Brother Bear (2003)

Brother Bear Poster 2

I grew up during the 2000’s era of Disney, the time when Disney tried to move away from the tired Renaissance formula with a series of surreal, experimental films, and while I liked some of them, “Brother Bear” was the only one to have a real impact on me. Michael Eisner’s attempts to make a “boy’s movie” finally paid off, but not without a few drawbacks. I’ve read all the negative reviews for “Brother Bear”, and I don’t deny the movie has it’s flaws, like a foreseeable plot point or the rather odd structure the film has. The first act is essentially twenty-three minutes of well done set-up, and the story really begins on Kenai’s first day as a bear, swapping the human world and the human cast for an animal’s perspective. The majority of “Brother Bear” is, for better or for worse, a completely different movie, and how you feel about it really does boil down to how much you like Kenai and Koda (and perhaps Rutt and Tuke). Luckily, I like them. I like them a lot.

Transformation

After his eldest brother is killed in a lethal bear attack, main character Kenai slays the beast for revenge and is turned into an animal, so he can walk a mile in a bear’s shoes. For the first half of the film, Kenai is a macho, immature, short-tempered (but fun-loving) dick who’s not that fond of our fellow omnivores, bears; but through a spiritual journey, he starts to broaden his perspective, move past his brother’s passing, and in time mature (not to mention, lighten up). It all feels natural for the kind of guy he is and I found myself very invested in his arc; partly because this movie can get damn intense. Interestingly enough, although there’s no real ‘villain’ in “Brother Bear”, one could easily argue Kenai is the real antagonist of this movie, since he causes the entire plot to happen. Even his increasingly mad-with-grief brother trying to kill him and Koda throughout the movie is itself a consequence of his actions. Indeed, Kenai’s discovery that he’s dug himself into a hole and hurt everyone closest to him (indirectly causing Sitka’s death, making Koda an orphan, planting the seeds for Denahi’s madness), with nary a thing he can now to do to fix it is what sets him apart as a protagonist – few Disney characters hit that low a point. And in a nice inverse of the usual liar-revealed plot, Kenai chooses to tell Koda everything about him, because his young friend deserves to know the truth about his mother. In the end, he redeems himself with an ending that’s not only the perfect fit but also the very antithesis of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Like Kathjohns619 said in her thoughts on the film, for such a dark movie, the final message of “Brother Bear” is quite optimistic.

Kenai and Koda 2

Jeremy Suarez has impeccable comic timing as Koda. Right from the off, when he’s beating our lead with a stick, he’s hilarious (“It’s no use. The only way to get down is to chew your own foot off.”). I think the thing I like the most about our rather lonely, talkative bear cub is not just the chipper presence he has in the film, but how plainspoken he is. He’s the type to tell it how it is, and that’s exactly the sort of friend Kenai needs (if not the one he wants at first) and in time, Kenai warms to the cub and starts to treat him much the way I imagine his brothers treated him when he was young. In fact, the budding friendship between Kenai and Koda is the reason why “Brother Bear” resonated with me for over a decade when other Post-Renaissance films didn’t. It’s funny, it’s sweet, and at the time, I had never seen anything like it before in a Disney movie. Sibling love, conventional or otherwise, is something Disney’s begun to explore in depth since the new millennium, in films like “Lilo and Stitch”, “Brother Bear”, “Wreck It Ralph”, “Big Hero 6” and “Frozen“, and I have to say, I love this trend. Because I adore the bond that forms between our two leads, smallish bear and his adoptive big bro, the last act is one of the saddest and most touching things I’ve seen from Disney. In a rather painful parallel to Kenai conquering his fear of bears and learning the world isn’t as simple as he thought, poor Koda discovers his traveling buddy is really one of the big bad hunters he fears and has cost him dearly. He’s forced to see him as either a heartless killer or a friend who fucked up, and when the time comes he spares him the fate of being gutted by his brother (one many wouldn’t begrudge him of) because he doesn’t want to lose anyone else close to him (also because he’s a badass).

