Disney unveils its newest animated
Thursday, October 30, 2003
by Alex Stroup, staff writer
There's a great weight of expectation sitting on the shoulders of
For fans of traditionally animated movies, the great hope must be that
Brother Bear do very well indeed. For that may be the only chance
to reverse the current trend by Disney of moving away from such films,
circling instead into the whirlpool of computer animation and the perceived
wealth to be found there.
If Brother Bear doesn't do boffo box office, then the success
of last year's Lilo & Stitch will certainly be forgotten and another
nail will have been driven into the coffin. Many will cry that the method
of animation doesn't matter, it is the story that drives the box office.
And critics will respond that this is exactly right, that for most of
the last decade, Disney's Feature Animation has mostly been churning out
formula films and relying on Pixar to keep the appearance of Disney creativity
aliveand if Disney can't do it well, maybe it should leave the arena
for a while.
So, there's a lot on the line this weekend. And Disney probably hasn't
helped anything by shaving a day off its opening weekend to avoid competing
Just like in the real world, Brother Bear's Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix)
is under the strain of great expectations. Except he is the source of
them. As a young adult in an Ice Age Indian tribe, he is struggling towards
adulthood, both ignorant of what that means, and certain he has it all
figured out. But of course he doesn't, and quickly his lingering childishness
leads to disaster, including the death of a bear.
©Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. All rights reserved.
The spirits that this tribe hold dear inhabit the aurora borealis, and
after Kenai wrongfully kills this bear, they decide that it is time to
straighten him out. In such situations, gods and spirits never just appear
before you and say, Yo, that was lame. No, they have to get
all ironic and allegorical. Thus, Kenai finds himself turned into a bear,
suddenly able to communicate with the other forest creatures. Unfortunately,
he can no longer communicate with people, and his brother Denahi (Jason
Raize) thinks Kenai has been killed by a bear. Just try and guess on which
bear Denahi vows revenge.
The Disney Formula for Boys is starting to fall into place,
and soon enough the cute sidekick, a young cub name Koda (Jeremy Suarez)
is on hand to round out the picture. And as if the sidekick weren't enough
comic relief, we are soon assaulted by the comic stylings of two stupid
mooses (Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis, doing their Bob and Doug Mackenzie
act from 25 years ago). Actually, they're just fine, except that they
have absolutely no role in the movie. They just wander in and out of scenes
saying funny things.
This isn't the only sign that the film might have needed a surer hand
at the helm than first-time directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker.
More confident directors might have reserved Bob and Doug for a few relevant
scenes and then shuttled them off to the closing credits. Blaise and Walker
also allowed the strange decision to use a very realistic animation style
for the bear that is killed, and then throw us into a more cartoony world
for every other bear in the movie.
But the worst decision of all was in bringing Phil Collins back for an
encore to his Tarzan soundtrack. Now, in my view, Collins almost
ruined Tarzannot so much because the music was bad, but it
all seemed to be exactly the same. This time, it is the other way around.
There are three musical montagesway too many for an 85-minute movieand
they are all identifiably unique. And they are all identifiably terrible,
reaching a peak when a particuarly glurgy song is combined with the most ridiculous montage of a pastoral community
of bears at a salmon run. The sappiness in those three minutes almost forced
me to avert my eyes and cover my ears.
©Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. All rights reserved.
Brother Bear isn't a bad movie. In the recent trend of trying
to attract young boys, it is about on par with Treasure Planet,
and better than Atlantis (though nowhere near the quality of The
Emperor's New Groove). But it is saddled with a distinct schizophrenic
feel as it starts with a pretty good (and somewhat intense for the younger
children) dramatic tone. Once Kenai has been transformed, though, it shifts
almost completely over to slapstick, except for the occasional appearance
of Denahi trying to kill Kenai.
In the final analysis, I just don't see this movie bearing (absolutely
intended, but the only one in the whole review) the strain of its expectations.
It is a competent effortand we don't want competent from Disney.
Brother Bear contains all the elements that have made for success
in the past, but doesn't do anything original with them.
While it is doubtful that Disney will ever entirely abandon hand-drawn
feature animation completely (even if it is mostly coming out of the TV
animation division), maybe it is time for Disney to pull back from feature
animation altogether until a creative core can be rediscovered. It wouldn't
be the first time: Disney once went 22 years between creating an animated
classic (Jungle Book in 1967 until The Little Mermaid in
1989), and during those 22 years they only produced eight feature-length
animated films. Compare that to the 16 films created since 1989 and it
is little wonder that the creative batteries are running low.
Brother Bear is perfectly good entertainment, though, for the
under-10 crowd, and would probably make a very good family trip to the
theater this weekend (unless they're still on a sugar high from Halloween).
Watch out, though, for the Home on the Range trailer. It contains
what may be the first boob joke in the history of Feature Animation.
Brother Bear is a Walt Disney Pictures release
Wide theatrical release: Nov 1, 2003
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker.
Screenplay by too many people
Running time: 85 minutes
Alex's Rating: 5 out of 10
Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted information junkie, Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.
Click here to contact Alex.