Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DAF #42 - Brother Bear (2003)

Kenai: "I'm not a bear. I hate bears."
Rutt: "Well, gee, eh, you're one big beaver."

Title: Brother Bear
Year: 2003
Rated: G
Run Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai
Jeremy Suarez as Koda
Rick Moranis as Rutt
Dave Thomas as Tuke
Jason Raize as Denahi
D.B. Sweeney as Sitka
Joan Copeland as Tanana

Plot: After his brother is killed by a bear, a young man sets out to take revenge and is turned into a bear himself.
Based on: Original story.
Setting: North America, post ice age...when mammoths roamed the Earth?

Tagline: The story of a boy who became a man by becoming a bear.

First Viewing:
Summer of 2006, borrowed from Whitman County Library on DVD.

While it's true that Disney movies are meant for the whole family, for kids from one to 92 (damn you, Macy's!) there are just some DAF's that are Boy Movies and some that are Girl Movies. Now I don't mean to open up Pandora's Box of gender vs. Disney, but my guy friends like Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Rescuers Down Under best while the ladies name Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast as their favorites. I am in no way saying that liking a "princess movie" makes you less of a man or more of a woman. I am simply pointing out certain trends I have personally observed. And that being said, there are just some DAF's that are Boy Movies and some that are Girl Movies.

Brother Bear, my #42, is most definitely a Boy Movie. In fact, it was born in the disastrous epoch of Disney's Animated Feature Boy Movies. (Atlantis and Treasure Planet were released in 2001 and 2002, respectively, to a dismal box office reception). Anyway, while those previous films were geared towards preteen boys, I feel Brother Bear was meant to be a bit more gender neutral by way of The Lion King. But while that movie dealt with the father-son dynamic, this one deals with brotherly love.

The film begins with three Inuit bothers, Sitka, Denahi, and Kenai, returning to their tribe from a fishing excursion. They are headed to Kenai's ceremony, where he will be given his sacred totem, a symbol of what will guide him into becoming a MAN.The headstrong (and overly masculine) Kenai wants a totem that will show off his manliness such as the Sabertooth of Bravery. But alas, he is given the Bear of Love.

For some reason, Kenai hates bears. They are savage theives who don't think or feel, he says. Now this hatred could be justified if, say Kenai's parents were killed by bears, but there is no mention of this. And love is such a pussy concept! In the midst of getting shit from Denahi about his totem, their basket of fish is stolen by (you guessed it) a bear. The brothers pursue it but shit happens and Sitka sacrifices himself to save Kenai and Denahi.

After his brother's funeral, Kenai vows revenge on the bear. Denahi follows him as the bear is tracked and killed on the top of the mountain. However, Kenai is unaware that the mountain top is where the Great Spirits touch the earth. Sitka, now one of the spirits, transforms Kenai into a bear. Denahi arrives, believing Kenai to be dead, and that his bear form is the one responsible. He vows to avenge his brothers.

Kenai is struck by lightning and thrown into a river. When he wakes (in 2.35:1 widescreen) he is healed by Tanana, the shaman woman of Kenai's tribe (more on her later). She explains that it was all Sitka's doing and therefore, Kenai should return to the mountain tops and take it up with him if he wants to be human again.

Kenai soon learns he can talk like the animals, grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals. He meets two dimwitted moose, Rutt and Tuke, gets caught in a trap and is freed by irritating bear cub character, Koda. As with every road movie, the two make a deal: if Kenai goes with Koda to the Salmon Run (a jamboree for bears) then Koda will lead Kenai to the mountain tops.

And then we're well and truly on our way. Koda talks Kenai's ear off with many inane stories about berries and such. (Just think Donkey in Shrek, but miraculously more irritating). Denahi continues to hunt the pair, but fails several times. They also run into Rutt and Tuke for a little comic relief. And of course, Koda and Kenai's relationship grows amicable...perhaps, brotherly?

