Disney has switched to using this mysterious calculator, and it’s kind of like Pascal’s Wager, by which they can measure the likelihood that people will buy the characters, and therefore buy the movie. It looks like this:
This results in a serious imbalance of relationships. While boys always get to bring their friends along on the car ride, the only friends that Disney girls have are local fauna. Likewise, sisterhood is a favorite theme, whether it’s wicked, kind, or destructive-yet-well-intentioned. (There’s one I’m thinking about, but I just can’t remember the name right now…) But there is only one movie with a theme of brotherhood.
And it wasn’t very good.
Admit it, you thought so, too! Rotten Tomatoes gives Brother Bear a rating of 38%, which is worse than even the new RoboCop movie. Although this movie was the last, dying gasp of Disney-MGM in Orlando, it is actually worth seeing for more than just the annual Disneython. The design and animation team display lush mountain landscapes and recreate a rich prehistoric animistic culture. (The tribal culture of the Pacific Northwest is “just like Pocahontas” the way Jungle Book is just like Mulan.) The opening sequences show a storyteller use cave paintings, and Tahana, the shaman, scale a mountain to consult the spirits. Spirit guides and their powers are the central plot-device of the story. After all, who doesn’t love some fetishes?
Against this mystical backdrop, Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai interacts with both his human brothers, Sitka and Denahi (annoying, as siblings should always be if they can), and an adoptive cub brother Koda (also annoying, but cute, as small children should always be if they can). Admittedly, I don’t know much about brothers, but the Sopranos convinces me that this is how boys act all the time, even with family.
The downfall of this movie is that it is not funny. It might have been, considering the comic gold of turning a pompous teenager into a fuzzy, wuzzy bear. Most of the light-hearted moments are relegated to Koda, however, voiced by a 12-year-old. Cute, but not the master of funny. There are a number of animal characters in the mountains, brought in to utter witticisms that also aren’t witty. Even Rick Moranis of 80’s movie greatness didn’t save the poorly-written and badly-timed sidekick moose.
Though Phil Collins reprises the successful Tarzan rhythms and tunes, the soundtrack isn’t race-to-Best-Buy, either. I think there was a song about fish. I don’t remember the rest. None of the tracks in this movie are going to make it onto a Disney’s Greatest Hits or Hidden Gems of Disney album.
The best word for Brother Bear wasn’t “saccharine” or “nauseating”; by the standard of most family films, it’s still good. It has a touching theme, good pace, and my sons laughed some. As a Disney movie, though, it’s underwhelming. In the wake of Pixar’s Finding Nemo tidal wave that same year, boring was a crime.
I might have forgiven even that if Phoenix’s character was as cute as the voice actor. But, it’s really hard to dig that hair. Spoiler Alert: the cute brother dies in the beginning. I know I’m not the target audience for this movie, but I prefer my Alaskan wilderness with a side order of John Corbet.