McKenzie moose, Rutt and Tuke, strike a nice balance between being affable and being self-involved. They’re quite funny, they tie into the movie’s theme of brotherhood, and they help to move the plot forward, but I’d be lying if I said the wandering pair of easy-going, obtuse moose couldn’t feel a bit superflous in the grand scheme of things. In regards to Kenai’s siblings, I think it’s a nice touch that Sitka manages to influence the plot even after death. Despite caring for them deeply, after blood has been spilt Sitka decides to show his bros some tough love and let the pair fight it out for much of the movie so they can grow from the experience, which gives this benevolent character a stern edge and the film another interesting element that pays off at the end.

Denahi

Wilderness of danger and beauty.

From Kenai’s transformation onwards, “Brother Bear” has a rich, warm, earthy color palette that’s suitably picturesque and quite soothing for a wilderness film (complete with shimmering auroras). It’s also around the salmon run scenes that I start to realize how much I like the film’s sense of humor (“Quit telling everyone I’m dead!”). Phil Collins, Tina Turner, and the Blind Boys Of Alabama provide the songs for the movie, and they’re very effective for the most part; oftentimes powerful. Collins singing with Kenai and Koda’s inner voices works well for “On My Way” and “Welcome”, but not as much for “No Way Out”, which, for a bit, makes Kenai’s confession feel like a Phil Collins music video. In addition to the songs, Collins and Mark Mancina compose a primal, percussion-laden score for the film with stirring, woodwind renditions of “No Way Out”, “On My Way”, and “Look Through My Eyes” cropping up from time to time, marking the characters’ progress. The final and strongest song of the lot, “Look Through My Eyes”, manages to cap off the film’s message with the same sort of warmth I described earlier.

So if “Brother Bear” is one of Disney’s more divisive movies, then I proudly fall in the camp of one of it’s defenders. And after all these years, I’m glad that the concept of bears and brotherhood lives on in “We Bare Bears“.

We Bare Bears

As you can see, I had fun with this entry.

Side Notes:

Rutt and Tuke

* Bambi, Bambi’s mom and Lilo all make cameos early on.

* “I don’t blame the bear, Kenai!” Oh damn, son!

* “That bear… over there… he’s crazy…” “I am not CRAZY!” “Wha- whoever said you were?”

* “You swear?” “Yeah“.

* “Are you sure your mom didn’t ditch you, Kod-duh?” Oh wow, Kenai and Koda must just look back on that memory and cringe.

* I never knew I wanted to see bears riding mammoths until this movie.

* “Oh, it counts” “No, it-” ‘It counts!” “Fine”.

* “Enough with the stories, I don’t care about the time you and Binky found like, ‘the world’s biggest pine cone ever!'” “Okay, first, his name’s Bucky, not ‘Binky’. Second, it wasn’t a pine cone, it was a pine nut, and it was huge, even bigger than your fat head!”

* Denahi screeching ‘NO!’ is unintentionally hilarious.

* Kenai’s screams of terror. Bless.

* “This has to be the most beautiful, the most peaceful place I’ve ever been to, it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before. When I think of how far I’ve come I can’t believe it, yet I see it. In them I see family, I see the way we used to be!”

* “I told you, woman, I’m right here!”

* “Sorry, you’ve been replaced by my dear brother… oh gee, I forgot your name. What’s your name, little bear?”

* Bear hugs are even sweeter with actual bears.

* Bear-fu and moose yoga.

* “All the things that you can change, there’s a meaning in everything, and you will find all you need, there’s so much understand!”

* Y’know, there might actually be an in-universe explanation for why “Brother Bear” is a goofier film whenever Denahi’s not around. He’s telling this story, including the parts he couldn’t possibly know because he wasn’t there and his brothers never told him anything (one of them was dead and the other one was busy). He would have had to have filled in some blanks, including what he imagined the animal kingdom to be like. For all we know, the old man has been bullshitting us the whole time.

* Nicely played, Pixar.

Further Reading:

Fanart:

Happy Ending

Fanfics:

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One Response to Brother Bear (2003)

  1. Pingback: Lady and the Tramp (1955) | The Cool Kat's Reviews

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