Tuesday, March 17, 2015


RELEASE DATE: Saturday 1st November 2003

The writing was on the wall. Hand-drawn animated features had been performing dismally at the box-office. It felt like Disney would never be able to reclaim its former glory from the '90s Renaissance. The Lion King had been the highest grossing film, so it was decided that it was time to make more "talking animals" pictures, in the hope they might have the same appeal.

Two "talking animal" movies were in production at the same time. The first was a wild west adventure called "Sweatin' Bullets" and the second was a story about North American bears, not surprisingly called "Bears." The latter film was the third (and final) animated production entirely created in Disney's Floria studios, while "Sweatin' Bullets" was being made over in California.

"Bears" eventually became "Brother Bear," a story of redemption and brotherhood. "Sweatin' Bullets" would go through a large change and eventually become "Home On The Range," which resulted in the release schedule for the two films being switched, meaning that Brother Bear was released first, at the end of 2003.

While it was not critically acclaimed, Brother Bear still managed to rake in over double the takings of Treasure Planet, likely due to its "cute" factor and traditional Disney "look."

The movie starts by showing a tribe of Native Americans (Is this story set in Canada? Alaska? It's never really explained or shown) led by an elder who begins to tell the story of his brother. There were three brothers in his family. The youngest, Kenai, was always getting into trouble.

On Kenai's special day, he is to receive his life's totem, which will guide him in his future as a man. To Kenai's great disappointment, he is given the "Bear of Love."

Due to his eagerness to get to the ceremony, Kenai had forgotten to tie up the fish that had been caught, and with no one to guard it, the food was stolen by a bear. Kenai goes after the bear, followed by his two brothers. The oldest brother Sitka rescues the others by cracking the edge off a glacier. He and the bear both plummet into the river below. The bear escapes, but Sitka is killed.

Feeling that the bear is now responsible for his brother's death, Kenai once again tracks it down, this time with the intention of killing it. He is followed by his only remaining brother Denahi. After tracking down the animal, Kenai fights a fierce battle and kills it.

All of a sudden the heavens open up, an image of Sitka appears, and Kenai is miraculously transformed into a bear himself.

When Kenai wakes up the next morning, everything looks brighter. (And in Widescreen!) The old village wise woman Tanana greets him, explains that Sitka is the one responsible for the transformation, and tells Kenai that if he wants to be changed back he will have to go to the mountain "where the lights touch the earth." Kenai asks for help from some nearby moose, but they are not particularly intelligent. He has barely started on his journey when he gets caught in a trap.

Eventually a little bear cub named Koda appears and helps Kenai escape the trap. He explains that the light touches the earth near the "Salmon Run," which is the place he was supposed to be travelling to with his mother before they got separated. Kenai agrees to accompany the cub, as long as he keeps his distance.

The journey takes them through a number of different places, and Kenai soon learns that he is being hunted by his own brother Denahi, who believes that Kenai is the bear responsible for the death of his brothers. The two brainless moose catch up with the bears and ask if they can hang around them as protection.

When Kenai and Koda approach a cave with paintings on the wall, Koda admits that "Those monsters are really scary... especially with those sticks." Kenai realises for the first time that humans are the monsters.

Denahi finally catches up to the bears and almost manages to act on his fury and kill them. They have a very close escape.

They finally arrive at the Salmon Run and Kenai realises he really doesn't fit in here among all these bears. Before long he begins to appreciate their carefree, family-based way of life though.

That evening when Koda begins to tell the other bears a story about his mother, Kenai has a shocking revelation. The bear that he killed was Koda's mother.

Later that evening as he watches the lights touch the mountain, Kenai realises he has to tell Koda the truth. Koda, heartbroken, runs away.

Alone and distraught, Koda is found by the two moose who are arguing. They soon make up, because that's what brothers need to do.

Up on the mountain, Kenai is not greeted by the spirit of Sitka, but Denahi instead, still determined to kill him. Suddenly little Koda appears to save the day.

Just when everything seems lost, Sitka appears and turns Kenai back into a human. (Why he didn't do it earlier is anyone's guess...)

Kenai decides to stay a bear so that he can look after Koda. Sitka disappears into the heavens with Koda's mother. They all live happily ever after.

