- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

“Brother Bear,” an all too literal title, solicits a family audience willing to bear with the Disney studio’s conceptual vagaries while trying to formulate a folk cartoon about fraternity and tolerance across species barriers.

The ostensible social setting for this animated muddle is a Far Northwest hunting community of many centuries ago. The hints of tribal antiquity don’t outlast introductions to a brawny set of brothers named Kenai, Denahi and Sitka, whose dialogue seems to have been transposed from sitcoms about squabbling siblings.

Sitka, the eldest, sacrifices himself during a prolonged battle across crag and ice with a towering and ferocious bear. The intervention of the Great Spirit, prompted by the tribe’s twinkly-eyed granny shaman, turns Kenai (pronounced “Keen Eye”) away from vengeance; the traumatized young warrior is transformed into a rather apologetic and inept bear, who nevertheless proves his grit by protecting an orphaned cub called Koda. This unnatural shift of loyalties pits him against surviving brother Denahi, still on the hunt and avid for bear blood.

The losses are impressively grave: a brother for Kenai, a mother for cuddly Koda. The problem is that they never quite harmonize with the facetious distractions and supernatural reconciliations invented to balance sadness with happiness and silliness.

There’s also a copycat aspect to the scenario that suggests hapless poaching. A number of episodes in mid-passage show a suspicious resemblance to forerunners in the clever and distinctive “Ice Age.” For example, a trek across the wilderness borrows a herd of woolly mammoths as transport vehicles, but it seems rather odd that not one big critter is actually characterized. This lapse draws rather more attention to the fact that Ray Romano was the voice of an indispensable, paternal mammoth in “Ice Age.” Then there’s a contemplative sequence about cave paintings and a chase across a lava bed. It begins to look as if “Brother Bear” is desperately indebted.

Fortunately, the production has also hit on a derivative idea to call its own: recruiting Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as the voices of a pair of moronic moose, Rutt and Tuke, obvious ringers for their beloved Canadian stupes, the McKenzie Brothers. The movie’s comedy highlight is their stuck-in-a-rut game of “I Spy” while hitching a mammoth ride.

The McKenzie factor may also stabilize one’s sense of wilderness locations. The consistently handsome background illustrations leapfrog across national park scenery that extends from Wyoming to Alaska, but if moose that sound like the McKenzies are in the picture, we must be somewhere in the Canadian Rockies. The Western and Indian influences that loom large for the illustrators seem to have bypassed Phil Collins, who supplies a song score of agonizing staleness, belaboring an idiom that remains forlornly and obtrusively his.

*1/2

TITLE: “Brother Bear”

RATING: G (Fleeting comic vulgarity; ominous episodes and hostile encounters between man and beast)

CREDITS: Directed by Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker. Screenplay by Tab Murphy, Lorne Cameron & David Hoselton and Steven Bencich & Ron J. Friedman. Songs by Phil Collins. Art direction by Robh Ruppel. Visual effects supervisor: Garrett Wren. Musical score by Mark Mancina and Mr. Collins.

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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