The Bear is an unusually involving story about animals that will give you a fresh perspective on their world. It is not a documentary nor is it the kind of cute children's fare usually cranked out by Hollywood. This strange and affecting film is directed by Frenchman Jean-Jacques Annaud (Quest for Fire) based on a 1916 novel by James Oliver Curwood set in British Columbia in 1853.

When a young bear's mother is killed by a rock slide while she is trying to extract honey from a beehive, he wanders off into the wilderness whimpering. After several misadventures, the cub finds a protector in a ferocious grizzly bear who has been shot in the shoulder. The cub licks his wounds and soon the two are partners. The giant bear introduces the little vulnerable one to a wider world — catching fish, tracking down and killing a caribou, and knocking down trees to demonstrate strength in a courtship ritual with a female bear. The cub must then square off against hunters and a menacing mountain lion.

The scramble for survival in this wilderness world is exhausting. The cub manages a few moments of reverie — seeing the moon's reflection in a pond and swirling around after eating a mushroom. Watching him mimic the elder bear's activities, it is difficult to remember that this is a story being directed rather than a glimpse of life in the wild. Philippe Rousselot's photography is magical, and the musical score by Philippe Sarde adds emotional breadth to the story.

The Bear has all the marks of a classic. Lauded by animal rights groups for its respect for the integrity of all species, it manages to speak out eloquently against the senseless hunting of wildlife without having to depict killing to make its point. Instead, it emphasizes the ties that bind the human and animal worlds together.