As a boy, it can be hard growing up in a world that includes older brothers. What makes it harder is being forced to find a place of worth in that world. So Disney tries to be a guide and give some answers when it combines American Indian legend with brotherhood in its latest animated feature, Brother Bear.
Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix), an Inuit boy, has long waited for the day when he’d receive his personal totem. His eagerness is crushed at the ceremony when tribal matriarch Tanana (Joan Copeland) presents him with a bear- a symbol of love. He’s not pleased as he foresaw himself receiving an eagle or wolf- considerably stronger totems- like his older brothers. Of course, as older brothers do, they tease him unmercifully. Embarrassed by the results of the ceremony, Kenai attempts to prove his worth to the tribe. Before he can do so and reach an understanding as to why he’s received his totem, bears seem to bring Kenai bad luck. After a bear has feasted on his salmon catch, he vows to kill track it and kill it. The bear however kills Kenai’s eldest brother Sitka (D. B. Sweeney) is self-defense. Kenai surprisingly succeeds in getting his vengeance on the bear, but his life takes an expected turn when the Great Spirits transform him into a bear.
To attain redemption and his human form, Kenai must return to the mountain where “the light touches the earth,” but with his remaining brother Denahi (Jason Raize from the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King) becomes an unlikely enemy along the way. Along his journey Kenai makes some unwanted travel-mates in the persistent orphan cub Koda (Jeremy Suarez) and a pair of comical Canadian moose named Rutt and Tuke. On his way, Kenai does learn valuable lessons about family, unity, the humanity of brotherhood and the power of love.
If Rutt and Tuke seem familiar to adults, it’s because they they’re voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, goofing on their McKenzie Brothers routine made famous on SCTV and the cult comedy Strange Brew (1983). Kids and adults will get a kick out of the duo, but they also serve to teach the lesson that brothers can still get along even if they disagree from time to time.
The movie doesn’t have the A-list quality of past Disney hits like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, but that’s not all bad. The animators made good on borrowing the soft lines and skin tones from Lilo And Stitch and the rich textured landscape tones of The Lion King to visually tell the story. In an effort to create a deeper perspective, the animators choose to switch screen ratios, widening the picture at a certain point in the film and wash the screen in cold pastels of blue, pink and purple. This little trick emphasizes Kenai’s transformation into the bear and works in allowing the audience to also “be the bear.” The musical offerings, coming from Disney soundtrack veteran Phil Collins are lighter than his previous work but the centrally themed “On My Way” is an unforgettable, humable Disney hit.
Brother Bear as a whole isn’t the most memorable Disney concoction, but its message is hard to forget. As a child’s life lesson, the movie holds a strong morale handled with care. It’s a movie that’s fun, amusing and truthful and may bring families a little closer. And that’s a powerful message.