2003 - G - 85 Mins.
|Director: Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker
|Producer: Chuck Williams
|Written By: Broose Johnson
|Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, D. B. Sweeney, Jeremy Suarez, Jason Raize, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas
|Review by: Marc Eastman
The short version of the story is that Disney should simply stop making animated movies. Can you think of a movie-related statement that could be more sad? How depressing is it that a company founded on animated characters, and responsible for making feature-length animated movies a reality, has now lost touch with the entire concept so completely that I just want them to stop?
Now, it may sound strange for me to say that ‘Brother Bear’ isn’t all that bad once I’ve opened with the above, but it’s true. You might be even more confused considering the fact that I liked ‘Treasure Planet’ enough to give it five stars. Well, let me see if I can make it make sense. First, Clements and Musker made ‘Treasure Planet’ (as well as ‘Alladin’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, and a couple of others), and Clements and Musker should not stop making animated movies. Second, ‘Brother Bear’ isn’t all that bad (faint praise to begin with), but it is exceedingly average. The upcoming ‘Home on the Range’ does not strike me as reaching any higher either.
‘Brother Bear’ and ‘Home on the Range’ are also both first attempts by directing/writing teams. They are both directed and/or written by people who worked as layout supervisors, artists, etc., and/or people who hadn’t done much of anything at all. There’s nothing wrong with this in general of course, Clements and Musker obviously started the same way, but at the moment Disney is having a lot of bad luck, and making a lot of bad decisions. This is not the time to be throwing together creative teams willy nilly. This is a time to put some people with more experience together with the young people with fresh ideas.
‘Brother Bear’ is the story of a certain tribe of Native Americans, and in particular three brothers. The main focus is Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix), the youngest brother, but older brothers Sitka (D.B. Sweeney) and Denahi (Jason Raize) play important roles as well. We arrive in the story just prior to a ceremony wherein Kenai will learn what his totem animal is, the animal spirit that is going to guide his life. When he learns that he is to be saddled with the bear of love, he isn’t happy, and is subjected to a bit of teasing by his brother. We jump right into things, when events conspire to send Kenai off in a huff after a bear that stole some food Kenai should have protected better in the first place. His brothers naturally follow him, and the bear soon has all three of them up against it. Denahi, in an effort to save his brothers, sacrifices himself. Kenai and Sitka have various forms of difficulty with the fact that their brother is dead, and Kenai sets off to kill the bear again. This time he succeeds, but the spirits, his dead brother actually, turn Kenai into a bear.
Now we’re set up for our long march through the movie. Kenai awakes to find himself in front of the tribes medicine woman (I guess), who knows what’s happened, and that the bear in front of her is really Kenai. She tells him that he must find a certain magical mountain, and disappears, leaving Kenai to fend for himself. Sitka soon arrives, and now he has the bloodlust. He becomes determined to kill Kenai, follows him throughout the rest of the movie, and frankly, for no rational reason. Meanwhile, Kenai meets a small bear, Koda, who has lost his way and wants Kenai to take him to the salmon run, which is where everybear who’s anybear is going. And, off we go.
We’re treated to a thoroughly sappy run through ‘walking a mile in his shoes’, with Kenai naturally (and eventually) seeing the world from a different perspective, all with musical accompaniment by Tina Turner (which opens the movie and is horribly misplaced) and Phil Collins (which is not bad really, but rather odd). The main comic-relief found in what is rather intense for a children’s movie, comes by way of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas reprising their Great White North routine as moose Rutt and Tuke.
Given a situation in which I could make an honest guess, I would have been certain this was another direct-to-video release by Disney. The animation is unimpressive in a variety of ways, and everything in the movie has been done before, recently, and by Disney itself. The movie is a total wash insofar as an adult can enjoy it. The representations of Native American culture are borderline insulting, the story itself is beyond simplistic, and there’s a guest appearance by Lilo (though not exactly on purpose). On the other hand, for children, well... it’s at least harder to judge. There are general things to like about it, but I don’t exactly see them falling in love with it, and there are definitely better options.