Looking back at one of my childhood favourites.
Directed by: Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker
Produced by: Chuck Williams
Written by: Tab Murphy, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, Steve Bencich and Ron J. Friedman
Voice Talent: Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rock Moranis, Dave Thomas, Jason Raize and D.B Sweeney
Narration by: Harold Gould
Music by: Mark Mancina and Phil Collins
Synopsis: An Inuit boy named Kenai, eager to the recognised as a man, is transformed into a bear after killing a bear in a foolish and misinformed act of revenge for the death of his eldest brother Sitka. To become human again, he is sent by his tribe’s Shaman on a journey to the mountain where the light of the Spirits touch the earth. Along the way, he must learn to see through another’s eyes, feel through another’s heart, and discover the meaning of brotherhood. Luckily for Kenai, a small, upbeat, misplaced bear cub named Koda, might just be the perfect candidate to show him how.
I remember seeing Brother Bear at the cinema in my hometown at the age of 7 with my mum and older brother during the summer holidays. While I can’t recall much about the actual first viewing, I have a distinct feeling that my brother and I walked back out of the cinema with two very different opinions. He found it to be very boring. I on the other hand, couldn’t get enough of it!
As a kid, there was a part of me that really wanted to believe in the Spirits of the Earth, whether it was the Spirits of the Australian Dreamtime, or the manipulators of the Native American ethereal plane. So you can imagine why an animated film consisting of such a thing appealed to me as a viewer. There was something comforting about ‘knowing’ that there were beings all around me, protecting and guiding me through life’s trials and tribulations. Do I believe in all of that now? No, not really, but I can still remember that feeling of security, even wishing that it could come back to me as easily as it used to.
So, do I still hold the film to the same standards now in 2017 as I did back in 2003? Let’s take a closer look by starting with my favourite aspect of any Disney film:
While it wasn’t the first time I had heard any of his work, Brother Bear was the first time I had ever paid attention to Phil Collins as a songwriter and musician. Phil acts like a second narrator, telling the emotion of the story rather than simply giving exposition. The soundtrack for Brother Bear is awesome, with two songs in particular making it into my Top 20 Disney Songs list. The first of which is ‘On My Way’, a very upbeat travelling song that seems to promise nothing but great times ahead. It gives you that kind of optimism you want when starting a new adventure. I still have it on my iPod playlist for that very reason. The second song is ‘No Way Out’, a complete opposite of ‘On My Way’ on a scale of emotion. I consider this song to be a replacement for the typical Disney villain song, considering Kenai himself committed the murder. Instead of having the villain singing about what he has planned, you get a sorrowful, mislead, would-be-vengeful character who just wants to make everything right again.
More often than not, even if I have lost interest in a film, the soundtrack still has the potential to remain relevant and enjoyable. You can bet I’ll be singing about spending time with my fellow bears at the Salmon Run for a long time to come.
As a child, how efficiently a story was told never really mattered to me. As long as everything made sense, I was fine with a few inconsistencies and blunders, mainly due to the fact that I would never have recognised them in the first place. Brother Bear was always pleasant and easy enough to watch, with just enough depth to make a child think a little deeper about the world around them. Brother Bear seems to be for boys what Lilo and Stitch became for girls, a reminder that your brother/sister is someone you can learn from and depend on, even if they do get on your nerves most of the time. Denahi’s story arc reflects this just as much as Kenai’s, facing all the hardships that comes with trying to avenge a fallen brother despite thinking that Kenai had been killed as a result of doing just that.
And what about Koda’s place in Kenai’s journey to discovering how to be a man? Yes, Koda gives Kenai a chance to play big brother, but he also assists him in learning to become a well-adjusted and contributing member of society by learning to empathise with others. Understanding this wasn’t difficult as a child, but now I’m able to actually put into words what I was absorbing by watching these characters go through and battle against the motions.
Aside from the morals, there’s not much I can complain about when it comes to the telling of the story itself. The film is pretty well-paced, aside from one of two scenes that probably could have had a couple of seconds cut from them. The plot hits hard exactly where it needs to, such as Sitka’s death or Kenai revealing to Koda the truth about his mother’s death, and allows the audience have moments to cool down and process what is going on. The climax of the film is rather predictable, but still resolves everything in a way that pleases the audience because it simply seems the way it’s meant to be.
Brother Bear is one of Disney’s more underrated animated features. As a kid, I couldn’t grasp the reason why…and to be honest, I still don’t. There’s nothing in the storytelling that stands out as problematic, the animation is fantastic, the soundtrack is great and the characters give a freshly blunt take on the ‘kid who wants to be seen as a man’ trope. I don’t love it in quite the same way I used to, but you can bet I’ll be encouraging my younger relatives to give it a go.
As a Kid: 4 ½ Salmon Heads Out of 5
As an Adult: 3 ½ Salmon Heads Out of 5