.” Michael Ansara as Oliver Red Fern. He portrayed Cochise in the television series Broken Arrow, Kane in  Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Commander Kang in Star Trek  ( He is one of nine actors to play the same character on three Star Trek television series – the original series: “Day of the Dove”, Deep Space Nine: “Blood Oath” and Voyager: “Flashback.”), Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart in the NBC series Law of the Plainsman, and provided the voice for Mr. Freeze in Batman: The Animated Series and several of its spin-offs.

Robert Pine as John McCarten. He is best known as Sgt. Joseph Getraer on the television series CHiPs Pine starred on the soap opera Days of Our Lives as Walter Coleman and had guest appearances in many American television shows, including Gunsmoke, Lost in Space, The Silent Force, The Wild Wild West, Barnaby Jones, Lou Grant, and Knight Rider. On Magnum, P.I., he appeared as Thomas Magnum’s father in a flashback episode. In the late 1980s, Pine guest-starred as Peter Morris, Zack’s father, in an episode of Good Morning, Miss Bliss. For Star Trek: Voyager, he guest starred as the Akritirian Ambassador Liria in the Season 3 episode “The Chute”. For Star Trek: Enterprise, he guest-starred as Vulcan Captain Tavin in the Season 1 episode “Fusion”. Among his other credits are Six Feet Under, Beverly Hills 90210, and Match Game.He was the voice of the Bishop of Arendelle in Frozen. Valentin de Vargas as Sam Eagle Speaker. He known for playing a character menacing Janet Leigh in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil  and playing Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez in Hatari!. He  played one of the Mexican bandidos in The Magnificent Seven (1960).In the 1960s he appeared on television programs including Bonanza, Daniel Boone, The Wild Wild West, Gunsmoke, Death Valley Days, The High Chaparral, Mission: Impossible, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, and Dallas.

Songs: “Sweet Surrender” Written and Performed by John Denver.

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My take: Once again they take advantage of shooting on location as the film is gorgeous to look at. As one can expect, the terminology of the First people is woefully out of date.

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week:  The Castaway Cowboy