Curiously, during the end credits there is a bloopers reel. This had become common practice in Pixar films, but this was the first (and to date, the only) time a Disney animated film had ended with bloopers. Very odd.

IRVYNE: Okay, here we go. On a story and character level, Brother Bear is not a good film. It is full of wild inconsistencies, both in the tone of the film, and within the characters themselves. It's a shame that it arrived at this time in history, a time which really needed an absolute killer hit from the Disney studios. This was the same year Pixar hit a home-run with Finding Nemo. It was only a few months before Dreamworks would have a monster hit on its hands with Shrek 2. These computer animated films were hugely successful. And here was Disney, still sticking to the past and releasing sub-par hand-drawn movies.

The problem here isn't with the animation though. It's actually a beautifully drawn film. (I'll get to that later) But as a story, Brother Bear just doesn't really work.

Let's start with the main character of Kenai. Yes, he goes through a number of transformations throughout the movie, both physically and emotionally. But in the story's opening he's shown to be the crazy, carefree, cheeky brother who's always getting into trouble. Then, as soon as he's turned into a bear he becomes a dull stick-in-the-mud who can't stand hanging around with other characters who just want to have a good time. Why this change of character? Who knows? At any rate, he's not a very likeable hero.

The dialogue between the brothers in the first few scenes has always seems so forced to me. Their gentle ribbing of each other, the way they banter, it all just seems completely fake. Perhaps it's in the writing, perhaps it's in the line delivery, I don't know.

If there are any morals in the story, they're pretty messed up. Kenai seeks revenge, and kills another living creature. As punishment, he is turned into that creature, which results on him going on a madcap adventure and making a wonderful new friend / brother substitute. He apologises to the cub, who forgives him for killing his mother within the space of two scenes, and then everyone is happy. So the moral is... if you seek revenge and kill things, everyone will end up happy, even the children of whoever it is you killed, because they love you...? And are we to assume that people in Kenai's tribe had never killed animals before, that it was so horrific when Kenai did it...? Okay, I'm rambling, but these things niggle at me.
There are so many characters in the movie who serve no purpose whatsoever. The moose are the obvious blatant comic relief. They come in and out of the story for no reason, just to give the audience a reprieve from their moody hero and his annoying sidekick. There's characters like the mountain goats, who have no business being in this movie, or any movie. They're asked for directions, and instead of giving directions, they yell at their echoes. That's all they ever do.

Bottom line, if you want to have a successful Disney movie, the two most important things are a story worth telling, and characters that the audience can really care for. I don't think Brother Bear has either of these things.

Thankfully, the film looks amazing. It's a really interesting concept that when Kenai is transformed and his view on the world changes, so does ours. The screen widens out and the colours become almost blindingly saturated.

The backgrounds, if looked at closely, don't resemble reality much at all, and instead look somewhat like an impressionist painting. It's really beautiful work, and the artists also did a great job in creating depth with the way they blur out backgrounds.

The animation is also highly accomplished, especially on bear-Kenai. The physics of the bears is very convincing (you can tell the animators spent a lot of time studying bear anatomy) and there's a lot of light-and-shading on all of the characters, giving them a very classic Disney-ish look.

Mostly though, it's the colours that win me over. This film is so darn colourful! And it's not garish, the colours are used very effectively to paint a picture... literally and figuratively.


Oh, Phil Collins... *facepalm*

After winning an Academy Award for "You'll Be In My Heart" in Tarzan, Phil was eager to jump straight back into work on a new Disney film, and he was almost immediately attached to the "Bears" project. The music in Brother Bear is just so odd and disjointed, it's a constant source of befuddlement to me. I don't even think the songs need to be there, but they are, so let's take a look at them.

The film opens with "Great Spirits," sung by the great Tina Turner. Why Tina Turner? Who knows? It's an okay song. It's inoffensive, but I wouldn't say it's particularly good. It has a strange melody with lyrical rhythms that seem to go on longer than they're supposed to.

