Brother Bear Rated G I love animation. My walls at home and the office are covered with animation art. I’ve heard rumors that “Brother Bear” and “Home on the Range” may be the last 2 traditional 2D animation projects undertaken by the Walt Disney studios. If true, then that’s unfortunate. Brother Bear, like the last few Disney outings, has its problems. However, none of those are related to the animation itself. I’d hate to think Disney is moving away from this art form thinking they can make more money with computer animation techniques as opposed to traditional hand drawn animation. Brother Bear is set in a nebulous tribal culture (I’d say Eskimo culture and style is most closely used here, but it really is a mix) and tells the story of 3 brothers: Sitka, Denahi, and Kenai, the youngest. As the story opens, Kenai is about to receive the rite of passage from his tribe that is the first step on becoming a man. He is to receive his totem – the emblem of the spirit that is to guide his life. Unfortunately, Kenai’s totem is not what he desired. Instead of courage, or strength, his totem is love – symbolized by the bear. This leads teasing by Denahi which leads to Kenai charging off after a bear to prove himself. Kenai finds himself quickly outmatched by the bear, but is fortunate that Sitka (the oldest) and Denahi have followed to help. As seems to be the norm with Disney anymore, someone has to die and in this case, it is Sitka who sacrifices himself to save his brothers. Denahi clearly blames Kenai for their brother’s death. Again, Kenai heads off after the bear – this time in hopes to revenge his brother’s death. He does manage to find and kill the bear, but here the film turns. The spirits of the elders intervene (actually, it is Sitka’s spirit specifically) and changes Kenai into a bear. It not long before Denahi happens on the scene and concludes that the bear has now slain Kenai as well. He, of course, decides to pursue the bear and kill it – not knowing that it is in truth his younger brother. Meanwhile Kenai meets Koda, a bear cub who has been separated from his mother. Koda quickly adopts Kenai and they set out together – Koda to find his mother, and Kenai to find a way to turn himself back into a human. There are a number of other characters introduced along the way, and, of course, Kenai learns a lot about himself in the journey. There is a small twist at the end, that isn’t terribly shocking except that you don’t normally expect such from a Disney film. I won’t spoil it here. Suffice it to say that Kenai discovers what it means to be true to his totem and achieves manhood within his tribe. The cast of Brother Bear is quite good overall, but the supporting characters almost steal the film. You’ve probably seen the moose (mooses?) if you’ve seen any ads for this film. How can you go wrong with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as Rutt and Tuke – 2 moose with Canadian accents and schtick reminiscent of the McKensie brothers routine they became so well known for? Disney still knows how to animate. This is why it’s such a shame that they may be ending their use of this art form. The scenery is marvelous, the animals are very nicely handled, and the people – well they look like people, unlike so many computer animated films. There is also so much in the animation style that can capture and drive the mood of the film. Compare, say Hercules, to Beauty and the Beast – very different styles, but they set mood, and tone, and give the film personality. Here, the wide variety of nature and creatures seen (though perhaps not terribly realistic) really contributes to the sense of the spirits who are guiding this story. I also strongly approve of the voice casting. Sure there are some recognizable names (Joaquin Phoenix is Kenai, and D.B. Sweeny is Sitka, plus Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as I noted above), but they don’t dominate the character. For example, I hated Rosie O’Donnell in Tarzan simply because that all I could hear – Rosie instead of the character she was portraying. In Brother Bear, the characters are king and the voices don’t distract. On the down side, Disney still has returned to the musical stride it had with Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Little Mermaid. After the passing of Howard Ashman, Disney started going with the big name pop stars to write and record music for their animated fair. Music here is by Phil Collins. And while the music and songs are decent, they don’t really add to the story. Music works best in these films when the songs are performed by the characters and when they either advance the story or convey the feelings/emotions of the characters. Elton John did well here with his work the Lion King. Unfortunately, the music just doesn’t work as well here. I won’t complain about plot too much since this is a film geared with younger audiences in mind, but I was disappointed that we don’t see more growth from Kenai along this journey. His sudden change of heart at the end almost felt forced to me, but it still works pretty well. This film doesn’t go for the quantity of gags as a couple of the previous Disney undertakings have, and that’s fine by me. Overall, I found Brother Bear charming and entertaining – even a little touching at the end. After some pretty awful outings with Hunchback and Pocahontas and Tarzan, it seems to me that Disney is returning to what made their films work and it mostly works here. I give Brother Bear 3 stars out of 5.