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"The documentary also has an interesting section on the film's voice talent, including Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai, D.B. Sweeney as Sitka, [and] Jason Raize as Denhai."
--The Orange County Register review of the Brother Bear DVD


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The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA)
On DVD: 'Brother' Teaches Many Lessons
by Vern Perry
April 2, 2004

If you're a lover of beautiful animation combined with an emotional story and a powerful message, this week's DVD pick is for you.

And for icing on the cake it comes in a two-disc special edition loaded with extras that both parents and children will love. It's "Brother Bear'' (Disney, 2003; rated G; 1 hour, 25 minutes plus supplemental material; 1.66:1 widescreen format enhanced for 16:9 televisions; original 2.35:1 widescreen format; Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound; DTS 5.1 surround sound; $29.99).

One of the things that I love about Disney animation in recent years is that the studio is going to great lengths to present stories of cultural diversity. While "Mulan,'' for example, took us to ancient China, "Brother Bear'' takes us back even further in time to tell the story of three Inuit Indian brothers in the northern reaches of prehistoric North America.

Kenai, the youngest of the brothers, is reaching manhood, but when the tribe's wise old shaman presents him with a bear as his personal totem, he's disappointed. To him, bears are just lazy, lumbering beasts that steal from man. However, when Kenai's irresponsible actions lead to the death of his oldest brother, Sitka, the young man seeks revenge against the bear that he blames for Sitka's death.

But when Kenai tracks down the bear and kills it, the spirits punish him by turning him into a bear. When the shaman tells him he must travel to where the lights touch the mountains to be returned to his human shape, Kenai begins both a physical and a spiritual journey. His guide for this trek is Koda, a young cub who has become separated from his mother. They are pursued by Denahi, the middle brother, who now believes Kenai -- in his bear form -- is the animal responsible for the deaths of his two brothers.

Of course, since this is a Disney film, "Brother Bear'' is not all seriousness. The film's comic relief comes in the form of two squabbling moose brothers, Tuke and Rutt, and several songs with lyrics by Phil Collins are sung by Collins, Tina Turner and the gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama.

The two-disc DVD of "Brother Bear'' is unique in that it contains two versions of the film. Disc one has a 1.66:1 widescreen version of the film, while disc two contains the original theatrical widescreen version, which starts out as 1.85:1 and then, when Kenai is transformed into the bear, switches to a 2.35:1 widescreen version.

And both discs are chock-full of excellent extras. Disc two, for example, contains "Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear,'' a fascinating 45-minute documentary on the making of the film. Highlights include films of the animators on location in Alaska, Wyoming, Montana and California sketching landscapes that will serve as the film's scenic backdrops as well as a section on the film's music. We learn that one of Collins' songs was translated into Inuit and then performed by the Bulgarian Women's Choir. Now, that's diversity.

The documentary also has an interesting section on the film's voice talent, including Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai, D.B. Sweeney as Sitka, Jason Raize as Denhai, Jeremy Suarez as Koda and Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis, who more or less play their Canadian McKenzie brother characters from the old "SCTV'' show, as moose brothers Tuke and Rutt.

Other extras include some funny animated outtakes; three deleted scenes; a short film on American Indian bear legends; a couple of music videos; two sing-along songs and two fun games just for the kids, one of which lets youngsters put pieces of bones together to create animals and another that lets children answer a series of questions that help them find out which animal totem fits their personality.

I've saved my favorite extra for last. It's the hilarious commentary track on disc one featuring Thomas and Moranis as their moose counterparts. These two actors, who've known and worked with each other for 25 years, are a real hoot as they comment on the film, cracking joke after joke. Two samples: "If you eat popcorn during a movie do you make popcorn during the 'making of' the movie?'' and "Do you know how to get a bear to stop running? Hit paws.''


Movie: B+ Picture: A+

Sound: A+ Extras: A

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