Whereas my opinions of WALL-E agreed with the critical consensus, Brother Bear performed poorly among critics and audiences, but I consider it one of Disney’s most underrated successes. From the mountainous vistas in a painterly art style to “all that cuddly bear stuff” which is both heckled and embraced, Brother Bear is a beautiful film that stands as Disney’s last great use of traditional animation.
Phil Collins may have declined in popularity since then, but his music for Brother Bear added so much to an already great film. As with Tarzan, his songs play over various montages, such as the opening scenes of brotherhood with Tina Turner singing the lovely and catchy “Great Spirits.” “On My Way” during the cross-country journey and “Welcome” during the salmon run are also unsung masterpieces, so to speak.
The pagan spirituality is taken more seriously than, say, the comedic ghostly ancestors of Mulan, but unlike the New Age crystals of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the spirits of Brother Bear have some cultural basis in real Native American tradition. I found their incorporation in the story to be a respectful nod to a unique people, as Disney had previously done with Lilo and Stitch.
The animation is among Disney’s best, and I love the character designs, particularly Kenai’s bear form, which matches Joaquin Phoenix’s voice better than his human form. Young Jeremy Suarez as Koda has the same garrulous, road-tripping insistence as Shrek’s Donkey while embodying all that is cute about a teddy bear. As for comic relief, Disney couldn’t have done better for this Arctic film than Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as a moose version of their McKenzie Brothers comedy act (gotta love their game of “I Spy”).
In addition to the animation, comedy, and music, Brother Bear packs a powerful emotional punch that left me crying in the theater the first time I saw it. The entire message of the film is to see life from a different perspective, through another’s eyes, literally. Kenai misses this point throughout most of the film, only caring about his own loss, but when he realizes the far-reaching consequences of his actions, the sorrow is palpable, punctuated by Collins’s song “No Way Out.” While this tune is utterly depressing, sitting through the end credits is rewarded with an uplifting rewording of the song, which deserves a place in my End Credits Song Hall of Fame, along with the single “Look Through My Eyes.”
In addition to the much worse Home on the Range the next year, it’s a shame that Brother Bear’s poor reception spelled the end of Disney’s traditionally animated excellence. It’s exciting, moving, amusing, and able to bring my VC to tears every time. It’s an underprized gem about the value of love and brotherhood which deserved much better, eh.
Best line: (Koda, drowsily, when Kenai is waking him up) “Two more months, Mom….”Artistry: 8 Characters/Actors: 8 Entertainment: 9 Visual Effects: 10 Originality: 7 Watchability: 10 TOTAL: 52 out of 60
Next: #102 – On Golden Pond
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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