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Brother Bear

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Brother Bear

from Film Forum, 10/30/03

The film that Walt Disney has declared will be its final animated film crafted in the traditional hand-drawn way—Brother Bear—opens next week. But some religious press critics have already published their reviews.

David DiCerto (CNS) calls it a "delightful animated fable. Directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker combine timeless themes with stunning scenery to craft an allegorical tale about love, forgiveness and man's fellowship with nature. Regrettably, the beautiful visuals are buttressed by Phil Collins' uninspired score."

Regarding the Native American folk tales on which the story is based, he adds, "The transformation tale is underpinned by an almost Franciscan spirituality which imparts a strong message about the interconnectedness of all living things, reminding us of our responsibility to live in harmony with the rest of God's creation."

Movieguide's reviewer, however, is far more concerned about the pagan beliefs of Native American culture than he is about any lessons the film might offer. "Brother Bear, as sweet, warm-hearted and well made as it is, will lead children astray. [The movie's] pagan worldview … shows how far we've descended into darkness from the light of civilization. [The] truth about pagan cultures must be told to any child who sees this movie." He does, however, approve of the film's "moral point, which is not to seek revenge, but to try to see things through another's eyes."

from Film Forum, 11/06/03

Brother Bear is supposedly going to be the last animated feature film produced through Disney's traditional method of hand-drawn cel animation. According to film critics, both in the mainstream and religious press, this is a rather unsensational conclusion to the legacy.

The film is set in the Pacific Northwest where a boy named Kenai finds himself transformed by "the Great Spirit" into a bear. Kenai hates bears. But as he gets to know his fuzzy peers, he learns a lot about bear life and comes to appreciate animal behavior. During his quest to regain his human status, he encounters a wide variety of creatures, and learns that the lives of human beings and animals are of equal value.


Michael Medved (Crosswalk) says the film's message includes "uncomfortably pagan, New Age elements—with its emphasis on the interchangeability and equal value of human and animal souls. Do we really want the kids in the audience … to learn that a beast's life carries at least as much significance and satisfaction as a person's? The movie's surprising twist at its conclusion even suggests the superiority of non-human forms of life—an outlook that owes far more to PETA than to the Pentateuch." And yet he concludes that the film "offers abundant appeal to the family audience."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The animation … is at times spectacular. The characters are also well defined and generate sufficient warmth and emotion. Where I found Brother Bear lacking was in the politically correct message woven into the story itself."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "While I appreciate a message of 'unity' in any movie for children … I resent the subliminal message that is in this movie. It confuses kids and perpetuates a belief that man is not superior to animals but that we are all just the same."

Bob Waliszewski (Plugged In) says, "Brother Bear is no Lion King or Monsters Inc. It's more like Jungle Book 2—easily forgotten and bearly worth the time."

Mainstream critics are only mildly entertained; few of them find Bear to be anything special. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) says, "It's ambitious in its artistry … but it doesn't have the zowie factor of The Lion King or Finding Nemo, and is sweet rather than exciting. Children and their parents are likely to relate on completely different levels, the adults connecting with the transfer of souls from man to beast, while the kids are excited by the adventure stuff."