Title: Brother Bear
Release Date: November 1, 2003
Director: Aaron Blaise | Robert Walker
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Feature Animation
The period of around 2000 to 2009 was an odd one for Walt Disney Feature Animation. After the Disney Renaissance era where every film release was a major event, this decade saw the release of several movies that had next to no cultural impact. This era produced one unqualified classic in Lilo & Stitch, but most of the movies I’ve watched thus far are either ambitious but flawed (The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Bolt) or obvious duds (Home on the Range, Chicken Little). I keep hoping to discover a lost classic, and while Brother Bear doesn’t quite achieve that, it is a diamond in the rough.
Set among the Inuit people at the end of the Ice Ages, it tells the story of Kenai, the youngest of three brothers. Kenai comes of age and his tribal leader gives him the totem of a bear representing love. Kenai objects to this totem feeling he’s called to better things. Shortly afterward, in a conflict with a grizzly bear, Kenai’s oldest brother Sitka (D.B. Sweeney) falls to his death. Seeking revenge on the bear, The Spirits along with Sitka in the form of his totem, a bald eagle, transform Kenai into a bear.
Kenai is rescued from a bear trap by a chatty bear cub named Koda (Jeremy Suarez), and they join together to seek the salmon run near the spot where Kenai was transformed. Pixar seemed to pilfer Brother Bear when they made The Good Dinosaur, as both movies feature an odd pairing on a journey of self-discovery across a beautifully animated primeval North American landscape. Brother Bear is a much better movie though. While some of the themes of Kenai finding his way to love and respect bears, and become a brother to Koda, are quite obvious, I was nevertheless surprised by the ending. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas also appear as a comic duo of moose channeling Bob and Doug MacKenzie.
While an enjoyable and heartwarming film, I feel it would’ve been better if like the later Disney film Moana, more indigenous people were involved in the voice cast and creation of the story. I also didn’t think Phil Collins’ musical score was suited to the story. Nevertheless, it’s worth a watch.