"On My Way" is a fun little ditty, and in the movie it's actually Koda who starts singing it. Oh wait... You mean Collins is writing an actual musical, where the characters sing? Nope, only a chorus. Then he takes over himself and sings FOR Koda. Like in Tarzan, most of the songs here serve as overlays to montages. In this case, it's a travel montage. Why couldn't Koda have just sung the whole song, since the lyrics are clearly coming from his character? Because Phil Collins likes Phil Collins to sing Phil Collins songs, that's why.

"Welcome" is NOT sung by Phil Collins, it's sung by The Blind Boys of Alabama, giving voice to all of the big bears at the Salmon Run. Then halfway through... Stop singing Blind Boys, Phil Collins is going to take over. Now he's singing as the voice of Kenai. First he was the voice of the little bear, now he's singing for the big bear as well...? To be honest, "Welcome" is a fun song. As always, the lyrics are pretty tacky, but Collins does manage to rhyme "fesival" with "best of all," which is pretty much a miracle from the man who in the Broadway version of Tarzan rhymed "love" with "vow."

Next we have "No Way Out," which once again has Collins singing as the voice of Kenai, without the character actually singing in the movie. It's an okay attempt at a sad ballad, but it's not great. I don't think any of the songs in Brother Bear are as good as the Tarzan songs, even the token pop-ballad for the end credits, "Look Through My Eyes."

The only piece of music that I think is actually excellent, is the "Transformation" song, which has the Bulgarian Women's Choir singing in a foreign language. I think it's quite possibly the best piece of music that Phil Collins has ever written, although it might have more to do with the instrumental and vocal arrangements than his writing.

Collins had a much larger role in the creation of the score this time. He worked alongside Mark Mancina (in different countries) to create all of the backing music. Bottom line though, I think the ever-present voice of Phil Collins was not needed in this film, and I think it actually detracts from the main characters and takes the audience out of the story.

Brother Bear is a watchable film, but it's not a great one. It's no Disney classic. It seems like it was led by a thousand different people, all with their own ideas and agendas, and none of it comes together to make a cohesive whole. The characters are either forgettable or unlikeable, the plot is strangely pointless (Why exactly did Kenai need to travel to the mountain to see the ghost of his brother, when he just saw it on the cliffs near his home?) and the songs are intrusive rather than supportive. On the plus side, it's a beautiful-looking film, but what a shame the other elements couldn't match the artistry of the animators and background painters. I can see Brother Bear being largely forgotten in the Disney history books. It's decidedly average.
HAKU: I'd never seen this one before. It takes a while to get going, but it's not too bad... except for Phil Collins. Those songs are awful.

WENDY: I knew I hadn't seen this before, and I probably made the right decision. I don't like this movie. It's one of the first Disney films all year that I can officially say I don't like. I can't even explain why. I'll think about it.

SHENZI: I remember it being better than it actually is. I thought the bears' journey was longer.

HAKU: I'm glad it wasn't.

PASCAL: It went for long enough!

MERRYWEATHER: That's why the moose keep coming back, to lighten the mood.

IRVYNE: The moose have got that bad-Disney-sidekick syndrome, where they serve no plot purpose whatsoever.

SHENZI: Sure they do! At the end, they teach Koda about how to be loving brothers.
"I love... dew."

WENDY: And after that, killing the mother bear is totally okay...

HAKU: It would have been an awkward conversation at the end of the movie if the mother bear had stuck around.

IRVYNE: Ha. Yeah. "First you kill me, then you claim my son as yours??" *SMACK!*

MALEFICENT: Well, I'm shocked you people don't like this movie as much as me. Maybe you haven't been eating enough chocolate. I love Brother Bear!

IRVYNE: Explain why. Enlighten us.

MALEFICENT: For starters, I love the moose. I've even watched the entire film with moose commentary. It's hilarious! Comic relief doesn't have to serve a purpose, just so long as they're funny! At least the moose didn't mess up Kenai's life like Mushu did with Mulan. I love how amazing the animals' animation is.
PASCAL: Kenai and Koda are much more cartoony-looking bears than the mother.

IRVYNE: Yeah, the mother bear is mostly seen through human eyes. It's only after Kenai becomes a bear that we see all of the animals from the bear's point-of-view. Which means all of the animals have human-style eyes, and everything becomes Widescreen.

