10/04/2014 07:01 EDT | Updated 12/04/2014 05:59 EST

Chinese cub lands starring role in upcoming Canadian polar bear flick

OTTAWA - If Canadian polar bears had an actor's union, they might be a bit miffed that a bear from China snagged a starring role in an upcoming Hollywood flick.

Filmmakers brought a three-and-a-half-month-old polar bear from a Chinese theme park to Canada last year to star in a movie about a young boy who tries to reunite an abandoned cub with its mother.

Some might wonder why homegrown talent got passed over for the part in "Midnight Sun," starring former "ER" actor Goran Visnjic. After all, Canada is home to most of the world's polar bears — It seems like the kind of role they were born to play.

But it's not as simple as just plucking a polar bear from Canada's North, said Mark Dumas, who worked with the Chinese cub.

"The Inuit have a say in what happens with their baby polar bears. You can't just take it for no reason. Someone has to have killed the mother," Dumas said.

"When you're raising a baby polar bear, you want to get them as young as you can, because you want to teach them all the good things in life as opposed to some of the bad things, like biting and stuff like that."

Zoos won't let their polar bears out of captivity to shoot movies, added Dumas, who has worked with all kinds of bears — including a polar bear — for decades. He has another polar bear named Agee that he plays and swims with in a special enclosure at his home in British Columbia.

The Chinese cub — named Pisau or Pizau, Dumas isn't quite sure of the spelling — travelled a long way to appear in the movie, which is slated for release this year.

Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show the cub's gruelling travel itinerary: Beijing to Frankfurt to Toronto to Vancouver to Abbotsford, B.C., where Dumas is based. All told, the trip was supposed to take 45 hours, including layovers.

The bear arrived in a foul mood, Dumas said, and was quite aggressive.

"They had an animal that had a really crummy attitude," he said.

"Oh yeah, he had a crummy attitude. But he was the only one they had, so you've got to work with what you've got."

The cub returned to the Polar Ocean World theme park once filming wrapped.

The filmmakers aren't the only ones who have tried to bring polar bears to Canada from other countries.

A polar bear habitat in the northeastern Ontario town of Cochrane tried to bring over an animal that achieved a modicum of Internet fame by sticking its head in a tube.

Milak became something of a YouTube sensation when the Aalborg Zoo in Denmark posted clips of the polar bear splashing around his enclosure with the plastic tube stuck on his head.

When Milak reached a certain age, however, the zoo started its search for a new home for the bear. It looked like that home would be the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat.

But there was just one small problem: it turned out Milak was actually a female.

"Since they are very short of females in Europe, (Milak) was transferred to another facility there," said Karen Cummings, manager of the habitat.

There was also a polar bear swap between Canada and the Netherlands in 2011.

The Zoo sauvage de St.-Felicien, about 300 kilometres north of Quebec City, acquired a then five-year-old male named Yelle from a zoo in the Netherlands in exchange for an eight-year-old female.