When Ryan Reynolds laid eyes on Mox, the lumbering all-white bear and star of the IMAX 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 IMAX cameras, such as Mox groggily waking up from a months-long hibernation.
“I could relate, and she has a real personality,” Reynolds says. “It just pops.”
The rare “spirit bear,” revered by the First Nations people who have lived among them for thousands of years, perfectly symbolizes the unspoiled 27,000-square-mile Great Bear Rainforest, north of Vancouver, explored in the film that Reynolds narrates (in select IMAX theaters starting Friday).
“Mox elicits such tremendous empathy since there are only 200 spirit bears left in the world,” Reynolds says. “You’re immediately 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 diverse array of creatures: grizzly bears, otters, sea lions, wolves that have learned to swim 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 IMAX 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.
“Clearly, having a spirit bear and amazing character like Mox at the center 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 humor, 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 humor 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.”
The message of conservation in “Great Bear Rainforest” is near to Reynolds’ heart. He will take his daughters with wife Blake Lively, Inez, 2, and James, 4, to see it on the big screen to experience “areas up close we would otherwise never see.” But Reynolds doesn’t want his children to visit the pristine, remote location: He’s never been himself.
“I’d prefer no one go into the Great Bear Rainforest,” he says. “It’s so delicate, so untouched. I don’t think it’s our God-given right to run around and sully it. But I do want my kids to 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.”