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"Brother Bear" - Movie Review

"Brother Bear" - Movie Review

Genre: Animation

Rating:  G (for general audiences)

Release Date:  October 24, 2003 (LA/NY) and November 1, 2003 (wide release)

Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Joan Copeland, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jason Raize, D.B. Sweeney

Directors: Aaron Blaise, Bob Walker

Special Notes: Jason Raize, who originated the role of Simba in the Broadway production of “The Lion King,” provides the voice of Denahi, the brother who seeks to avenge his brother's death.

Plot: In a tiny village, at the end of the Ice Age when the Earth was young, a determined teenager, Kenai (Phoenix), resents bears because they compete for food, overtake the land, ransack his village and ruin his coming-of-age ceremony. When his oldest brother is killed by a ferocious grizzly, Kenai ignores the village teachings of brotherhood with animals and sets out to hunt the bear for revenge. As he draws closer, Kenai is suddenly changed into a bear by the Great Spirits. Unfortunately his other brother doesn’t realize what has happened and Denahi (Raize) tries to kill the bear he believes took his brother’s life. Shocked that he is now forced to live as a bear among animals that can talk, Kenai roams the north passing through glacial caverns, frosty tundra, a valley of fire and treacherous gorges, searching for the place where the mountains touch the fire so that he can return to being a man. Along the way Kenai meets a talkative, but adorable, pesky bear cub named Koda (Suarez), a couple of hilarious moose brothers (Moranis and Thomas), a wise old bear (Duncan) and other talkative animals. Over the course of the trip, Kenai has a different perspective about man and bear and ultimately learns an important lesson about the true meaning of brotherhood.

Good: I enjoyed this movie because of the beautiful nature scenes, the hilarious one-liners and witty banter between the animals. Humor is definitely the key that makes this movie work (like it did for “Ice Age”). There are numerous themes that this story touches on – ancient Indian legends, an attitude that man is equal to nature, mysticism, spirits of dead ancestors, rituals, breaking promises, family, man and nature living in harmony, death of a sibling, guilt, anger, blame, and wisdom. 

Bad: Looking beyond the “cute” scenes, beautiful scenery and a funny cast, there are a few intense scenes dealing with subject matter that may need to be explained to younger children. There are a couple of hunting scenes where a bear is trapped by hunters. There’s an intense scene where one of the brothers falls into a raging river, another falls into a crevice, a man chases a bear and they fight on a rock ledge, a bear falls on a spear when she charges a man and we see a bear lying dead on the ground. Koda tells a story about a hunter chasing his mother, and Kenai realizes it was he who killed his mother. Koda’s life is in danger several times as he and Kenai flee Kenai's angry brother and his spear. Two male rams try to get the attention of a female ram by butting heads and yelling to attract a female’s attention nearby. One scene that’s a funny sort of “adult” line (but will go over most kids heads) is when a male and female bear flirt and another bear says, "get a cave”. When Koda  smells something on the ground he says, "If snow is white, it's all right; yellow or green is just not clean."

Bottom Line:  WARNING - Plot point about to be revealed to parents!

At the core of this whole movie is the theme of “we are brothers and we're all the same regardless of our species.” In the end, Kenai has the chance to be turned back into a human by the spirit of the brother who died, so guess what he chooses? After he becomes a human, he gets to see his brother who was chasing him, as well as speaks with his dead brother; he realizes he can’t understand Koda so he choose to be turned BACK into a bear because as he puts it, ”Koda needs me.” So, I guess that means his brother didn’t need him? That’s the kind of ridiculous mysticism-magic-spiritual mumbo jumbo that confuses kids and perpetuates a theology that man is not superior to animals but that we are just the same. The theme of “We must all take responsibility for our own actions” is good, but it gets lost in the visual of a dead bear being taken into the air by a swirl of light. "Brother Bear" does have some wonderful, warm and funny moments that the whole family can enjoy. But in this particular case, the strong emphasis on spiritual mysticism delivers a message parents may not want their kids believing. So moms and dads, plan on having a good discussion with your children right after you leave the theater. Talk about the funny, lighthearted parts, but be sure and bring up the mystic characters and elements that need explaining.