Disney’s DTV sequels really started to improve towards the end of their existence. Not enough to rehabilitate the bad reputation that they had quite rightly earned by that point, but enough that the last couple of ones were surprisingly enjoyable, on par with the “Aladdin” sequels (I wouldn’t have minded if the one planned for “Oliver And Company” had had the opportunity to be produced before the line was discontinued). “Cinderella III: A Twist In Time” has had plenty of good word-of-mouth, and I’ve already talked about “Bambi II“, so today I’ll discuss the one for “Brother Bear“.
Here’s a quick observation about Disney: they like telling stories about magic and royalty and they really don’t like their protagonists to be single. In fact, if a Disney protagonist is not in a relationship by the end of their movie, the studio will probably make a sequel just to pair them off with someone (which definitely gives the “Frozen” shippers hope about the chances of Elsa being paired off with someone eventually). “Brother Bear 2” is one of the better examples of sequel shipping (“The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2” was one of the worst). Something I appreciate about this movie is how low the stakes are compared to the original film, especially since it would never have had a chance in matching them. In “Brother Bear”, Kenai and Koda had to deal with someone or something trying to kill them roughly every fifteen minutes. In this film, the danger and drama and near-death experiences are present but they don’t really start to ramp up until the last act. The bulk of the film is just five friends on the road, goofing off and bonding with each other. So it’s fluff but it’s really fun fluff, and it allows us the chance to explore these individual friendships and see how Kenai, Koda, Rutt and Tuke have grown as people since we met them in the original film. The heart that endeared me to the original “Brother Bear” is still present as well and it really shines through in the last act, as Kenai, Koda and Nita are faced with some difficult and permanent choices that they’re going to have to make.
I’m really satisfied with the way Kenai is characterized in this movie. It’s always a difficult line to walk in a sequel, showing that someone has become a better person without making them a different person entirely, but Kenai is still recognizably Kenai (even with a different voice actor). He can be brash and selfish at times, he still fancies himself as more of a manly man than he actually is, and he can still screw up (like the incident at the beaver dam, or how he unwittingly makes Koda feel excluded). But whenever he makes mistakes, he always takes responsibility for them and does whatever he can to fix them without haste, which is a far cry from the last film, where he was quick to pass the buck and didn’t own up to his failings until the last act. By this point, Kenai has grown into his new life as a bear and has become more confident, laidback and fun-loving as a result, feeling as comfortable in the animal kingdom as he did back in his old village. Kenai has fully embraced his role as a responsible, older sibling to Koda with a warm heart: protecting him, providing for him and occasionally acting as a parental figure to him. He’s become more friendly with Rutt and Tuke, offering to help them out with their love problems. He tries to take other people’s feelings into account more often, like the gentle understanding he shows Nita when he realizes she has aquaphobia and tries to help her face it, or the way he consoles Koda about his fears. He’s fully committed to his decision to stick with Koda; as much as it makes him sad, he’s willing to pass up a chance to be with the girl he loves to honor it. And when he nearly gets himself killed saving Koda from hunters, it’s very clear that he considers it to have been worth it because he kept Koda safe.
Over the course of two movies, we’ve watched Kenai grow up from a bratty, hotheaded teenager to a loving and respectable young man and older brother (having earned that bear of love totem of his), and its been a very satisfying and at times moving journey to watch. We get to see Nita bring out a different side of Kenai as well throughout the movie: lovesick, nostalgic Kenai. Nita is an old childhood friend that Kenai still has a crush on in the present, so she can frustrate and annoy him, but he also tries to impress her in his own blokish way. The pair of them tease each other and have fun with each other, making up for lost time. And eventually, he starts to have deeper feelings of care for her, helping her work through a deep-seated fear of water that she gained when she almost drowned as a girl. Even beyond the love aspect, it’s clearly good and healthy for the former-human-turned-bear to reconnect with an old friend and have a strong bond with someone from his background, in addition to all the new friendships he has with forest critters like Koda, Tug, Rutt and Tuke. At the end of the film, Nita elects to become a bear as well, so they can officially become mates. Interestingly, we also see two brief flashes of Kenai’s ruthless side under duress. He straight up charges Nita to protect Koda before he recognizes her, and it’s implied his life or death struggle with Atka was heading towards a very dangerous place once Atka pushed him far enough, before Nita snapped him out of it. They’re easy-to-miss details, but they’re another good bit of character continuity; a reminder that Kenai is a nice guy now, but he’s also a former hunter and he does have it in him to kill.
