Brother Bear * Rated G
(for general audiences); animated with
the voices of Joaquin Phoenix,
Joan Copeland, Jason Raize , D.B.
Sweeney, Rick Moranis and Dave
Thomas, Jeremy Suarez; opening Saturday
at ShowPlace 8 in Carbondale
and Illinois Centre 8 in Marion.
One of the most powerful forces in the
universe — sibling rivalry —
blends with Native American legend as a
young Inuit boy turns into a
bear to find his place in the world in
Disney's latest animated film,
If the subject sounds too heavy or
complicated for the G-rated crowd,
fear not (and don't forget, "The Lion
King" was all about fratricide).
Disney hides the morality tale behind a
rip-roaring soundtrack, goofy
moose sidekicks and enough bear slapstick
to delight any child.
Kenai, voiced by Joaquin Phoenix (lately
of "Signs" and "Gladiator"),
eagerly looks forward to receiving his
personal totem from the tribe's
matriarch Tanana (Joan Copeland). At the
ceremony, however, he is
shocked to find out that it's a bear — the
symbol of love — instead of
a more fearsome eagle or wolf.
Teased unmercifully by his older brother
Denahi, (Jason Raize, who
originated the Broadway role of Simba in
"The Lion King"), Kenai then
becomes enraged when a hungry bear nabs
his hard-earned cache of salmon.
Bears, it seems, are out to ruin his life.
Sitka (D.B. Sweeney), the eldest of the
three brothers, tries to tamp
down the bad blood, but a boiling Kenai
vows to kill the bear that has
shamed him. That rash decision sets off a
chain of events that leaves
one brother dead and Kenai in the body of
the animal he killed.
To return to human form, Kenai must find
the mountain of the Northern
Lights and rid himself of the unhealthy
karma he has unleashed.
With accents as thick as cold maple syrup,
Canadian comedians Rick
Moranis and Dave Thomas reprise their
goofy "McKenzie brothers" routine
as two moose brothers who end up traveling
with Kenai. While Canadians
will probably wince at the hick
stereotypes, their light-hearted,
sidesplitting banter is a welcome relief
and shows the very youngest
viewers how brothers can sometimes
disagree and still get along.
Jeremy Suarez — better known as Jordan on
"The Bernie Mac Show" — is
spunky and engaging as Koda, a bear cub
who latches onto Kenai and
playfully teaches him about bear life.
Phil Collins wrote six original songs for
"Brother Bear," the two best
being gospel-based ballads belted out
(separately) by Tina Turner and
The Blind Boys of Alabama.
"Brother Bear" is a homegrown Disney
story, developed by producer Chuck
Williams and directors Aaron Blaise and
Bob Walker, who have all been
part of Disney's Florida animation team
since its inception in 1989.
In an effort to "be the bear," the
filmmakers chose to supersaturate
the colors in the movie and shift to a
wider format when Kenai is
transformed, trying to show the world from
a bear's eye view.
Not a bad idea, but the end result is
simply off. Odd colors clash,
leaving wildflowers, pine forests and
mountain vistas looking
unnaturally bright, too pink and purple.
That diminishes the visual
impact of movie's magical Northern Lights.
Children, however, won't care. They are
more likely to scream and seek
a parent's lap when the big brown bear
roars up to fight Kenai, or
laugh at the dimwitted moose.
With a dearth of G-rated fare out there,
millions of kids will migrate
to "Brother Bear" — and they might even be
nicer to their siblings
after they walk out.