WENDY: I do like the Widescreen switch when the colours suddenly go bright.
MALEFICENT: I think the transition of the screen size is really clever. The scenic art is just magical.

WENDY: It's good, but the story is made up of too many bits, it just doesn't gel for me.
IRVYNE: It is very bitzy. The tone also seems completely haphazard. They don't seem to know whether this is a fun comedy or a serious drama. And it's full of completely pointless characters like the goats. What purpose do they serve? I think they're supposed to be funny. But they're not.

HAKU: Did you notice that after Kenai transforms from a bear back into a human, he's still bare?


OTHERS: *slow clap*

MERRYWEATHER: I love Koda. Don't you think he's cute?

IRVYNE: Oh, definitely. He's one of the characters in this film I actually like. He does walk that fine line between adorable and irritating, but he's mostly cute. His voice-actor, Jeremy Suarez, was only 12 years old when he recorded it, so it's got a nice authentic kid-quality.

MALEFICENT: I find Koda to be a bit annoying. Kenai shouldn't have told Koda that he killed his mum. Rookie mistake. He also should have stayed as a human at the end so he could have kept Koda as a pet.

IRVYNE: Ha! In a cage? "And they all lived happily ever after."

HAKU: The old shaman lady reminded me of the character Homer meets in The Simpsons Movie.

IRVYNE: "Thank you Boob Lady!"

WENDY: It's very strange how she just suddenly turns up to explain the story after Kenai gets turned into a bear. Is that supposed to be a fantasy sequence or is it actually happening?

IRVYNE: I think it's supposed to be actually happening... She examines him and tries to calm him down... But then she just suddenly disappears because... I dunno. Reasons.

PASCAL: If it was his imagination, she'd be able to understand what he's saying.

IRVYNE: I think we can all agree that visually, it's really nicely made. The human characters are all pretty blandly designed, but it's so colourful and shiny!

PASCAL: I think the humans are deliberately bland. The animals are the interesting characters here. I like the look of the scene where they're hiding in the glacier. It looks really cool with all of the shadows and ice.

HAKU: I saw a bit of Deep Canvas again.

IRVYNE: So did I. There's not as much as there was in Tarzan and Treasure Planet though.
HAKU: I wish they were able to find another way to tell the story in those scenes where the songs intrude.

IRVYNE: As intrusive as Phil Collins is, I get goosebumps during the "Transformation" music.

MERRYWEATHER: Hmmm... I can remember the mood of the music, the sort of indigenous style, but I can't really remember the song itself.

IVRYNE: You know, I kind of forgave him in Tarzan. I thought, "Okay, he likes the sound of his own voice," but in that movie, he was only really singing over montages.

HAKU: Yeah, in this movie he takes over. He actually starts singing for the characters.

IRVYNE: When he starts singing as Kenai's voice, "When I think of how far I've come, I can't believe it," etc. etc. I just want to shake him and say, "You're not a Disney character! You're Phil Collins! Shut up and let the characters sing!"

WENDY: It's really jarring having Tina Turner sing the opening and closing song too.

SHENZI: And the "Brother Bear" song ("No Way Out") is way too corny.

IRVYNE: It does turn what should be an emotional scene into an eye-rolling experience.

HAKU: I don't think this movie actually needs songs at all.

WENDY: No, it really doesn't. And they're not memorable anyway. I certainly couldn't sing any of them for you.

MALEFICENT: I have to admit, I'm almost always annoyed by Phil Collins. I find it irritating when singers put their voices over the top of scenes. I'm annoyed in the same way when Randy Newman sings in Toy Story. I think that's what makes the songs so forgettable.

SHENZI: So after this year's viewing, I can safely say that Brother Bear is not great.

IRVYNE: It's not the worst, but the story really is a bit of a mess, and none of the characters are particularly endearing.

MALEFICENT: The story isn't as bad as you all think it is. It's clever. Kenai changes his outlook on life by having the same experience of being hunted that he gave the poor mother bear earlier in the film.
PASCAL: It's better than Dinosaur.

WENDY: That's what we measure everything from now. I really didn't like it much. I can say that I've seen it now, but I don't think I'll ever want to see it again.


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