Brother Bear
Disney fishes for success with Brother Bear
Cynthia Ward · January 6, 2004 | When a prehistoric trio of Inuit brothers goes hunting, the youngest causes the oldest brother's death. Sitka (D.B. Sweeney) sacrifices himself to save middle brother Denahi (Jason Raize) and youngest brother Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) from a grizzly provoked by Kenai. Denahi has no desire to kill the animal, but Kenai, overlooking his own responsibility for Sitka's death, pursues and kills the bear—and finds himself transformed by the spirits into a bear. He can talk to other animals, but his voice is only a roar to humans. Denahi mistakes Kenai for the bear Kenai slew, and ironically believes the bear slew Kenai. Deciding he erred by not helping Kenai kill the bear, he vows to avenge his brother. Now Kenai is on the run from his relentless brother, and his only hope of survival is a lost bear cub.

The art in Brother Bear ascends the usual Disney heights: the character design is superior, and the scenery... well, I wanted to book a flight to Alaska the moment I left the theatre. Such beautiful art makes it doubly a shame that Disney is suspending traditional cel animation in favor of more popular computer-generated (CG) animation. This isn't a surprise, though the real reason for CG's success has nothing to do with CG animation. The reason is obvious, yet has apparently escaped Disney's notice: the creators of Pixar's computer-animated movies care as much about the story and characters as they do about the art. This passion is what makes Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., and the Toy Story movies so strong and so engaging.

Brother Bear
Walt Disney Pictures, 2003
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker
85 minutes

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The Brother Bear plot follows the classic character-transformation arc so skillfully, I figured the scriptwriters attended Robert McKee's "Story" seminar. Yet, despite its proven plot elements, the movie never transcends its structure. Brother Bear evinces no creative passion, or even commitment. Indeed, when the movie comes to a climactically critical conversation, it cravenly drowns the dialogue in a syrupy Phil Collins song.

When you watch Lilo and Stitch, Monsters, Inc., The Return of the King or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, you feel how much the creators enjoyed making their movies and how much they cared about their characters. Remember how much Priscilla's drag queens cared about the clothes they designed and hand-stitched? You don't get the feeling anybody cares much about the mass-produced clothing sold at Target or Wal-Mart or the Gap. And Brother Bear feels as passionlessly constructed as a sweatshop shirt.

What's Good: Great art; splendid scenery; amusing moose; hunky heroes.

What's Bad: Goopy Phil Collins soundtrack; passionless plotting; cowardice.
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