Like many an older brother before him, Jonathan finds his little sister Sophie annoying, but underneath it all, loves her. She, in turn, thinks he's full of himself and bossy, but she really wants to be wherever he is. In short, they are typical and fully realized siblings. While visiting their grandfather, who lives on the edge of an enormous forest, they encounter a bear the size of a small apartment building, who has trees growing on his back and a remarkable ability to hide simply by lying down and making like a hill. Sophie befriends the lumbering giant, while Jonathan gets tangled up with a hunter bent on killing the beast for destroying his village.
Aided by a rich musical score that makes nods to John Williams, Bernard Herrmann and the whole late romantic tradition (so much brass!), director Esben Toft Jacobsen creates a vividly imagined forest, full of wonders and (mild) terrors. The messages are a bit mixed, and may require some post-film discussion to stress that while it's good to think of wild animals as having a right to exist as much as humans, it's not OK to assume that giant bears will be adorable and pet-like. Kids with short attention spans, trained on the rapid-fire pacing of American animated films, may find the tempo of this Danish feature plodding—but even the most restless could get drawn in by the film's gentle spell.
CICFF screens The Great Bear in English at 11:45am Wednesday, October 26, at Thorne Auditorium (375 E Chicago Ave), and in Danish at 11am Saturday, October 29, at Max Palevsky Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall (1212 E 59th St.).