While Koda served as Kenai’s plucky bear cub guide in the original film, he slots rather neatly into the role of kid sidekick in this film. Koda has grown a year older, but he’s still a nice, lovable kid. He’s easily excitable, friendly to others, chatty to a fault, and often mischievous. Endlessly curious, he loves to seek out adventure, have new experiences and make new friends, so he’s quick to strike up a rapport with Nita when she joins him and Kenai for the week. Kenai and Koda’s unlikely friendship that gradually morphed into a sibling bond was the heart and soul of the original film, and to my delight it’s still adorable here, arguably even more so since they’ve only grown closer over a year. Koda winds up putting the group in grave danger at least twice during the last act, and from a writing perspective, I really appreciate the way this shakes things up. In the previous film, Kenai was the source of nearly every problem that occurred and spent most of the film cleaning up his own mess. But Kenai’s redemption arc is complete now and he’s grown past all that, generally making better decisions these days. So “Brother Bear 2” shines some light on Koda’s personality flaws and fleshes out his character. The second half of the film emphasizes the fact that Koda is very young, the youngest of the five main characters. Koda’s youthful outlook on the world is generally endearing, and in some ways it made it easier for him to forgive Kenai for his part in his mom’s death in the last movie, but as you would expect, there are some downsides to it.
Koda struggles with complex and mature concepts, so he can be naive and short-sighted. He also tends to talk before he thinks, so he can be insensitive at times, like when he babbles on about how Nita is probably never gonna get her amulet back from the raccoons, or when he keeps teasing Nita about her fear of the water, not even noticing how much it bothers her, until Kenai snaps at him to stop. Despite making good friends with her at first, Koda eventually grows jealous of Nita when Kenai spends so much time bonding with her that Koda becomes a forgotten third wheel, and grows insecure about the possibility that Kenai might want to return to the human world with her. A younger kid feeling left out and jealous when their big sibling doesn’t have as much time for them anymore is hardly a new plot development, but it makes sense for Koda’s character. Being completely alone has always been a deeply-rooted insecurity of his: it’s why he clung to Kenai as quickly as he did when they met, and now that his mother is dead with Kenai filling in for her, it seems like an uncomfortable possibility to him. Once their friendship is reaffirmed, Koda comes to regret his bitterness when he realizes how much Kenai really loves Nita. Kenai has made sacrifices so he can live a happy life, and now Koda would like to do the same. He’s willing to let Kenai go and strike out on his own so Kenai can be with Nita, even if Kenai would never accept that. Koda overcoming his largest personality flaw for his brother’s sake is another nice testament to their friendship and how much these two care about each other.
The Canadian moose brothers, Rutt and Tuke, are given larger roles in this movie, letting Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis riff more. Where before they were minor characters, they’ve now been upgraded to supporting characters, and they more than earn the change. In this film, it feels like Rutt and Tuke are fully integrated into the “Brother Bear” universe in a way that they weren’t quite before. We get to learn more about them as individuals and how the pair sometimes clash. Namely, Tuke is the laddish, jockish brother who’s more easily outgoing, while Rutt is the sensitive, socially awkward brother who stumbles over himself more. We get to see more of their unconventional friendship with Kenai and Koda. The moose love to tease Kenai and have a soft spot for little Koda, but over the course of a year, the bear bros have become their closest friends. They keep Kenai and Koda’s secrets, and the bears are usually the ones they choose to confide in with their problems. In this case, its mating season and they’d like to impress a pair of moosettes, Anda and Kata, except they have one problem – they’re losers. Rutt and Tuke continue to do a fine job serving as comedic foils to Kenai and Koda in their rather silly romantic subplot (they really are a pair of goofs). They finally manage to win the girls over and briefly have a bout of sibling rivalry, competing over their attention, before they finally snap out of it. Their character expansion is complete when, after staying on the sidelines for two movies, Rutt and Tuke finally get involved in the main action in the last act to repay the bears. Despite their usual characterization as lovable cowards, when Koda is in danger, Rutt and Tuke don’t waste any time following Kenai to the human village to fight off hunters and rescue him.
