All the talk about 2-D animation vs. Pixar and traditional hand-drawn vs. computer is rubbish to the n’th degree. It’s all just an accentuation with an exclamation point if you don’t have a good story. No one can look me in the eye and say that The Iron Giant is one of the best animated films in years because of its actual animation. The story and how its played out will always trump card its look. The pixels didn’t help the rather boring Titan A.E. and recent Disney “adventures” have suffered as well. So while everyone gushes over Finding Nemo, the “traditional” Disney is sneaking in this little gem of a film which does have the story AND the animation.Early on your retinas may be looking for an adjustment since the opening scenes have a kind of washed-out look. Colors are a bit drab as we meet young Native-American Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) who is about to go through his initiation into manhood. The tribe’s matriarch unwittingly embarrass him by presenting him with a bear totem (“the symbol of love”) that doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of a more manly symbol from his brothers. You’d figure a bear would be quite the symbol of strength, but boys will be boys and at least it’s not the tiki idol from The Brady Bunch.
Kenai is determined to show his courage though and embarks on a foolish quest that results in tragedy. After trying to rectify the situation through more violence, Kenai succeeds only to have the Great Spirits merge his own into that of a bear in a beautiful sequence of light and music. It’s here that the film not only bursts into energetic color palettes but also into widescreen, showing off the woods and Mother Earth in all their animated glory.
Lessons must be learned though, so the traditional Disney journey takes over with the regular accompaniments. Kenai meets bear cub Koda (Jeremy Suarez) who became separated from his mother and now takes over as his guide to “the mountain where the light touches the earth” so he may be transformed back.
Kenai’s other companions are certainly the most entertaining and will come as a welcome surprise to anyone who has been anxiously awaiting that Strange Brew sequel for 20 years. They may not be called Bob & Doug MacKenzie (Rutt & Tuke actually) but Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas pull out everything but the Great White North map to provide the extensive comic relief. They never quite go as far as “hoser” and “knob”, but try to restrain your applause when you hear “trample off, eh!” Beauty.
Brother Bear also marks a return for Phil Collins back to the Disney soundtrack scene. His diddys this time around (one performed by Tina Turner) can’t quite match the wonderful melodies he brought to Tarzan, but they’re fine just the same and his closing credits number (“Look Through My Eyes”) seems destined for at least a nomination.How much more convincing does one need, frankly? Disney, good story, solid animation, catchy songs, a beautiful score by Mark Mancina and big laughs to not bore the adults. Sounds like the perfect definition of a family film to me. I enjoyed all of it, even taken aback by a nifty late plot twist that moved me to an extent that I missed while watching Finding Nemo. Hold the strait jacket, Nemo is still better, but as cousin status goes with films, Brother Bear is certainly no black sheep in the world of animated films.