Brother Bear
review by Dan Lybarger, 31 October 2003

When Sinbad flopped this summer, many blamed its poor showing on a diminishing market for hand drawn animation 

This is nonsense.

The reason Sinbad flopped is because it had a dull, underdeveloped story and a disappointingly flat vocal turn from Brad Pitt as the title character.

Similarly, the Disney studio's new offering Brother Bear looks great no matter what medium was used to create it. But the story conveyed by these lovely images lacks the creativity and wit of a typical Pixar flick or even Disney's much livelier Lilo and Stitch.

Although there are five writers credited with the script for Brother Bear, it seems more as if they copied and pasted material from other sources but forgot what made the originals work.

True, it's adequate fare for kids. The toilet jokes are mercifully absent, and the tykes won't learn anything from this film that you'll regret having to explain later.

Still, the same could be said for Finding Nemo, and it's far more entertaining.

You can almost hear the pitch meetings as the story progresses ("It's Pocahontas meets Treasure Planet."). Set in the age long before Europeans settled in North America, the new film centers on a callow, self-absorbed lad named Kenai (voice by Joaquin Phoenix). The youngster is about get his own totem so that he can officially be declared a man in the tribe. Kenai's age might indicate he's an adult, but his mind and heart are far more immature.

Before you can say The Emperor's New Groove, Kenai wrongly kills a bear he blames for his brother's death, and the spirits of the tribe's ancestors turn him into a bear as punishment. Unlike that film, the humor here simply doesn't work.

Casting Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas to do voices for moose versions of their Bob and Doug McKenzie characters sounds cute, but somehow these guys just aren't funny when beer isn't involved (hops are mentioned tangentially, but that's it). It also doesn't help that Kenai is so self-absorbed that viewers get tired of waiting for him to get his act together. At least David Spade's arrogant character in Groove spouted enough giggle-inducing wisecracks to make him tolerable.

About the only character with any personality Kenai encounters during his punishment is a frisky little bear cub named Koda (voice by Jeremy Suarez). The lad has been separated from his folks and earnestly tries to worm his way into Kenai's heart. The pairing reminded me of Shrek and his pal the talking Donkey, only I don't recall looking at my watch during that film.

Directors  Aaron Blaise (a former animator) and Robert Walker (a former layout supervisor) do create a gorgeous reworking of the Pacific Northwest. The colors are tastefully muted, and the film is a lot more enjoyable if you can tune out the sound.

It's hard to tell which is more cloying: the dialogue ("I always wanted to have a brother.") or Phil Collins' anemic score. Once upon a time he was once a contributor to Genesis during their interesting periods, and his first solo album was eerily enthralling. No such luck here.

Despite some "ethnic"-sounding percussion, the songs here sound even blander than the ones he wrote and performed for Tarzan. It doesn't help that most of these tunes run during long, plotless sequences where the images do little more than look pretty. At 85 minutes, Brother Bear is heavily padded. Any score that manages to make the Blind Boys of Alabama and Tina Turner seem boring deserves a special room in Hell.

If the folks at Disney had spent more time trying to get the script right instead of shoehorning that syrupy music, illl-informed pundits wouldn't be decrying the end of hand-drawn animation. The crew at Pixar devote as much if not more energy into their stories as they do their rich visuals, and it shows. And they are the only studio who should be allowed to run phony blooper reels at the end of their films. There's one in Brother Bear, and it's as tedious as the rest of the movie.

It's not the technique that's the problem. It's the minds behind it.

Directed by:
Aaron Blaise
Robert Walker

Joaquin Phoenix
Jeremy Suarez
Jason Raize
Rick Moranis
Dave Thomas
D.B. Sweeney
Joan Copeland
Michael Clarke Duncan
Harold Gould
Paul Christie
Daniel Mastrogiorgio
Estelle Harris
Greg Proops
Pauley Perrette
Darko Cesar

Written by:
Steve Bencich
Lorne Cameron
Ron J. Friedman
David Hoselton
Broose Johnson
Tab Murphy

G - General Audiences.
All Ages Admitted.






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