It’s a pretty common practice in a Disney sequel to insert a new character in a protagonist’s background where they obviously didn’t exist before, like Forte in “The Enchanted Christmas” or the Outlanders in “The Lion King 2”. Nita is a pretty minor example of a retcon – a girl Kenai knew as a kid who lived away from his village – so she works naturally and doesn’t cause any conflicts with the original film. It takes a while to get used to Nita, particularly since her introductory scenes are easily the weakest in the film with two very annoying bridesmaids (every minute of screentime they get is one minute too many) and dialogue recycled from “Pochaontas”, but she’s quickly grows on you as a likable character. Nita is a spunky, strong-willed and fun-loving tomboy of a young woman who’s about to be paired off in an arranged marriage, but the great spirits won’t bless her marriage yet because she still has unfinished business with Kenai, so she seeks out her old childhood friend for help. Nita is under a lot of stress currently and she’s the type to get really worked up over a problem, so she initially comes off as rather bossy, but she loosens up and lets herself have fun on the trip over time. Due to the unpredictable nature of forest life, Nita quickly finds herself having to adapt to disarray, disorder and things not going to plan.
Something that really helps the audience to gain sympathy for Nita is her fear of water. Nita almost drowned as a girl, an accident she never really got over, and when Kenai finds out he promises to help her face it and move past it. The scene when he does so is probably one of the sweetest moments in the movie. As she and Kenai learn more about each other’s adult selves and rebuild their friendship, sharing several zany adventures, they start to rekindle old feelings for each other, and Nita realizes the reason she can’t marry Atka is because Kenai is the man for her – who she has come to know and love so much more intimately than Atka. Kenai and Nita have a surprisingly good amount of chemistry. Like Robin Hood and Maid Marian, the fact that they have history gives the film something to build off of, and they manage to bring out the best and the worst in each other throughout the trip. In the second half of the film, both of them have a dilemma of whether they should act on their feelings or not (which are clearly reciprocated), and how they would even accommodate each other if they did, since Kenai is now a completely different species and has a commitment to Koda. It seems that no matter what they do, someone is going to be unhappy. Nita ultimately chooses to follow her heart and have the great spirits turn her into a bear so she can live with Kenai and Koda and the rest of her friends in the forest.
“Brother Bear 2” is one of the better Disney sequels when it comes to the animation. It successfully nails the first film’s art style and provides some gorgeous scenery of the Alaskan wilderness, Kenai and Koda’s home in the mountains, which makes it a comforting and familiar world to return to. In addition to the backgrounds, the character movements are always spry and fluid, and there are a few times when the animators go humorously off-model for comedic effect, finding a nice balance between the photo-realism of nature and the exaggerated silliness of a cartoon. Where the animation usually falters is the integration of 3-D objects into a 2-D film, which is even more conspicuous than usual: like the pinecones the raccoons pelt the bears with, or the odd shot of a rushing waterfall. Keeping with Disney’s curious yet charismatic foray into the country music genre in the mid-to-late 2000’s, Melissa Etheridge and Josh Kelly perform the songs for this movie and they provide an enjoyable selection. Like what’s usually the case for me when it comes to country music, I prefer the upbeat songs in this movie, like the raucous main theme, “Welcome To This Day”, and the harmonic duet in “Feels Just Like Home”, which helps to pack an extra punch into Kenai and Nita’s bonding montage. By contrast, the short-lived “It Will Be Me” is probably the blandest and most forgettable song in the movie. Dave Metzger writes the score for the film and he does a fine if largely unremarkable job of elevating the emotions of the film. Easily the highlight of the score is Nita’s transformation, a beautiful instrumental variation of “Welcome To This Day” that contains an unexpected callback to Phil Collins’ “Transformation”.
