Someone needs to get back to the bear necessities...
It's easy to forget that amongst all the farming out to first party susidiaries, Disney do still occasionally make their own animated features. For every Finding Nemo there is still a Lilo and Stitch. The problem is, with the emphasis on CG cowboys and fish these days, Mousedom's own brand output is beginning to look like Tesco's Value range. Step forward Brother Bear an amiable enough little film using Disney Movie Plot #4 (AKA 'The Trials of Becoming a Man'), this time wrapping it around the tale of some neanderthals chasing bears about the woods.
Joaquin Phoenix provides the voice for Kenai (pronounced Keen-eye), impulsive younger brother of Denahi (Jason Raize) and Sitka (D.B. Sweeney). Charged by the village elder with the task of performing an act of love in order to fulfil his transition to manhood, Kenai instead decides it'd be a much better idea to chase after a bear which has stolen some fish he hadn't properly secured out of reach earlier in the film. The chase leads to a showdown with a decidedly miffed Big Mamma Bear, during which Sitka selflessly gives his life in order to save his two younger siblings. If Kenai wanted the bear's ass on a plate before, he's certainly kicking fanny and taking names now, and lo he smites the snarling beast atop a pinnacle of rock before the very gods who decreed his should be a path of love.
Undoubtedly miffed by these shenanigans, said gods, and in particular the spirit of Sitka, take it upon themselves to transform Kenai into a bear of all things. The claw now very much on the other paw, Kenai finds himself harassed by an annoying young orphaned bear whom he can't get rid of and an understandably peeved Denahi who thinks he's now lost both brothers to the bear Kenai has become. Doh! The only way to rid himself of this blessing disguised as a curse (there I've gone and given away the epiphany, silly me...) is to travel to the place where the earth meets the sky and have the gods change him back again. Much mix'n'match Disney japery ensues amidst the antics of a young man coming to terms with the nature of his 'enemy', learning to accept his new little brother, suffering the wisecracking of two comedy sidekicks and generally ambling along to the strains of several new songs by...well, Phil Collins.
For the most part, Brother Bear represents pretty much bog standard Disney fare. There's an intrinsically weighty and clich?d moral message at the centre, surrounded by a fluffy outer coating of witty repartee and all wrapped up in a crispy outer shell of song and dance. You've seen it a million times before, you probably liked it a million times before, and you're probably going to like it a million times more. If there's one thing Disney does do well these days it's dodging the old supposition that familiarity breeds contempt. Indeed Brother Bear is no more guilty of shabby plotting and cheesey sentimentality than any of Pixar's recent rasterized opuses, it's just that with the bar of presentation value having been raised so substantially lately, old Walt's successors are churning out images that look as second-rate compared to the best on the market now as Don Bluth's efforts did compared to the Disney of the 80s and 90s.
Consider also the fact that kids today are looking for a much more sophisticated kind of humour and the target demographic for this movie is essentially half the age it might have been a decade ago. Of course I'm not suggesting that kiddies of five and six don't deserve a movie of their own, simply that one gets the feeling Disney hadn't realised they were aiming too high. For all the pressure I'm laying on here, I do have to confess that I did actually enjoy Brother Bear for the nai?ve little morality tale it is. The voice acting from Phoenix and co is as accomplished as you'd expect, and in particular young Jeremy Suarez isn't half as annoying as you'd expect him to be as bear cub Koda. On the down side the comic sparring of comedy moose duo Rutt and Tuke (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas respectively) does begin to grate a little, not so much from the quality of humour as the overuse of 'comedic' Canadian accents. Hearing the word 'aye' bolted onto the end of every sentence is funny for oooh...3 seconds?
I would also have to admit to being ever so slightly moved on occasion. As blatantly signposted as it is, the revelation that Koda's mother was in fact the bear Kenai killed earlier in the movie still manages to raise an almost-sniffle as the poor little sod continually harps on about how pretty soon his mom will be back having bravely fought the human monsters into submission. In fact the last time I felt quite so bad for an animated figment of imagination was during Jesse's recollection of her abandonment to the haunting strains of 'When Somebody Loved Me' during Toy Story 2.
At the end of the day I'm perhaps not the best person to be judging this particular movie, as despite being home to an extremely childish sense of humour (in fact maybe too childish now that I think about it) I find the 20 year age gap between me and most of the audience to be a little too much of a barrier between this kind of film and my appreciation of it. If I were to judge it solely on the reaction of the kiddy-winkles around me I'd no doubt be raving about it. Certainly the young girl in the row behind was giggling enough to imply that younger types might well lap this up, and ultimately that's the point of the whole exercise.
What's disappointing about Brother Bear is not so much the content or the enjoyment it delivers but the nagging sensation that the once great Disney is being laid to waste by competition both foreign and domestic, when in reality there is room for all to thrive. The sheer M.O.R. mediocrity of it all rings out like a nail in the coffin of a once-ingenious body of wit and imagination. If only someone would remind the suits at Mouse House to ring up the quality control department and make sure they're still actually breathing, maybe Mickey could pull himself out of this rut. Driftwood like this can only keep Disney afloat for so long.
Disko has awarded this movie 3 out of 5 Fab Weasels.
Jeremy Suarez (Koda)
Jason Raize (Denahi)
Rick Moranis (Rutt)
Dave Thomas (Tuke)
D.B. Sweeney (Sitka)