Frustrated by his efforts to become a person of worth in his tribe, Kenai
(exquisitely voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) attempts to prove himself after a bear
kills his brother while defending itself. When Kenai unexpectedly succeeds in
getting revenge, the spirits of the land decide to replace the soul of the dead
bear with Kenai's; forcing him to confront life as the very enemy he swore to
destroy. Given the chance to redeem himself, Kenai finds a pal in cub Koda
(Jeremy Suarez, "The Bernie Mac Show"), an orphan who takes to Kenai instantly.
As the two roam the land, the bears learns first
hand the dangers of living in a world populated by man.
2003 finds Disney animation in quite a bind. Losing audiences to computer
animated projects, and seeing independent producer Pixar steal the box office
crown away from the Mouse's own in-house product, "Brother Bear" (IMDb listing) comes to
theaters as one of the last traditionally animated films to shoot down the once
well-lubed pipeline. What a shame, since "Bear" is a rare gem from
Disney that, while lacking in the essential cinematic desire to test new
boundaries, is at least one of their more passionate and heartfelt animated
pictures since the heyday of "Aladdin" and "The Lion King."
The success of "Bear" comes at a distinct price, and that is, just how much can
you tolerate watching Disney try to call their shot? "Brother Bear" is an
elaborate amalgamation of almost every recent production that Disney has had to
offer. There's the animal kingdom playset from "The Lion King," the
environmental message as heard through wise Native Americans from "Pocahontas,"
and the magical transformations from "The Little Mermaid." Throw in some
pronounced, tonally correct songs from "Tarzan's" Phil Collins, and "Bear" ends
up resembling a greatest hits version of a Disney animated "classic." It will
take some work not to be slightly disgusted by the reaching the production does
to grab the good vibrations that glowed from the earlier pictures, but it all
washes away when "Bear" starts to cook under its own inviting heat.
Comparisons to the crackerjack look of "Finding Nemo" are unfair, but "Bear"
offers its own impressive animation without much assistance from CGI. Bathed in
forest greens and browns, and accented by autumnal pastels, "Bear" is an
outright stunning visual feast. It's Disney's best looking film in a long time.
Of course, the story is no slouch either, providing rich teachings on
understanding nature's beasts and the importance of brotherhood.
Uncharacteristically, none of the lessons are pounded too heavily on the
audience. The morals are simply byproducts of the deeper emotional content
provided by Kenai's little discoveries of how his actions have affected the
world around him.
Since there has to be a comedic sidekick, "Brother Bear" provides some in the
form of two Canadian Moose named Rutt and Tuke, who sound suspiciously like the
beer-swilling brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie, former stars of "SCTV" and their
own film "Strange Brew," and played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. Kids aren't
going to have as much fun as adults will with the return of the McKenzie
Brothers, but rest assured, it's wonderful to hear the boys together again. Rutt
and Tuke get the lion's share of the laughs in "Bear," and their routines might
even be opening up a new generation to the ways of Bob and Doug, with kids I
overheard leaving the theater saying, "beauty, eh?" Yes it is.
"Brother Bear" isn't a marvel in terms of screenwriting urgency, but it proves
the theory that if formula is handled with care and enthusiasm, it can still
Filmfodder Grade: A-