Joaquin Phoenix Urges Release of Real-Life Performing Bears That Inspired Disney's 'Brother Bear'

The actor is teaming up with PETA to retire the bears from trick shows


Getty/Disney

Joaquin Phoenix’s acting career and animal activism are colliding. The actor is calling on a Florida animal park, Bearadise Ranch, to move the two bears that inspired his 2003 Disney film “Brother Bear” out of show business and into an accredited sanctuary.

Upon learning that the bears Bambi and Bruno, who served as models for the film’s main characters, were being used for live entertainment, Phoenix wrote a letter to Bearadise Ranch owner Monica Welde imploring her to act in the animals’ best interest.

“I voiced the movie’s main character, Kenai, who, as a lesson in empathy, is magically transformed to be able to see the world through bears’ eyes,” Phoenix began. “And now I’m asking you to see through their eyes, too.” 

He continued, “These bears deserve better than a life on the road, where they are robbed of everything that’s natural and important to them… Bambi and Bruno will never experience life in the wild. They’ll never get to sniff out salmon runs or traverse mountains — but that doesn’t mean their lives can’t improve.”

Phoenix ended the letter by asking Welde to put an end to the “tricks and travel” so that Bambi and Bruno can get the chance to “live like bears.” He even offered to help make arrangements to get the bears transferred to an accredited animal sanctuary. 

PETA recently posted a video to its YouTube channel titled “Bears of Bearadise Ranch Deserve Better,” which showed the famous bears being “forced to perform confusing and scary tricks” along the road show circuit. 

Unfortunately, Welde has already answered Phoenix’s call loud and clear: “To PETA and Joaquin Phoenix, leave us alone!” 

She posted a statement on the bears’ behalf to Facebook on Friday, writing, “We do not want to be taken away from our loving home with the Welde family. We have been a part of their family for 92 years. They love us, give us proper care and a natural habitat to enjoy, and we share a special bond with them of mutual love and respect that enriches us. We are fed every day and get veterinarian checkups several times a year.”

The post continued, “With you, we are certain to die. With the Weldes, we are free! Free from hunger and starvation. Free from disease. Free from poachers, and free to give love and be loved. Stop threatening and terrorizing our family!” Welde added that the sanctuary is legally licensed by state and federal agencies. 

Bearadise Ranch, which opened in 1926, states on its website that its mission is to “educate and generate public awareness for habitat preservation and conservation for all bear species.” That being said, its 11 bears are available to perform tricks at different fairs, festivals and events upon request.


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