Aside from a rather humorous preview for “Brother Bear” preceding this summer’s “Finding Nemo,” I hadn’t heard much about this film until the very recent media blitz. Of course, after the complete box office calamity that was last year’s “Treasure Planet,” I can imagine why Disney didn’t do too much early hype for their latest ink-and-paint animated feature.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved “Treasure Planet,” and I think the film got a bum rap with such miserable box office numbers. So, for my personal tastes, I felt “Brother Bear” was a bit of a let-down. Of course, demographically, “Brother Bear” will probably have more appeal than “Treasure Planet.” In a lot of ways, Disney just can’t go wrong with a bunch of fuzzy animals.
The story opens in the North American wilderness before the last ice age. Three Native American brothers – Sitka, Denahi and Kenai (D.B. Sweeney, Jason Raize and Joaquin Phoenix, respectively) is going about their daily life, hunting and fishing. During Kenai’s coming of age ceremony, he is given the symbol of a bear to signify love, his guiding spirit. After receiving some good-natured ribbing from his brothers, Kenai discovers their catch of fish has been stolen by a bear. Desperately wanting to prove himself to his family and his tribe, Kenai goes after the bear.
When he is cornered by the bear, Kenai is saved by his brothers – but not without cost. His oldest brother Sitka sacrifices himself to save the other two. Driven by vengeance, Kenai vows to hunt down and kill the bear he blames for Sitka’s death.
After Kenai kills the rouge grizzly, the spirits of the sky intervene to teach him a lesson. They transform him into a bear himself, leaving him to be hunted by his brother Denahi who is now avenging the death of his two brothers. Along the way to find the spirits to change him back to a man, Kenai encounters Koda, a young bear who has been separated from his mother.
There were remnants of other Disney films in “Brother Bear” – most notably a caribou stampede that is painfully similar to yet not as good or integral to the plot as the wildebeest stampede in “The Lion King.” Like many a Disney film, “Brother Bear” doesn’t shy away from death. “Bambi” had the death of Bambi’s mother. “The Lion King” had the death of Mufasa. “Brother Bear” has the death of Sitka as well as the untimely death of a grizzly bear.
As with any recent Disney theatrical release, the animation and scenery is breathtaking. The filmmakers are starting to really smooth out the line between digital and painted cells, with fewer and fewer noticeable overlaps.
I do commend Disney for removing the film from current history – and even resisting the temptation to set it in a time when Europeans were colonizing America. The story was preachy enough about the environment and the old “Circle of Life” stand-by themes that we didn’t need any more politically correct mantra being rammed down our throats.
One of the faults of removing this from present history is that no one really knows how the Native Americans spoke back then. Yet, this wasn’t a problem for the writers and actors as they just made them speak like modern day teenagers. While colloquialism are unavoidable in a film like this, they could have worked a little harder to make it not sound like a “Lizzie McGuire” episode.
And no review of this film would be complete without a tip of the hat to the Moose, played by Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas). Providing the needed comic relief, this was a stroke of brilliance for the folks at Disney. For fans of the old SCTV show and “Strange Brew,” this is the best part of the film. Sadly, there will now be a generation of kids who think these dim-witted Canadians are like Pumbaa and Timon with no knowledge of where they originally came from.
For what it’s worth, I took my kids to see this film – a 2 1/2 year old and a 4 month old. They both loved it. (Even the 4 month old stared at the screen, mesmerized by the colors and imagery.) So, this bodes well for the holiday movie audience.
Predictable? Yes. Corny? Sure. But “Brother Bear” is still good, family fun.