After departing from the Broadway formula for most of the new decade and striving for a darker approach, and yielding few effective results, the Disney Studio returned to a more 90s formula with Brother Bear. Bearing a striking resemblance to Tarzan in its music style, Brother Bear is not a perfect film, but remains one of the better films of this (mostly) lacklustre era. The main problem with the film is that it doesn't quite know what it wants to achieve, with many serious and powerful moments being hindered by poorly executed humour.
As many of you will know by now, Brother Bear tells the story of Kenai, a young man in a post Ice Age world who goes through a deep metamorphosis (both physically and internally) as he is transformed into a bear for a mistake he makes. Once transformed, he meets a young cub named Koda, and both start forming a brotherly bond, jeopardized by the terrible mistake Kenai made when he was human. The film tries to impart the messages of understanding others, tolerance and love. It mostly succeeds in this
endeavour but, then again, some annoying moments and characters prevent the film from achieving greater heights. It also plays it a little safe, not offering anything groundbreaking in terms of story, animation, characters or music. It seems like the filmmakers were content with just entertaining the audience, and, on that level, the movie succeeds.
In terms of characters, both of our central leads are well developed and their bond makes up the heart of the film. You root for Kenai and Koda and, when the big revelation comes near the end of the film, you feel for them and their plight. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the supporting characters, especially the two Moose brothers Rutt and Tuke. They come off as annoying and their jokes always feel dry and crash the drama that surrounds them. Thankfully their appearances are few and far between, so their damage doesn't hurt the film that much.
In the music department, Phil Collins returns after his success with Tarzan and employs the same technique he did for that film. There are some catchy tunes like "On my Way" and "Welcome," but none of them are as great as the ones for Tarzan, or any Renaissance film for that matter. The music blends very well with the film but, just like the movie, is merely serviceable.
Animation-wise the film has a colourful palette and some sequences are of striking beauty (a particular highlight is the "Transformation" sequence at the beginning of the film,) but the characters' design and most of the backgrounds are merely good.
Brother Bear did respectful business at the Box Office and was even nominated for an Academy Award (of course it couldn't stand a chance against Pixar's epic Finding Nemo), but seeing it ten years after it was released, it's obvious that is a film that is content with offering light-hearted entertainment without much substance or any groundbreaking element in any department. It's an enjoyable little film that never aspires to be anything else.
Next Week - Animated Classic #45 Review: Home on the Range (2004).