Do you remember Brother Bear? No? I thought so. I don’t blame you. It’s a very forgettable movie. Case in point, I had not forgotten the existence of Brother Bear, mainly due to the fact of having somewhat of an attachment “On My Way”, one of the songs Phil Collins wrote for the movie. So I knew I had seen the movie at some point during my childhood, and still, beyond the songs, I could remember virtually nothing about Brother Bear despite the fact that it involved a man being turned into a bear.
All you need to know to get a pretty good idea of why Brother Bear turned out to be such an unmemorable movie, is that its life began when Disney CEO Michael Eisner approached the animators and told them he wanted to make a movie about bears. Did Eisner have a fondness for the quintessentially American grizzly bear? No, he wanted to sell toys, and a movie about bears meant a lot of teddy bears at your local toy store. You’d see how that inception wouldn’t result in the most memorable of movies. And yet, Brother Bear, is not exactly a bad movie.
It isn’t a good movie either. You could say it’s “good enough”, but a more accurate depiction would be serviceable. It’s sufficiently well-crafted and animated as to entertain little kids without much complaining from their part, but it will probably prove itself incompetent at fulfilling the same task with adults. I mentioned I had somewhat of an attachment to “On My Way”, so that might have something to do with what I’m going to say, but there is a montage towards the middle of the film set to that song that I find very effective and heartwarming. And while it works, it is also the kind of montage that you would expect from a movie like this.
If you’re wondering what “a movie like this” means, here’s a quick recap. This is basically the story of a young man (or caveman? I mean, there are mammoths around) who avenges his brother’s death by killing a bear who had something to do with it, so the spirit of the same brother turns him into a bear to teach him a lesson about acceptance. There is more to the movie than that, but you get the idea of what it’s like. The protagonist, who is named Kenai and is voiced by an unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix, gets turned into a bear and is paired up with a baby bear named Koda who is the offspring of the bear he killed. Koda is annoying at first, and Kenai doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, or any other bears for that matter, but ends up warming up to him and learning about love and family.
You see how that is a very familiar journey for an animated hero, especially for the beginning of the XXI century, when we had a lot of reluctant heroes paired up with either small children, annoying companions or both. Think of Shrek, Ice Age, or Monsters, Inc. As such, it might have felt very derivative when it came out, and on some level, you’d be very right to think of the movie that way. On the other, though, it is as effective as most of those movies. I mean, Monsters, Inc. is much better and original, but Brother Bear, although not as idiosyncratic or even as ambitious as the other already-not-that-ambitious two, doesn’t feature anything as lazy or dated as the humor in Shrek.
As you can see, I don’t have much to say about Brother Bear. It features some very well-painted backgrounds, and the character animation (especially for Kenai) is very well done. The character design for the supporting characters (and most humans) leaves a lot to be desired, and the movie has a weird transition in aspect ratio when Kenai becomes a bear that doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. It basically gets in, gets the job done, and leaves. It isn’t spectacularly effective at doing the job, but it does it anyway, and I’m already running out of things to say. It’s just not a memorable movie. But it’s also not a bad one.
Next Week: Home on the Range, which for a while there, seemed like it was going to be the last hand-drawn Disney movie ever released.