Teaching tolerance: The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear

June 13, 2008 at 12:28 am

The Cinema de Cineastes in Clichy has Saturday showings of the children’s animated feature The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear (Drengen der ville gøre det umulige, 2002), a Danish-French production by famous Danish animator Jannik Hastrup.

An Eskimo family’s little boy in Greenland is abducted by a bear who has lost her little cub. The bear raises the child as its own until one day the father of the boy finds them, kills the bear, and recovers the boy. Back with his parents, the boy grieves for the loss of what he believes was his real mother. He is unable to learn the human language and remains a wild child, ostracized and alone. He escapes back to the wilderness and pleas to The Spirit of the Mountain that he is allowed to assume what he believes is his true identity and is turned into a bear. His wish is granted but not until he undergoes an ordeal that makes him face the severity and adversity of nature. The teenager, however, is so determined to be a bear that he plunges into the challenges, and manages to survive.

Having finally become a bear, the boy has found his true self. He even finds a partner, another cub he had met in is bear childhood. But the boy’s father cannot accept this turn of events, appears again and gets the teenager by force back home where he keeps him in chains, resolved to ensure that his son stays human. The boy reacts with complete withdrawal; he sinks into deep melancholia, longing for the freedom of the snowy mountains outside.

Gradually, the parents realize that if they care of their son’s happiness they need to let him be what he feels he is. They release him into the night, and watch him assuming his animal shape, recovering quickly and and finding happiness: as a bear.

According to reviewer Nikki Tranter of Popmatters.com, the film ‘speaks to human ignorance of the animal world, pondering the sensitivity of other creatures to their surroundings.’ I rather prefer to see the film as an allegory that calls for tolerance: this simple story is of relevance to all situations where the child turns out not as the parents have expected or wanted it to be. It makes a point for the instances where parents need to face up to and accept the homosexuality of their son or daughter. Most of all, it addresses the anxiety of all those whose loved ones opt to undertake the transformation into the opposite gender. The desire of the boy to turn into a bear compares to the determination of those who defy all the challenges that the the sex-change process entails. The film teaches tolerance and acceptance.

The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Bear‘s cell animation is great in color, pace, an style, so freshly simple and very different from the noisy flickering onslaughts of other recent offerings of the animated genre that I often find overwhelming. I prefer to enjoy the chance that this film is giving me: reflecting on an important human drama and a moral dilemma that evolves amidst the glorious Nordic landscapes of Greenland’s snowy slopes and unsettling aurora borealis in skies that burn in red, orange and pink.

© Dina Iordanova
13 June 2008