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|Kevin Krock, editor|
In what seemed like a particularly rapid theater-to-DVD transition, Disney's supposedly penultimate traditionally animated theatrical release hit store shelves only about five months after its theatrical debut. MousePlanet's Alex Stroup reviewed the movie when it was released, and his review can be found here. I agree that the movie is a decent family flick, especially for boys under 10 years old. Unfortunately, even though the movie features beautiful visuals and well-crafted animation, I think it ultimately falls only into the enjoyable rather than the memorable category.
The movie is essentially a story of the bond between brothers and humankind's bond with nature, as shown through the perspective changes experienced when Kenai, the main character, walks in another's footsteps. While touching on a number of serious topics early in the movie and at the end, some spots in-between are indeed lighthearted and humorous. There were a few times, though, where I found myself struggling to explain some of the screen action to my 5-year-old, such as why the oldest brother did what he did to save his younger brothers, what happened to the mother bear, why the people lived in a cave, and a couple others. Fortunately, at home this discourse was much easier than it would have been in the theater.
By and large, the movie, highlighted by lush visuals and animation, is respectable and has a reasonably strong and worthwhile message about brotherhood, family, love, and respect. Its main fault seems to be that, due to story challenges encountered during production, the homogenized end product is rather formulaic for adults. However, besides the rather intense opening scenes, as Alex mentioned, my young boys enjoy the movie.
Even though Disney has waffled a bit over the last couple years about collector's editions, the one sure thing is that when they do release one, it is going to be pretty good. Brother Bear is no exception, and this two-disc set has a nice selection of bonus material that should keep everyone in the family entertained after the movie is over. Here are a few of my family's favorites:
RUTT & TUKE'S COMMENTARY
Essentially reprising their roles as slow-witted brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie from Second City TV (SCTV), albeit as the moose brothers Rutt and Tuke, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas provide a full-length commentary on the film. While Rutt and Tuke do not really have much of a role in the movie outside of comedy relief, they are perfectly suited to life as commentators. Particularly funny for those who enjoy their style of humorous banter, the two throw in all sorts of contemporary reference points and jokes that make the commentary a lot of fun to listen to.
The visual aspect of the commentary provides an animated silhouette of the two moose, which is actually not terribly distracting. For example, one scene has one of them offering popcorn to the other across the middle of the screen. Those of you familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) know the drill. It is a cute addition to the commentary, and I would recommend watching it while you listen to the commentary.
This brief featurette takes a look at some of the intentionally designed and animated outtakes from the film. A few of them are kind of cute, but most are pretty typical outtake fodder with animated characters in them. This seemed to work better with my boys than me.
BONE PUZZLE SET-TOP GAME
My boys enjoyed playing this set-top game, and it is definitely designed for young children. The object is to look at one of 10 paw prints and try to piece together the bones in the right places. When that is done, you need to figure out which animal it belongs to, and if you get it right, then you get snippets of video animal facts.
This 10-minute featurette presents Robh Ruppel and Byron Howard discussing the art and development behind many of the characters and environments in the movie. The featurette is done mostly with still art and photographs presented on the screen, while Ruppel and Howard talk about them from off-screen. I always enjoy learning about the artistic development process and watching how artists take real-life inspirations and turn them into the art we see on screen.
MAKING NOISE: THE ART OF FOLEY
In this brief featurette, Jeremy Suarez, the voice of Koda, tours you around one of Disney's sound stages and shows you how foley artists add sound effects to movies. This is mostly targeted at younger viewers, but it does a good job of covering the process for all ages. My boys enjoyed it, and the older one compared it to the similar Pixar studio tour provided by Alexander Gould, the voice of Nemo, on the Finding Nemo DVD.
PATHS OF DISCOVERY: THE MAKING OF BROTHER BEAR
This enjoyable 45-minute featurette covers just about every aspect of the production process for Brother Bear. It is particularly interesting to hear how the story idea originated, and see how the producers and artists eventually arrived at the final designs for the film. Also included is a significant section on the songwriting process and how Phil Collins came up with the plan for both the score and musical numbers. It is well worth watching.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
All around, with respect to the video, audio, and interface, this set is fantastic. The incredibly saturated and varied colors in the film are wonderfully reproduced by both of the anamorphic, direct-from-digital video transfers. The main difference between the two transfers is that the 2.35:1 transfer better represents the scope of the vast wilderness the director and artists were presenting. Additionally, there is also a somewhat subtle but noticeable shift in the movie's aspect ratio between when Kenai is human and when he is a bear, which emphasizes the story's change in perspective. This change is not apparent in the family-friendly widescreen version, and those who only watch Disc 1 will miss out on a nice touch that adds a bit more impact to the visual aspect of the story.
There is not much to say about the audio and interface except that they perfectly compliment the movie and DVD, and they will sound and interact very nicely on any home system. I will say, though, that the stirring musical accompaniment by Phil Collins and Mark Mancina sounds particularly good throughout the movie, but the great song Welcome, performed by The Blind Boys of Alabama and Phil Collins with Oren Waters, just shines and surrounds you with all the warmth it was intended to impart. It is a great presentation package and one that continues Disney's commitment to presenting its movies in the home in the best fashion possible.
The Final Evaluation
While some folks may not completely enjoy the movie for one reason or another, I found it to be beautifully animated and a reasonably engaging story. The DVD perfectly presents the movie, and it will look and sound good on any home theater. The goodies are sufficient enough to keep most families busy for a while after watching the movie, and if you enjoy the comedy of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, then you must listen to the Rutt and Tuke commentary. If you are on the fence about buying the disc, it is well worth the rental to watch the movie and bonus material. For those who really enjoy the movie and can imagine their families watching this more than once, the DVD is worth considering if you pick it up at your local discount store.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Kevin here.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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