Cocaine Bear’s Elizabeth Banks Explains Why She Feels ‘Sympathy’ For The Titular Animal

The bear from Cocaine Bear
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Elizabeth Banks clearly has a knack for headlining underdog films with her directorial debut being Pitch Perfect 2 and directing the Charlie’s Angels remake. Her next movie has a number of underdogs trying to get away from a bear who ate a whole lot of cocaine in Cocaine Bear. While this titular animal is supposed to be the story’s main antagonist, Banks explains why she feels “sympathy” for this carnivore. 

An important fact to know about Cocaine Bear is the unbelievable true story of what this dark comedy is based on. It follows an actual bear that ate millions of dollars' worth of cocaine after a failed drug smuggling operation caused it to crash-land in a Georgia forest in 1985. The real-life bear died of an overdose with his hide on display at Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall. Cocaine Bear director Elizabeth Banks told EW that these reasons in particular make her feel “sympathy” for the poor titular animal. She said:

I felt a lot of sympathy for the bear. Like, wow, this bear — which, in real life, ended up dead after eating all this coke — ended up being sort of collateral damage in this War on Drugs. And I just thought, Well, then this movie can be a revenge story for the bear. And it just gave me a point of view and a purpose for making it. Like, there's a real message here: We should not fuck with nature, nature will win.

Very true. Whether someone throws their junk in a forest or even in the ocean, it can mean deadly consequences for the surrounding animals. Luckily, the bear who eats a 500-pound bag of cocaine in Cocaine Bear is not a real bear, but a CGI bear named Cokey brought to life by Wētā FX and sometimes played on set by a bear performer named Allan Henry. All of these effects give us a high AF bear that slashes and drags his victims, not leaving without snorting drugs off their corpses. Banks even felt that Cokey would "outmatch" the bear from The Revenant even if Leonardo DiCaprio fought him before. 

If there’s any word to describe Cocaine Bear, according to producer Chris Miller, it would be “insane.” With the stakes being so high for the characters of this movie going against a bear coked out of his mind, Elizabeth Banks made sure that the carnage would look realistic based on research she did on real bear attack photos. But despite the horror aspects that audiences won’t be able to ignore, we can also expect to see the Brightburn star’s signature comedy style shine in this movie. She’s told Entertainment Weekly that she loves making people laugh and adding the comedy genre inside each movie she directs. This way, audiences can experience a whole range of emotions while watching her movies. 

Another influence that Elizabeth Banks paid homage to for Cocaine Bear was the 1986 classic Stand By Me, with children wandering in the woods dealing with situations beyond their maturity level. Having to tackle a drug-induced bear is definitely something no one is ready for. Banks also said she paid homage to directors Sam Raimi, John Carpenter, and Steven Spielberg in order to dive into the horror film world of the ‘80s. With nostalgic supernatural shows like Stranger Things bringing the ‘80s back, it would make sense why Banks would feel it’s a good time to create a similar work of art, even without the Upside Down. 

Elizabeth Banks’ reasons for feeling sympathy for Cokey the bear make a lot of sense since Cokey was just an innocent bear who died of an overdose after eating drugs left behind by irresponsible people. In a warped way, this movie could end up providing a lesson for those watching to be careful what you leave behind and to never mess with nature. You can watch the 2023 movie release of Cocaine Bear on February 24th.

Carly Levy
Entertainment Writer

Just your average South Floridian cinephile who believes the pen is mightier than the sword.