In the unspoiled American Northwest back when the great mammoths roamed, lived three brothers. Kenai (voice of Joaquin Phoenix) the youngest, is about to receive his totem – a symbol revealed by the Great Spirits to help guide him through life. When he is presented with a carved bear – the symbol of love – he is deeply disappointed, having hoped for something like the eagle totem (representing guidance) or the wolf totem (for wisdom) given to his brothers. Then Kenai discovers a bear has stolen his fish basket, pursues him, and finds himself in trouble. His brothers come to his rescue but it ends in tragedy. Against the village teachings of brotherhood, Kenai kills the bear and the Great Spirits transform him into the creature he most despises – the bear.
Review by Louise Keller:
A delightful story with mystical elements, Brother Bear is a sweet family film about love and tolerance. The story finds its origins in the annals of North American mythology, when legend has it that men could be turned into animals, and that animals were simply men wearing different clothing. The interaction between these worlds and that of the Great Spirits who keep watch, is beautifully integrated in this animated fable whose colourful characters include bears, big horn rams, chipmunks, moose and mammoths.
And who better to write and perform the music and songs that take us to the idyllic water settings, flower-strewn pastures and rock cliff-faces, than Phil Collins. Music is indeed an important character in the film, and before long, you will be humming the six songs Collins has penned, in both your mind and your heart. Just as he did with the songs for Tarzan, Collins brings together haunting melodies, marrying them with relevant and moving lyrics.
Visually innovative, the film’s aspect ratio changes from the standard 1.85:1 to the widescreen 2.35:1 format when Kenai sees his reflection in the lake and realises to his horror that he has turned into a bear. From dull, dark colours to the sparkling, brightness of a colour palette that could have come straight from Monet’s garden, we are immediately transported to a wonderland utopia where the grass is greener, the flower petals brighter and waterfalls cascade like glaciers into torrents. With its implied brushstrokes reminiscent of a romantic painting, the animation which includes 3D elements, is both distinctive and impressive.
But most important are the characters – and what colourful characters they are, from the lovable baby bear Koda, to the big horn rams, chipmunks and mammoths. A terrific voice cast, headed by Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai, includes Rick Moranis and the booming voice of Michael Duncan Clark. The script is witty and there are some priceless moments from the hammy moose duo, whose attempts at playing ‘I Spy’ are so ridiculous, you will laugh despite yourself. Likewise their attempt at morning stretching exercises. There’s another delightful, idyllic sequence when the bear family are catching fish midriff-deep in water exchanging stories of the good times.
It’s a satisfying well-told story, and we can easily relate to Kenai’s dilemma, as he faces the greatest decision of his life. Seeing life from a new perspective, he learns the true meaning of love and belonging. Brother Bear is both moving and engaging and will happily keep everyone in the family entertained. (Stick around for the end credits for some surprises.)
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BROTHER BEAR (G)
VOICES: Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, D.B. Sweeney, Jason Raize, Michael Clarke Duncan
PRODUCER: Chuck Williams
DIRECTOR: Aaron Blaise, Bob Walker
SCRIPT: Tab Murphy, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman
EDITOR: not credited
MUSIC: Phil Collins, Mark Mancina
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen J. Anderson (story supervisor), Kirk Bodyfelt (artistic co-ordinator)
RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: June 30, 2004