If the Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast were to have illegitimate offspring, it would probably look a lot like Brother Bear. It has the free spirited natural feel of Pocahontas, with the ‘love the cuddly bear within’/human-animal transformation aspects of Beauty and the Beast and as you would expect, accordingly it is a thoroughly enjoyable watch. Unfortunately, if you already happen to have Beauty and the Beast and Pocahontas in your collection (I’m sure you will), then Brother Bear is also thoroughly pointless purchase as it has very little in the way of new material to offer through its incredibly obvious resemblance to both of these films.
Now, aside from having the Beast and Pocahontas for its parents, Brother Bear is also blessed with Uncle Tarzan; Phil Collins provides the music for the film but he seems to have been a bit worn out with all the jungle swinging involved in Tarzan, and Brother Bear often sounds like an infomercial for Butlins at worst and an infomercial for Centre Parks at best.
The story itself is sweet enough and follows Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix), the youngest and most troublesome of three brothers who live in ‘post ice age North America’, whenever that is. When a bear kills his eldest brother, against the advice of his remaining brother, Denahi, Kenai sets off to avenge his brother and kills the bear. Whoops. The spirits are angry with his vengeful ways and transform him into a bear himself although I’m still not 100% sure why… probably to teach him about what it’s like to be a bear so he can understand exactly who he’s angry with… but anyway, Denahi gets the wrong end of the stick and assumes that the mysterious bear has actually killed his brother, rather than become his brother. And vengeance ensues.
With his newfound ursine status, Kenai fancies himself a bit scuppered until he runs into the highlight of the film, comedy pairing Rutt and Tuke, two mooses voiced by Rik Moranis and Dave Thomas. The two brothers are certainly the funniest thing about the film, and resemble wise-cracking teen stoners in their rhetoric, making for some great conversations between them and Kenai as he tries to explain that he is really a man in a bear’s body. The moose duo reappears throughout the film and always come as a much needed boost to the laughter stocks.
But it is the little bear cub Koda who steals the show as he becomes Kenai’s travel guide, promising to take him to the place where the Spirits make contact with the Earth (where Kenai can become man again) if Kenai promises to accompany Koda on a salmon farming trip nearby. The cub is delightfully if slightly outspoken and his thirst for adventure and open nature make him a really likable character and a highly watchable sidekick.
The pinnacle of Koda and Kenai’s adventure sees them arriving at Bear Heaven, aka the Salmon Run, where ‘every bear belongs’. The Salmon Run is also the setting of the worst song of the film simply called ‘Welcome’, which has to be a theme tune for a lame, Middle American kiddies’ summer camp if ever there was one. Overall it’s a greatly enjoyable scene again with some excellent anthropomorphic quips from the bear clan (including one particularly special old lady bear who is convinced she is a widow, despite her husband’s interjections).
The climax of the film sees Denahi, who has been tracking his unbeknown to him brother for the duration of the film, finally catches up with him just as he is about to be changed back into a human. Just as all seems lost for Kenai, the spirits awaken and transform him back into his human form and this is where the real change from other Disney films of similar themes kicks into play: whilst he is delighted to be a man again, through his adventures with Koda as a bear Kenai has learnt to love the little cub like a true brother and as such he decides that he would much rather stay a bear after all. Much to the pleasure of Koda, his wish is granted and the two frolic off into the snow to celebrate their newfound permanent brotherhood. Aww.
See what I mean? Sweet, enjoyable but probably won’t stick in your memory like the Lion King or Cinderella. This film is one for the Disney history books, and unless you happened to be there when it was released I can’t see it making a storming comeback any time soon. So, if you already have it, keep it. But if you haven’t got round to seeing it yet… well, save it for a rainy day.