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Brother Bear DVD
Reviewed by Robert E. Mansperger, Jr., © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker (Directors)
Genre:   Animation/Fantasy
Released:   March 30, 2004 (DVD Release)
Review Date:   March 23, 2004
Audience Rating:   G
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)
Most likely I will never understand why Disney films for the most part involve some sort of parental figure getting killed in the first twenty minutes, but I guess I just have to accept it and move on.

[Hey kids, Jason Myers, Bearer of Morbid Trivia says: "How about this: The Disney boys, flush with their animation success, bought their parents a new homestead. The house, however, had a faulty furnace, and their mother died of asphyxiation less than a month after they moved in. That was 1938. In 1940, Dumbo was released. In 1941, Bambi."]

In 1994 there was The Lion King. In 1999, Disney took it one step further in Tarzan, where you not only get to "enjoy" the brutal deaths of Tarzan’s parents and a little gorilla baby, you get to witness the shooting of Tarzan’s adoptive gorilla parent -- ah yes, the theatre was full of childish screams that day. In 2003, parents and children witnessed little Nemo’s mother and all of his siblings getting killed in the beginning of Finding Nemo

Brother Bear is one of these films. Brother Bear, however, is a tale of parental figures getting killed mixed with good clean musical numbers and the world’s oldest healing tradition -- shamanism.

Brother Bear is the charming tale of a Native American boy named Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) who is magically transformed into a bear by the Great Spirits and goes on a journey of self-discovery. The film builds off the visual strength of The Lion King with its animal characters. Disney’s animators spent oodles of times making sure these animals looked as real as they could to help make the film more believable, and they do it well. The friendship between Kenai and the little bear cub Koda mimics the playfulness of the childhood scenes in Tarzan, where a young Tarzan and his gorilla pal Terk frolic through the jungle. The friendship helps Kenai realize that bears are more than monsters. Together, they produce a powerful tale of brotherhood, the journey from boyhood to manhood, and redemption that the entire family should enjoy together -- but you’ll probably have to answer your children’s questions about death. (They're sure to come up. Best to be prepared.)

The background scenery is amazingly rendered and wonderfully rich with color and texture. The characters themselves fall flat against the background but are saved by their wonderful expressions and gestures. The film’s biggest visual flaw is the animated humans, who look as though they escaped the old 1980-1982 Ruby-Spears cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian. Thankfully, after the first twenty-four minutes it's mostly cute and cuddly animals until the end of the film.

One of the most bizarre features of the film is the format for the first 24 minutes: Everything is shown in a small black box, which caused my wife to continually ask me what was wrong with the DVD player. Upon Kenai’s transformation into a bear, the film format changes to regular widescreen. While this may be a clever way to show the close-mindedness of Kenai in human form, it made the first part of the film a little strained to sit through. But once the regular widescreen format kicks in, the film breathes life into the room.

The soundtrack by Phil Collins doesn’t live up to the beauty of his Tarzan work, but it has a very similar feel. Rest assured you’ll end up humming them for the rest of the day, as with any Disney soundtrack -- sure to irritate your co-workers and neighbors. That’s OK, though, because you’re assimilating to the Borg-like Disney lifestyle now. Tina Turner's vocals show why she continues to be a powerhouse, and the Bulgarian Women’s Choir and The Blind Boys of Alabama perform well. But the real gem here is the score -- powerful and elegant, especially Wilderness of Danger and Beauty.


The DVD comes in a two-disc set. One disc is labeled "Family Friendly Aspect Ratio" which I assume means "formatted for the television"; the second disc is "Original Theatrical Format," or, as we normal folk call it, "widescreen." Both discs contain a set of special features and to enjoy all of them you need to use both discs. This is a minor annoyance but worth doing for the fun of watching the film with commentary by the two moose Rutt and Tuke (voiced by Strange Brew guys Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, who are most likely happy to have a gig again) on disc one and the "Making of Brother Bear" on disc two.

The Movie Itself: 6 out of 10
The DVD Extras: 6 out of 10
RevStaffer Robert E. Mansperger, Jr. is a man who desperately wants to become a boy.

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