Brother Bear has never been one of my favorite Disney animated features. It follows Kenai, a Native American boy who angers the Spirits when he needlessly kills a bear in revenge for his brother’s death (which was actually Kenai’s fault). The Spirits change Kenai into a bear, and he must find out how to emulate his totem, the “bear of love”, in order to change back into a human.
While on his journey as a bear, Kenai meets and travels with Koda, a bear cub who is searching for his mother and also knows the way to the place where the lights touch the mountains, which is where Kenai must go once he’s learned his lessons. While Kenai is initially annoyed by the young cub, he gradually warms up to him and treats him like a kid brother.
I really enjoyed most of the music, as I’ve always been a fan of Phil Collins. He did a good job working with Mark Mancina on the music for the film. A few of the songs were pretty heavy-handedly environmental, which was annoying, but even those had enjoyable underlying music if you ignored the overly preachy lyrics.
The animation was well done and often used a color palette reminiscent of many of the works of Maxfield Parrish, one of my favorite artists. This was especially the case after Kenai was transformed into a bear, which I think may have been on purpose and used by the animators to indicate how nature is more beautiful through the eyes of those in tune with it. The background art was especially beautiful, and the influence of landscape artists from the Hudson River School, White Mountain art, and the Group of Seven from Canada can definitely been seen (especially J.E.H. MacDonald, Alfred Bierstadt, and Tom Thompson).
The movements of the bears, moose, and other creatures, while obviously exaggerated to a degree for the animation, were very reminiscent of the actual movements of these animals in the wild. It was obvious the animators did their homework to fit in this often-overlooked detail.
The story had its touching moments, but was pretty standard fare for works from Disney (and other studios) at the time. The general plot is pretty much the same as that found in The Little Mermaid, where the main character makes a stupid choice, has to go on a journey (literally or figuratively) in order to resolve the issue, and then everything turns out happy in the end. This is pretty standard “hero’s journey” fare, and never gets too deep or creative with its presentation.
In the end, the best parts of Brother Bear are pretty much everything but the actual story. It will definitely be enjoyed multiple times by children, but adults will soon tire of it. The film is one of the weakest from Disney, but it’s still okay.
Release Date: November 1, 2003 (USA)
MPAA Rating: G
Nudity: 0 (though all the bears are naked…)
Violence: 2 (some animal/human fighting, scary images)