Brother Bear is the story of a boy who becomes a man by becoming a bear. Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) is a young man set on revenge against a bear he feels is responsible for his brother’s death. Going up against the beast and winning the battle, the great Spirits who guide Kenai transform him into a bear himself. As Kenai tries to undo the spell placed on him by the spirits, he meets Koda (Jeremy Suarez) a young cub who was separated from his mother. As the story unfolds Kenai becomes more find of Koda and “adopts… him, however, his main desire is to once again become human. Kenai’s journey takes himself and Koda to the salmon spawning grounds where they meet a group of other bears led by a huge black bear voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan. It is here that we learn that Koda’s mother was the bear that Kenai did battle with at the beginning of the film – he learns that Koda’s mother was attempting to protect Koda from ‘the hunters’ i.e Kenai and his brothers. Because of Kenai’s anger at the bear he attacked and as a result is the reason for Koda being without his mother. The climax of the movie comes when Kenai faces off against his remaining brother who believes that Kenai, in his bear form, is responsible for the death of Kenai and their older brother. While Kenai tries to avoid harming his brother he is torn when his brother starts going after Koda. Kenai does his best to protect Koda and at this point the spirits intervene and transform Kenai back to his human form. Kenai is finally reunited with his brothers but his joy is overcome with the responsibility that he feels for Koda and in the end makes the decision to remain as a bear and care for his brother bear.
While this sounds very serious, the comedy provided here is some of the best that Disney has offered in a long time. Now I am a huge SCTV fan so keep that in mind. The comedy relief is provided by Rutt and Tuke, a couple of moose voiced by none other than Bob and Doug themselves, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. How cool is that? And where else are you going to hear a line like, “How do you total a mammoth (referring to the trip that they all took on the backs of a herd of mammoths that Rutt and Tuke ‘crashed’ offscreen)?”
The story while quite formulaic, does have an emotional impact but still lacks the majesty and character of the Lion King (but then again how many movies are going to match that?). There are some very good voice performances here – Jeremy Suarez is particularly good and you just can’t say enough about our favorite ‘hosers.’
Brother Bear has the weirdest presentation that I’ve seen for a DVD release. The movie was originally shown in two aspect ratios, according to Disney 1.66:1 when Kenai is a human, opening up to 2.35:1 when he turns into a bear. That’s the way the film is shown on disc two. A preface on disc two explains that “‘Brother Bear’ was presented theatrically in two different aspect ratios. To preserve the original theatrical viewing experience, black bars will completely surround the image during the first 24 minutes of the film.
Then, on disc one the Disney folks offer the film in what they call a “family friendly aspect ratio” of 1.66:1 where there is no change after the first 24 minutes. Huh? When I read on the back of the package that there was a “family friendly” version I thought that it cut out some of the more frightening or emotionally intense scenes (which it doesn’t do) rather than change screen size. That being said the video quality is excellent. The colors are bright and vivid. Disney has once again come through with a very sharp transfer. The black level is well set and there is no bleeding of color in bright scenes.
The disc is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS 5.1 track. The sound is excellent with great use of the surround speakers as all of the action occurs in the wilderness – there is plenty of ambient sound to keep your surround speakers humming. There is a wide dynamic range and great use of the bass. The dialogue comes through very clear in the centre speaker and the soundtrack comes through very clearly in the right and left speakers. Another great audio job Disney!
A 45-minute “making of” documentary is found on the second disc. This is an in-depth view of the detailed and years-long process of developing and creating an animated feature. There are some very interesting discussions found within this feature, as we learn more about the film’s story development, casting, score work and animation progression.
The deleted scenes section offers a few sequences that are in their basic form. The most surprising scene involves a squirrel character that was deleted from the film – his quest for berries seems awfully similar to Scrat, the squirrel-rat character in “Ice Age”, who is hyperactively protective of his acorn.
Also available on the second DVD are “Fishing Song” (a never-before-heard deleted song) and “Transformation” song (with original Phil Collins lyrics).
On the first disc, you’ll find a commentary from “Rutt” and “Tuke”, the two Moose characters in the film. While these sort of joke commentaries are never terribly funny, this is a very funny track, as voice actors Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas fill the track with in-jokes and bits that will likely make adults laugh, but go right over the heads of child viewers. The two actors simply riff and improv throughout the running time of the movie. This is the best thing about the set – there are some simply brilliant jokes that the two run with. The commentary can be viewed “with visuals”, which means that viewers will occasionally see the outlines of the two characters as they talk about the movie.
A reel of “Koda’s Outtakes” runs a couple of minutes and starts off on a high point, with Stitch from Disney’s “Lilo and Stitch” sneaking his way into a scene. Next is a 10-minute piece where two of the film’s animators discuss the conception and look of some of the characters. Rounding out the supplemental section of the first disc is a brief look at creating sounds in foley, a piece about Native American stories, interactive games, “Look Through My Eyes” music video and an “On My Way” sing-along.
While Brother Bear is not The Lion King, it is very good even though it is somewhat formulaic. The real test is how it touches it’s target audience – families – my wife cried at the end, my daughter wanted to watch it again, and I thought this was a great movie to watch with the family.
And oh yeah…Good Day, Eh? Bob and Doug rule!
Special Features List
- Exclusive Fully Animated Outtakes
- Commentary by the moose brothers Rutt & Tuke (audio only or visual commentary)
- Deleted Scenes – Including A New Character
- Paths Of Discovery: The Making Of “Brother Bear” (48 mins.)
- 2 Games: Find Your Totem & Bone Puzzle
- All-New Song By Phil Collins, “Fishing Song”
- “Look Through My Eyes” Music Video Featuring Phil Collins
- 2 Sing Along Songs
- Making Noise: The Art of Foley (3 mins.)
- Bear Legends featurette (3 mins.)
- Art Review (10 mins.)
- Sneak Peaks