When Ryan Reynolds laid eyes on Mox, the lumbering all-white bear and star of the documentary Great Bear Rainforest: Land of the Spirit Bear, it was not only love at first sight, but also professional respect.
The Deadpool star could relate to many of the bear’s comedic movements captured up close on camera, such as Mox groggily waking up from a months-long sleep.
The rare “spirit bear”, revered by the Canadian First Nations people who have lived among them for thousands of years, symbolises the unspoilt 65,000-square-kilometre Great Bear Rainforest, north of Vancouver, explored in the film that Reynolds narrates.
“Mox [brings out] such tremendous empathy since there are only 200 spirit bears left in the world,” Reynolds says.
“You immediately fall in love with her. The underdog story, or ‘underbear’ story, of her surviving this changing world, it’s pretty easy to get on that bandwagon.”
The white bear – who is neither polar bear nor albino, but a genetic variation of the black bear found in this coastal rainforest – is the central character among the film’s creatures: grizzly bears, otters, sea lions, wolves, and even humpback whales.
Great Bear Rainforest represents three years of filming by director and rainforest advocate Ian McAllister, who has always wanted to highlight the magical unsung world. He waited until the camera technology had improved to the point that his crew could get up close with bears without disturbing them, and even go underwater with the salmon in the rivers.
“Having a spirit bear and amazing character like Mox at the centre of the film made so much sense and we captured really endearing moments,” he says.
Recruiting Vancouver-born Reynolds to narrate, a passionate environmentalist with a Deadpool sense of humour, was also a simple decision. The film’s moments of laughter, such as shots of bears swiping at (and occasionally catching) salmon flying out of rivers, were an immediate draw for the actor.
“That’s what I connected with right away, this huge wellspring of humour even in this very sensitive area of the world,” Reynolds says.
“Seeing a bear fishing that close up is a lot of fun. Those are the moments I find exhilarating.”
Reynolds looks forward to taking his daughters, Inez, two, and James, four, to see it on the big screen to experience “areas up close we would otherwise never see”. But the actor doesn’t want his children to visit the actual location – he’s never been himself.
“I’d prefer no one go into the Great Bear Rainforest. It’s so delicate, so untouched. I don’t think it’s our God-given right to run around and sully it,” he says. “ But I do want my kids to experience the natural world I got to run around in as a kid growing up in British Columbia. Hopefully, those areas, too, can be left undeveloped for centuries to come for my kids, and their kids.”