by D.W. Lundberg

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Our continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries are also included below.

Title: Brother Bear (2003)

The Plot: In post-ice age North America, an Inuit boy kills a bear as revenge for his brother's death and is transformed into a bear himself.

The Songs: "Great Spirits," "Transformation," "Welcome," "On My Way," "No Way Out (Theme from Brother Bear)," "Look Through My Eyes," "No Way Out (Phil Collins Version)"

A Little History: Production on Brother Bear began as early as 1989, when directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker concocted an original story with elements from Native American transformation myths and Shakespeare's King Lear. In 1997, IGN, Digital Media FX and Ain't It Cool News reported the film's title as, simply, Bears. It is the third and final film produced entirely by the Feature Animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida (see also Mulan and Lilo & Stitch; the studio closed its doors in March of 2004 to make way for computer animated features). Though traditionally animated, Brother Bear makes extensive use of CG imagery during its salmon run and caribou stampede sequences. The movie's "painterly naturalism" was inspired by the works of Albert Bierstadt (Disney CEO Michael Eisner lent his personal collection of Bierstadt's paintings to the production crew as research). The filmmakers visited the Holgate and Exit Glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park, where they studied mountain ranges and inactive volcanoes, and attended two months of outdoor painting classes at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, where they studied live bears. Renowned author/preservationist Timothy Treadwell (Grizzly Man) was also brought in to assist with the project. Act One of the film is presented in a standard 1.85:1 aspect ratio, to mimic Kenai's sheltered view of the world; for Acts Two and Three, the screen expands to a 2.35:1 CinemaScope ratio, with brighter colors and fluid camera movement. Several characters were altered significantly during pre-production: Denahi was initially written as Kenai's father (later changed to Kenai's brother), and Kenai was partnered with an elder bear named Grizz (voiced by Michael Clark Duncan, who appears in the final film as Tug). Rutt and Tuke, voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, are moose-ified versions of their Bob and Doug McKenzie characters from SCTV; for the German-language version of Brother Bear, the moose are named Benny and Björn after members of the Swedish pop group ABBA. The film opened November 1, 2003, and grossed over $85 million in the U.S. and another $165 million abroad; its home video release earned an additional $169 million in sales and rentals. Brother Bear was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2004 Academy Awards, but lost to Finding Nemo.

How It Broke New Ground: The first animated feature to switch from a standard 1.75:1 aspect ratio to a wider, 2.35:1 CinemaScope ratio (after Kenai is turned into a bear). For theatrical presentations the film was pillar boxed at 1.75:1 inside the 2.35:1 frame. The Simpsons Movie and Disney's Enchanted would later try a similar trick in 2007.

How It Holds Up Today: Empire Online says here that "if in doubt, Disney often returns to films about cuddly animals," and really, who could blame them, after a string of not-so greatest hits (The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis, Treasure Planet) failed to catch on with the public? For all their good intentions, though, Brother Bear is far from the rip-roaring success its makers probably intended. It's a virtual smorgasbord of Disney titles old and new: a dash of The Lion King here, a sprinkle of Bambi there, plus a slathering of Phil Collins songs on the soundtrack, à la Tarzan. But the tone is so saccharine and sticky sweet you may feel it at the pit of your stomach, like eating too much of something you just know isn't good for you. Characters are mostly reduced to stereotypes (the kind old granny, the noble brother, the cute and cuddly bear cub), and any attempt at seriousness all but drains out of the movie around the 24- minute mark, when the animals suddenly take on human idiosyncrasies (because - get it? - they're just like us!). Brother Bear may be Disney's 44th Animated Classic, but it feels like their 144th - a pandering, not at all surprising callback to their once illustrious past. But it sure means well.

Grade: C


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