(Seen on 5/18/08) I bought a batch of the last few hand-drawn, animated Disney films for my son’s birthday; Home on the Range, Atlantis, Treasure Planet and Brother Bear. Mostly as some new films to watch together, but also because I miss this quickly disappearing art form. As they all came long after I’d grown up, the only one I’d seen before was Home on the Range, but I found each for a couple bucks each, so I figured “why not?” Brother Bear was the first of the bunch he wanted to watch.
It’s certainly nowhere near the quality of some of Disney’s earlier animated films, but it’s a worthwhile distraction for both adults and children. The only thing I truly didn’t like about the film, were two cheesy Phil Collins ballads. The animation is beautifully realistic, they manage to capture some of the majesty of the North American forest, long before we started to clear-cut much of it out of existence. It’s sad to think that American studios have given up on this style completely.
It’s great to watch as the young Indian cub Kenai and his brothers explore the woods and live life with their tribe. It’s Kenai’s coming-of-age night, and he’s about to be given his spirit guide by the tribe’s leader. He doesn’t understand when she tells him that love will lead his life. Soon he discovers that, due to his own negligence, a bear has stolen the fish he and his brother’s have just caught.
Mostly out of anger due to his misunderstanding of his spirit guide, he chases after the bear, getting himself into grave danger. When his older brother comes to his rescue, he loses his life in the process,and now Kenai’s even angrier. (The loss of a key family member is a standard turning point in a Disney characters life.) Now he’s determined to kill the bear, and when he manages to, the spirits overtake him and turn him into a bear himself. The middle brother, who was trying to dissuade Kenai, now believes he’s lost two brothers to the same bear is hunting him. Kenai learns some valuable life lessons about what life’s like from the other side. Along the way he befriends a young, lost bear and helps him find the way to the fishing grounds. Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis add some good humor as a couple of Canadian moose; and throw around some Strange Brew jokes, one of my favorite guilty pleasure comedies.
This being a Disney film, everything about the film is completely predictable to those who know their films; which is everybody. There are the usual family film messages about learning who you really are, and what your place should be in the world. The film is nicely made though; not beating us over the head with the messages, the characters never break into song and are well voiced by Joaquin Phoenix, D.B. Sweeny, Jeremy Suarez and others. But it’s the failure of this and a few other Disney films to evolve beyond these clichés, their disappointing takes at the Box Office and obviously the rise of Pixar and computer animation, that lead to the death of traditional animation or at least it’s ghettoizing to straight-to-video. Brother Bear, isn’t going to bring back the memories of the Disney greats, but it’s a decent family film, with a good heart. – Grade: C+