While “Brother Bear” wrapped up its story in a very satisfying fashion and “Brother Bear 2” doesn’t actually need to exist, I’m glad that it does: to give these characters an extra bit of closure and develop them even further. For that reason, it’s one of the few Disney sequels that rests in my collection.
* Tug still doesn’t quite understand ‘personal space‘.
* Heh, remember when Kenai was first turned into a bear and he spent days sulking about that? Looking back on it, he got off easy. He had to part ways with his older brother and his former home, but he also gained a new younger brother, found many new friends in the forest, and eventually married a wonderful wife. It’s a pretty fair trade. By comparison, look what happened to other animated antagonists who committed similar offenses and never repented like Kenai did. Sharptooth was crushed to death under a huge boulder and drowned, Man got to burn alive in a forest fire of his own making, and Scar was torn apart and eaten alive by hyenas before his remains were burned up in a fire.
* “They say in all the villages, you are the wisest shaman” “It’s sha-woman. Wise and man don’t even belong in the same sentence!” Yikes.
* “So, the ice cracked out from right under you, huh? Are you sure you haven’t put on a few pounds? C’mon, girl to girl?” “No, my weight’s been constant” “Hmmph, well lucky you, Ms. Constant Weight”
* “What? What are they saying?” “Don’t interrupt, it ain’t all about you!”
* “But right after that, buddy, we’ll race down to Crowberry Ridge, just the two of us” “Pinky swear?” “Pinky swear”.
* “I told him ‘you better not do that, cause you don’t know what’s in there’, but he did – cause you can’t tell Kenai nothing” Where is the lie though? It’s his main character flaw, and the reason the entire first movie happened.
* “Ugh, this is stupid” I know, isn’t it great?
* “Touch not those fair moosettes!” “Yeah, you’re gonna have to go through us if you want them!” “You’ll just have to kill us, eh!” “What?! No, not that!” “Oh, right! Well, maybe not kill us, just… just push us down or something?”
* “It’s gone! The amulet’s gone!” “That’s cause there ain’t a better thief than the masked bandit! That amulet is as good as gone. You might as well give up all hope of seeing it again. The ice age will end before you get it back”.
* “What, this is your plan?!” Comforting, isn’t it?
* I really like the “Brother Bear” universe. It’s very weird: it’s a world where dead people can turn living people into bears, Canadian moose angst over their empty love lives, animals sometimes ride mammoths and human women can fall in love with half-human bears. But it never once feels ashamed of that weirdness, and I respect that.
* “Would you care to join us for a few twigs?” “No thanks, we just ate- OW!”
* “Makes sense to me” “That doesn’t make any sense. That’s way out of the way and there’s way too much ‘up’ and not enough ‘down'” Never change, Koda.
* Bear pouting.
* Did Koda try to kill Nita? Cause it looks like he tried to kill Nita. Why is everyone in the “Brother Bear” universe so murderous?
* “Now I realize there’s so much more to learn! I’m ready for the world, not scared of letting go! Now I realize there’s so much more to feel, and my heart knows it’s real! The part of me so long forgotten is calling and this feels like home, home, home, feels just like home!”
* “My own brother ditched me for a babe, eh. Well, actually two really, really hot babes” The fact that a moose said that line only makes it even funnier.
* Koda and Nita bring up the topic of Koda’s mom and the camera pans over to Kenai looking forlorn. It’s left ambiguous whether he’s sad about Nita or Koda’s mom or both at the same time, and I appreciate that.
* Koda decides to confide to his mom about how depressed Kenai feels over Nita, but why does he think she would care about that though? Obviously, Koda and the audience would care, but aside from Kenai stepping up and taking care of her son, mama bear has absolutely zero reasons to care about Kenai’s state of mind. In fact, she has negative reasons.
* “Daddy, I’m so confused” I should expect so, since you’re falling in love with a freaking bear. Speaking of which, Atka got dumped for a bear, ha. He’s never gonna live that down.
* I was not expecting to see blood in this movie, let alone Kenai’s blood from being shoved off a cliff. Ouch.
* You can see all of Kenai and Nita’s close friends at their wedding, which warms the heart. You know who I don’t see though? Denahi, Kenai’s brother who is not dead. Kenai snubbed him for an invitation, and that’s just cold, bro.