Brother Bear

A few months ago, news got out that following the failure of Treasure Planet, Disney essentially decided to give up on traditional, hand-drawn animated features. With no more currently in production, that makes Brother Bear and next year's Home On The Range possibly the last in a chain of films stretching back to Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Brother Bear viewers should therefore take some time to admire its beautiful animation. Done in high-Disney style, it invests its woodland creatures with a tremendous amount of expressiveness, character, and, paradoxically, humanity. Computer animation is a marvel, too, but each form has different areas in which only it can excel: Giving up on hand-drawn animation is akin to abandoning pianos because synthesizers have come along. The decision seems particularly shortsighted given the never-waning interest in past Disney classics, not to mention the artistic and commercial success of Lilo & Stitch way back in 2002. Unfortunately, Brother Bear doesn't offer much to marvel at beyond its animation. A sleepy bit of Disneyfied-folklore set among the prehistoric Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, Brother Bear has a gentle spirit and plenty of visual splendor, but never finds the energy to match them. The setting may not even allow it. Living in a virtual Eden of verdant flora and frolicking fauna, humans and animals have little problem with each other, which makes malcontent protagonist Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) difficult to understand. Assigned, as per tribal custom, a spirit animal in a coming-of-age ceremony, Phoenix balks when he draws "The Bear Of Love," as he holds neither bears nor love in high esteem. When he loses a brother after a misunderstanding with a local bear, his prejudice deepens, but he's forced to reexamine his views when the Great Spirit dishes out some Watermelon Man-style poetic justice, turning him into a bear and pairing him with a talky moppet cub voiced by Jeremy Suarez. Journeying to a remote bear retreat, they occasionally run into some moose voiced by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (reviving their Bob and Doug McKenzie personas). That's a welcome relief, since Phoenix and Suarez's characters more often run into the lite-rock song stylings of Phil Collins, whose emotionally blanched contributions set the tone of a film that, for all its eco-friendly, pro-tolerance lessons, seems likely to win the hearts of only the youngest, slowest Disney fans. It would be nice if Disney would reconsider and stay in the business of hand-drawn animation, but if Brother Bear is the best the studio can do, it might be time to give the shop a temporary break.

Filed Under: Film

More Movie Review