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"As for hunters, perhaps this is one movie you should aim to skip."
--Star Tribune review of Brother Bear


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Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota)
Message of 'Bear' is Clear: No Hunting
by Jeff Strickler, Staff Writer
October 31, 2003

Instead of a typical Friday opening, Walt Disney Pictures is releasing the animated feature "Brother Bear'' on Saturday. The reasoning is that the potential audience will be too busy trick-or-treating tonight to go to a movie.

We also wonder if the studio figured it was best to wait until all the hunters were out in the woods, far away from the nearest multiplex.

A story about a Native American hunter who morphs into a bear, the "walk a mile in my paws'' story delivers Disney's strongest anti-hunting message since Bambi's mother was gunned down. As a human, the protagonist believes that bears are evil and should be killed. As a bear, he learns that humans are evil and should be avoided at all costs.

As has become the Disney tradition, the production values are topnotch. The soft hues of the hand-drawn animation has almost a nostalgic look, amid the proliferation of computer animation. The voice talent - including Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Clarke Duncan and D.B. Sweeney - is on a par with the studio's usual standards. And Phil Collins provides a fitting soundtrack.

But the anti-hunting stance is so overt that even non-hunters might cringe a bit. We can see from the start where the movie is headed. The teenage Kenai (Phoenix) is excitedly awaiting the tribal ritual that officially declares him a man: going out on his own and killing something.

When a bear runs off with a basket of fish Kenai caught, he angrily gives chase. His two older brothers race after him, trying to get him to stop. The eldest, Sitka (Sweeney), corners the bear and sacrifices his life to save his brother. Kenai chases down the bear and kills it.

This is when the transformation takes place. Kenai becomes a bear. The middle brother, Denahi (Broadway actor Jason Raize), comes upon the scene just in time to see the bear standing over what's left of Kenai's clothing. Assuming that the bear has killed a second brother, Denahi takes up the chase.

The bulk of the narrative concerns Kenai trying to fit in with the other bears while avoiding Denahi. He keeps trying to tell Denahi who he is, but he discovers that while the animals can talk to one another, they can't communicate with humans. All they can do is flee for their lives.

The most entertaining moments have nothing to do with the story. The slacker McKenzie Brothers from "SCTV'' (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) reprise the roles as a pair of goofball moose. The bits are broad enough to work on their own with young viewers, but they play especially well with parents who understand the context.

The film appears to have been born of good intentions. Messages about appreciating the world around you and a reworking of "The Lion King'' circle-of-life riff are likely to be warmly accepted. As for hunters, perhaps this is one movie you should aim to skip.

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