The bears reach the Salmon Run and surprisingly, Kenai fits right into their family dynamic. It's tradition for all the bears to tell stories of their adventures over the past year. This is when Koda explains about his mother fighting a human hunter. Kenai realizes he was the one who killed her. Eventually, Kenai slowly reveals the truth to Koda who runs away.

The Salmon Run just so happens to take place next to the mountain, so Kenai climbs it and Denahi follows. Koda comes to Kenai's rescue and then Kenai comes to Koda's. Sitka turns Kenai back into a human. However, Kenai asks to be turned back into a bear to look after Koda. He is then greatly respected by everyone in his tribe.

Okay, so remember what I said about Brother Bear being a boy movie? Well, that's because it's a sausage fest! I don't exactly know why this fact irritates me so much. After all, The Jungle Book is technically more of a sausage fest. The one female character arrives at the very end and is sort of a tart. But I think it comes down to the set up:

You have this overly masculine main character who thinks bravery and strength are the only makings of a man. Then he gets the totem of love and instead of the going the romantic route...they go the family route. Don't get me wrong, family love is just as important as romantic love, (probably more so, depending on who you ask). But never for one second did I think that Kenai, Denahi, and Sitka didn't love each other. They bicker and tease, but isn't that normal? Maybe Kenai needs to learn to be less of a douche and to not hate bears, but love his brothers? No. I think he's good there. I mean, he sets out to avenge one of them for christssakes!

This is why I think the movie would work better as a romance. Kenai can learn that being a man is also about being sensitive, being a good father and husband. (You know, in Disney's world that's what it's about). Therefore, if Kenai fell in love with a she-bear who had a son, perhaps just as irritating as Koda, he could learn both...and if the she-bear was the one who "killed Sitka" it would be even more interesting!

Alas, I did not work for Disney in the early aughts, and even if I had, I'm sure my ideas would have fallen on deaf ears. Love? Love is for pussies! THIS IS A BOY MOVIE! However, Kenai did get some lovin' in the 2006 direct-to-DVD sequel, Brother Bear 2. Long story short: he falls for his childhood sweetheart who is engaged to Kocoum...uh, I mean, Atka. She turns into a bear. End of story. I remember liking it quite a bit more than its predecessor, though.

The only female character is Tanana, the shaman woman who is just a human version of Grandmother Willow. It's fine though. In a way it's refreshing to have a female character who isn't a love interest, villain or a mother. And even though I'm whiter than snow, I also enjoyed that Disney decided to make another movie about Native Americans...or Inuits...or just non-white people from North America. They could have decided "Pocahontas was enough" but they didn't. Good for them. I also think this one got less flack for being racially insensitive.

I will say this about Brother Bear: it's fucking beautiful. I'm not really one who cares about visuals so much, but goddamn, this one makes me watch in awe. The stuff with the great spirits and Aurora Borealis is exceptional and if anything makes you watch this movie other than going down the canon, let that be it!

Okay, what else is there? The music. It's Phil Collins. You either like it or you don't. I don't. I didn't really like the music in Tarzan either, but he won an Oscar, so of course they were going to hire him again. Meh. None of the songs are particularly memorable.

All in all, I think Brother Bear works more than it doesn't. These are just personal grievances that could make the movie more enjoyable for me. And who am I? Just one asshole with one opinion, so if you like Brother Bear just the way it is, good for you! You have the movie you want.

“Great Spirits" - Tina Turner
“I'm On My Way” - Jeremy Suarez (Koda) and Phil Collins
"Welcome" - Blind Boys of Alabama with Phil Collins and Oren Waters
"No Way Out" - Phil Collins
"Great Spirits (Reprise)" - Tina Turner
"Look Through My Eyes" - Phil Collins

Favorite Song: “I'm On My Way” - Jeremy Suarez and Phil Collins
Favorite Moment: Kenai's transformation.
Favorite Character: This Russian bear.

Next DAF: Make Mine Music (1946)

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