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Kenai points out to Koda which wooly
mammoths forgot to put their diapers on,
before they walked above them in the sky.

Brother Bear
Review written by: Alex Sandell

It's ironic that it's only been about 8 or 9 years since Walt Disney's traditionally animated films were the king of the box office world, but that the target audience for Disney's newest classic, Brother Bear, hasn't even been alive for that long.  It's even more ironic that a company that Disney has worked closely with over the past decade -- Pixar -- stole the animation crown from them faster than you can say, "Hakuna Matata."  But, with Brother Bear, Disney shows that it's definitely not going down without a fight.  This is quite easily the best traditional Walt Disney animated film since 1994's The Lion King.  I also suspect it's going to show that, when a quality 2-D animated film is made, the audience will come out in spades. 

In some ways, Brother Bear is actually better than the now infamous Lion King.  It takes more chances by diverging from the Disney formula; whereas The Lion King followed said formula to a "T" (the movie was essentially a remake of Bambi).  In all fairness, The Lion King had better songs (I wish Disney would get over their pop "rock" Phil Collins' fetish, and go back to the musical style of films such as Beauty and the Beast).  The Lion King had better developed characters.  While Pumbaa and Timon were quite obviously comic relief, they moved the picture forward.  The comic relief in Brother Bear is there for no reason, other than to provide comic relief. 

But where Brother Bear buries The Lion King is in its soft subtlety.  Like classic Walt Disney films such as Bambi and Lady and the Tramp, there is no actual bad guy.  There's simply one animal misunderstanding the intentions of another.  I found the lack of a nefarious nasty to be incredibly refreshing.  The film obviously didn't need a cookie cutter villain.  It's incredibly entertaining and goes by so fast that you can't believe your watch when the film comes to a close. 

Brother Bear is a spiritual story that's more poetry than poetic justice.  The majority of the film centers on Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) and Koda (Jeremy Suarez).  Kenai is a "teenage" bear, and Koda is a bear cub, who's lost his mother.  The twist involved is that Kenai wasn't a bear to begin with.  He was human.  His deceased brother, Sitka (D.B. Sweeney) now a spirit living in the sumptuously animated Northern Lights, decided that it was in Kenai's best interest to become a bear.  And it was in the best interest of Koda to have an older brother.  A brother bear.  Hey, it could happen. 

At the same time, Kenai's living brother, Denahi (Jason Raize) is hunting down both Keina and Koda, in an attempt to seek vengeance for his lost brothers.  He knows Sitka was killed by a bear, and assumes that Keina suffered the same fate.  Keina can't explain the situation to Denahi, being that Denahi doesn't "speak bear" (but he could give Pocahontas a run for her money with his usage of the English language).  So one brother is hunting down a bear which is actually a brother, and the brother being hunted is busy learning how to be a brother to a bear.  There's no giant evil squid in the picture.  There's no nasty uncle wanting to take over a kingdom.  There's not even a pair of mischievous Siamese Cats, singing a racially insensitive ditty as they wreak havoc on a suburban home.  Kenai is immature and irresponsible and his brother is misguided, but neither one thinks that what he's doing is actually bad. 

There's some genuine magic going on in this movie.  The animation, which I cannot praise enough, proves that 2-D can be just as beautiful and full of life as all of that animated stuff being programmed into a computer.  The movie is breathtaking, from start to finish.  More impressive than the animation, is the screenplay.  Animation is nothing without a good story to back it up.  Brother Bear will pull at the heart strings of anyone who has ever had a brother, mother, father or friend.  It would be impossibly hard not to leave the theater with a goofy sense of childlike joy. 

By the end of the film, you'll be crying those life-affirming tears that Disney, when it's on - and with Brother Bear, it is definitely on -- is so good at making people cry.  I have to commend Disney for taking a risk by not sticking strictly to formula.  Although all of the trademarked and patented Disney "moments" are here, the last five or ten minutes of the film are entirely new for the company that Walt built. 

Brother Bear breathes a fresh sense of life back into hand-drawn animation.  It brings back the animated magic that's been missing for nearly a decade.  If Disney can keep this up, 3-D films will no longer be a threat to traditional animation.  I pray that the rumors of Disney giving up on traditional animation to move entirely into 3-D don't hold any weight.  But if this is the last hand drawn film Disney releases, they're going out with a wondrous bang, after almost ten years of sliding by on a handful of mediocre fizzles.   

On a scale of 1-10?

8 (it would easily be worthy of a "9," if it wasn't for those annoying Phil Collins' songs)

What does this rating mean?  Everyone rates things differently.  Your "5" could be my "7," or vice-versa.  Find out what MY rating means by clicking here

Agree? Disagree? Feeling bored and wanna write a letter that you'll probably never get a response to?  Email me at alex@juicycerebellum.com 

Coming soon -- Reviews of Elf and Master and Commander!

Other recent film reviews on THE JUICY CEREBELLUM (click on a film's title to go to its review):

Elf

The Matrix Revolutions

In the Cut

Scary Movie 3

Pieces of April

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

House of the Dead

Kill Bill

Mystic River

The Rundown

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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].