The early oughts weren't kind to the Disney animated feature film canon. After 'Fantasia 2000' things kind of went downhill. Between 2000 and 2004, Disney produced underachieving and underdeveloped movies like 'Home on the Range,' 'Treasure Planet,' 'Dinosaur,' and 'Atlantis.' The two movies that tried to stand out amongst the chaff were 'Lilo & Stitch' and 'The Emperor's New Groove.' Sadly, they seem to get lost somewhere in this mediocre era of Disney films. Smack-dab in the middle of it all was 'Brother Bear.' A movie that fits in with the lackluster films like 'Home on the Range' and 'Dinosaur.' The patented Disney magic just wasn't there.
The movie takes place during the Ice Age. The native Inuit's of the North find themselves battling the elements every single day. Mammoths roam the land still. This is an ancient time, but for some reason the people (and animals) populating this picture act strangely modern. I don't know why it bugs me so much, but why do moose have Canadian accents if Canada and its accent won't be around for another few thousand years? Why do the indigenous people speak like modern day kids? I guess I'm thinking a little too hard about it, but this stuff irks me from time to time.
Anyway, Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) is a young scoundrel who isn't ready to grow up. His two brothers have already received their totems – a rite of passage in the tribe – and he's finally going to receive his. Kenai has big dreams about what his totem may be, so when it turns out that it's a bear and that the bear means "love," he's a little disappointed. His macho outward appearance has been challenged and he's worried that his brothers will make fun of him.
Kenai is also a screw up. Because of his laziness and penchant for procrastination he gets his brothers into a dangerous tussle with a bear. The bear ends up killing his older brother. This sends Kenai into a rage. Blinded by grief and revenge Kenai sets out to kill the bear.
The recycled notion that one must learn a valuable lesson by being put in another's shoes takes over here. By some magical force contained in the Aurora Borealis Kenai is turned into a bear to learn just exactly how tough it is to be a bear, and more importantly, how love conquers all. You know, the standard coming-of-age stuff.
Of course no Disney animated movie would be complete without some wise-cracking talking animals to take up screen time so a couple annoying Canadian moose (voiced by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis, of course) show up to blather on and on without real purpose.
Kenai also comes across a young cub that's missing his mother. Koda (voiced by Jeremy Suarez) is adopted by Kenai and the two become quick friends. There are a few montages showing them growing as friends, then there's the standard fight, followed quickly by the make-up sequence.
'Brother Bear' just feels stale. Like they plopped down a standard idea, couldn't think of anything original to combine it with, and simply went with it. The moral of the story here is that if you want to watch a worthwhile animated movie about someone turning into a bear watch 'Brave.'
Rating: 2.5 Stars
'Brother Bear 2'
Again Disney has packaged a less-than-interesting sequel along for the ride. Like the sequel to 'Hunchback of Notre Dame,' 'Brother Bear 2' covers a tacked on romance for Kenai that is far-fetched at best. The problem here is that we all know exactly what will happen, how it will happen and how the movie will eventually end. It's not like we need to think too hard about it.
In the sequel, Kenai (voiced by Patrick Dempsey this time around) and Koda have been together for a while. Kenai has started having strange dreams about a girl he knew growing up. The girl in question is Nita (voiced by Mandy Moore). When they were younger Kenai gave Nita a necklace that turned into a symbol of their love after Kenai saved her from drowning. Now it seems that the gods won't let Nita marry anyone without the amulet being burned by both her and Kenai in order to break the bond. Yeah, it doesn't really make sense to me either.
Of course the bumbling moose show up and steal more screen time with a nauseating subplot about moose romance.
What follows is a journey through the wilderness movie where Kenai, Koda, and Nita get into some adventures along the way. Of course Nita finds herself becoming attracted to Kenai again (nobody really describes how strange this is, or if this is considered bestiality, oh well). We know what will happen by the time the end comes as no surprises await. 'Brother Bear 2' could act as an electronic babysitter if you're desperate, but chances are there are many other worthwhile kid-centric shows in your collection.
Rating: 2 Stars
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Brother Bear' comes in a 3-disc Special Edition. Included are a 50GB Blu-ray, which contains both films, and then two DVDs, one for each feature. The DVDs are stacked in the same hub. The keepcase comes with a slipcover. It's a region free release.
While 'Brother Bear' doesn't compare to the lush visuals of other Disney movies like 'Beauty and the Beast' or 'The Lion King' it still manages to offer up some colorful, if simple, animation. Something to point out here is that 'Brother Bear' opens with a window boxed presentation (black bars on the top, bottom, and sides). It doesn't expand to its full 2.35:1 aspect ratio until about 25 minutes into the movie. This aspect ratio change has a bigger impact on big screens; on a TV it doesn't produce the same illusion.
Like always, Disney's animation is bright and colorful. The Northern Lights shimmer and dance in the night sky. Color fills are stable and never waver. There's a great blend of standard character animation, with some CG elements, and also some backgrounds that look like impressionist paintings. The only bothersome element of the presentation is the occasional banding that invades the picture from time to time. It isn't egregious, but it is noticeable.
Rating: 4 Stars
'Brother Bear 2'
With other recent original/sequel package releases like 'Mulan' and 'Hunchback' the sequels have had a noticeable drop in animation quality. 'Brother Bear 2,' however, doesn't seem to drop that much. Colors appear a little lighter and animation looks a little more simple, but overall it mirrors the look of the first one quite well.
This means that, yes, the banding problems remain. The color fills are just as stable though. Whites of the snow and the greenery of the vegetation make a good contrast of colors. If you liked the presentation on the original you'll enjoy this one too.
Rating: 4 Stars
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is pretty average in terms of Disney quality. That means it's above average compared to many other studios though. 'Brother Bear' isn't going to knock your socks off with its astounding audio mixing, but Disney does a nice enough job incorporating enough ambient sound to produce a believable surround sound mix.
Low-end support is pretty hefty here. Cracking ice, powerful rivers, and heavy drum beats on the soundtrack are given some nice booming bass. Dialogue is always clear, delivered through the front speakers. Ambient sounds like birds chirping and other nature noises are light, but there. I felt pleasingly surrounded by the audio mix here.
Rating: 4 Stars
'Brother Bear 2'
The sequel also has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. This mix doesn't offer as much in the way of surround sound. LFE sounds a little lighter than its original counterpart also. Dialogue is clear for the most part though. Directionality is find, placing voices where they need to be. In the end it's not quite up to par with the audio offerings of 'Brother Bear.'
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Rating: 3 Stars
'Brother Bear 2'
Rating: .5 Stars
'Brother Bear' is one of the more easily forgettable titles in Disney's catalog. There's nothing about it that stands out. It's far too standard for its own good. It's like they recycled a bunch of Disney stories and threw them together and made this. It's no surprise that this movie came out of a time period in Disney's history that produced a string of not-so-memorable movies. Completionists like myself will have to have it in our collections, but it's really only worth a look if you're a person that doesn't have to collect every Disney title.