Whopper

Da bears of Innisfail are Super Bowl stars

The Super Bowl itself may not have been a roaring contest, but at least one of the commercials during the big game provided some entertainment and tension, thanks to two local bears.



The Super Bowl itself may not have been a roaring contest, but at least one of the commercials during the big game provided some entertainment and tension, thanks to two local bears.

Whopper, a 16-year-old 600-plus-kg male grizzly, and Ursula, an 11-year-old female — both residents of Innisfail’s Discovery Wildlife Park — were some hungry bears in an ad for Chobani Greek yogurt that aired during Sunday’s NFL championship game.

Filmed in B.C., the ad portrays a bucolic small town main street in the mountains where a relaxed policeman greets passersby as he lounges on his car and where denizens browse the general store’s wares at a leisurely pace — at least until a giant grizzly walks into the store.

That bear, though, is hungry neither for flesh nor any of the salamis or hams prominently displayed. Rather, the bear is after a single container of the yogurt, tossing aside other foodstuffs and knocking over shelves to get to the creamy treat.

Like any good customer, the bear then rings the bell on the counter, attempting to pay for his selection, but the terrified shopkeeper stays in hiding as Bob Dylan’s classic I Want You plays and the bear saunters off.

The two bears shared the starring role — Whopper’s specialty as an actor is to portray a standing, intimidating bear, while Ursula is more adept at intricate actions. And the spot was far from their first acting gig.

Both have appeared in movies, and Whopper has appeared in as many Super Bowls (three) as Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning — and on Sunday, the ursine actor’s performance was undoubtedly better.

Serena Bos is not sure bears would make a habit of picking yogurt over meat, but the head zookeeper at Discovery said bears do like sweet foods and will nosh pretty well whatever they can get. She said the bears love their acting gigs.

“When the truck and trailer pulls up to go to a film job, every bear is at their gate hoping it gets to be them. You can imagine when you go to work on a film set, it’s just like actors and actresses, they are the centre of attention. They get anything and everything they would like, when they would like it — they really are treated like royalty, like true actors or actresses,” said Bos, who added that Whopper gets particularly pouty when his specific talents are not required.

“If he doesn’t get to be one of the ones that goes, he sits by his gate with his little paws out and his head on top of his paws and he has this pout on like ‘Really, my mom left me behind and I didn’t get to go?’ ” she laughed.

Ruth LaBarge trains five Discovery bears for roles in films and commercials. Her bears have appeared in movies such as Anchorman, Borat and Brokeback Mountain, and dozens of TV shows and commercials.

Some of the giant creatures hibernate through the winters — as a defence mechanism to starvation — but the ones needed for entertainment work over the winter months are fed throughout the season. When not acting, the bears are used for educational presentations while the Innisfail zoo is open from spring to fall.

Unfortunately for Whopper and Ursula, their yogurt of choice is not available in Innisfail or anywhere else in Canada. Based in upstate New York, the company had been importing products into Ontario under a temporary permit until last February and planned to build its own manufacturing plant in Kingston, but could not secure an adequate milk supply and had to pull its products out of Canada.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

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