Brother Bear

Watching Brother Bear, the newest Disney animated film, is a mixed experience. The visuals are nice, the songs are decent but not spectacular, and the story is reminiscent of nearly every other Disney animated story there is. Oh, it's a nice story with a good moral lesson for children, but it's hard to really get into a story when one already knows how it will resolve itself. And not just the fact that it will have a happy ending, but more details, like how certain characters will act and how they are connected to other characters. In Disney's round robin of cultures, this one falls again into the lap of Native Americans, a long time ago, when, as the narrator intones, the mammoths still roamed.

Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix, Buffalo Soldiers, Signs) is a brash young boy on the cusp of being a man. Tradition in his tribe is that he receives an animal totem that will bestow a specific gift. In Kenai's case, he receives the bear totem, symbolizing love. To tell a young man that he needs to learn love to mark upon the world is not a good thing, and Kenai is understandably annoyed. He ignores this totem and storms off after a bear to prove his manhood. The bear proves more than he can handle, and his two older brothers come to his rescue. In the ensuing fight, his oldest brother dies, and his other brother, Denahi (Jason Raize) feels the death was Kenai's fault. Kenai vows again to kill the bear, and the spirits change him into one as a way of teaching him a lesson. Ironically, Denahi believes that the bear, who is actually Kenai, killed Kenai, and now vows to kill the bear.

It takes nearly twenty minutes to get the story to this point, and the film already clocks in at under ninety minutes, Plus, there are five people credited with screenplay and story, Steve Bencich (The Best Movie Ever Made), Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton (First Knight, Like Father, Like Son), Ron J. Friedman (Paul McCall, The Best Movie Ever Made), and Broose Johnson (John Henry), and they still couldn't come up with enough original material. Kenai meets up with Koda (voiced by Jeremy Suarez, Treasure Planet, Susan's Plan), a bear who cannot find his mother. He agrees to let Koda tag along when he learns that Koda knows of the place where "the lights touch the earth," the place Kenai needs to go to become human again. Otherwise, Koda is garrulous and peppy, and annoys Kenai endlessly. Yet, the Koda character is there to teach Kenai about love, and it is inevitable that the two will begin to bond.

Since the running time is so short, Kenai's feelings go from those of annoyance to those of love over the course of a Phil Collins song. Collins, who last wrote songs for Tarzan and had a voice role in The Jungle Book 2 is a decent songwriter, but his Disney work is just not memorable. Some of his songs here serve as shortcuts to quickly advance the plot. So as Kenai and Koda bond, Kenai begins to learn that he can use love to become a man. Meanwhile, Denahi relentlessly pursues the two bears. The comic relief here belongs to two moose (uh, meese?) with Canadian accents, voiced by Rick Moranis (Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves, Big Bully) and Dave Thomas (Rat Race, Fancy Dancing) riffing on some of their old SCTV characters.

The animation is nice but not groundbreaking, and this is the general theme of all of Brother Bear. It's an interesting mix of traditional and computer-animation mimicking traditional animation. First time directors Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker tie everything together in a big bow that scream "adequate," which is a shame because the film does come together nicely, if not utterly predictably in its last ten minutes. This is not enough to make up for the rest of the film. Keep in mind that since this is only a better-than-average Disney animated film, that still puts it ahead of most other animated films, so at least it has that.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 25 minutes, Rated G.

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