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Brother Bear (**)
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker
Written by Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman, Tab Murphy, Lorne Cameron, Broose Johnson and David Hoselton
Brother Bear
Principal Cast
Joaquin Phoenix -- Kenai (voice)
Jeremy Suarez -- Koda (voice)
Jason Raize -- Denahi (voice)
Rick Moranis -- Rutt (voice)
Dave Thomas -- Tuke (voice)
D.B. Sweeney -- Sitka (voice)
Joan Copeland -- Tanana (voice)
Michael Clarke Duncan -- Tug (voice)
Harold Gould -- Old Denahi (voice)
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

Brother Bear, the 43rd Disney Classic feature, has some beautiful artwork, and tries very hard, but is not really all that entertaining. There are some seemingly good ideas that don't work. For example, the first ten minutes or so are anti-letterboxed, with black bars on the sides of the picture, to distinguish between the pre-transformation and post-transformation story. The effect is distracting. Several people walked out of the theater and demanded their money back, under the impression that the bars were a projection error, an all too common phenomenon at the multiplex. The story is thin, and five writers could not come up with much to make it interesting. I suspect most of the good bits came from Tab Murphy.

A man is changed into a bear and must travel to a mountain, making friends along the way. When he reaches the mountain he must choose whether to remain a bear or change back into a man. For this story to work at all, we must take it for granted that there is no real difference, either in language nor intelligence, between man and bear. For the ending to work, we must take it for granted that as soon as we learn to love one another, bears and men will become friends, and nobody will eat anything but fish. Which naturally raises the question, what if one of those fish is Nemo? In fact, in an amusing cookie at the very end of the credits, the movie implicitly acknowledges the problem.

I wanted to like Brother Bear. It is a serious movie. It means well. I certainly enjoyed the beautiful artwork, especially in the opening scenes. There is only one Big Dumb Moment, when a short length of rope suddenly becomes several feet long in order to trip one of the characters. (The audience is stupid -- they won't notice. But we do notice.)

The Phil Collins songs are not nearly as good as his songs for Tarzan. The characters are not particularly appealing. Irreconcilable differences are reconciled too easily. The use of modern slang by people in the past (or the future) has become a cliché. The excellent Master and Commander makes good use of the fact that people did not always talk the way we do today. Robert A. Heinlein wrote a story, "Let There be Light," in 1940-modern slang. It is part of his "Future History" series, but the slang sounded so dated twenty years later that he omitted that story from the "Future History" omnibus The Past Through Tomorrow. It evidently has not occurred to the Disney Corporation that, while Snow White still charms modern audiences, movies using current slang will be dated -- sometimes, as in the case of the equally beautiful and well-intentioned Treasure Planet, before they even reach the screen.

I am also disgruntled by the notion that there is something hilarious about yellow snow. I have to remind myself that children really do love bathroom humor, and it is only adults who no longer find piss amusing.

Between 1937 and 1942 Walt Disney made five animated features, every one a classic. Then there was a war. In 1950, Disney returned to animated features, and in that decade made five more, all very good, none great. In the 60s, Disney made only 3 animated features. Then Disney died, and his corporate heirs realized that, since the great unwashed is totally without taste, there was no point in making good movies when bad ones would do just as well. There were three Disney "classics" in the 70s, five in the 80s, none very good, none very successful. Could it possibly be that corporate Disney had underestimated our taste? Nah! They quoted P.T. Barnum to one another and gave themselves all big raises. It really did look as if the age of animation was at an end.

Then, in 1989, came The Little Mermaid. It was good. It was a tremendous financial success. It was the beginning of the second golden age of animation. In the 90s, Disney made nine animated features, and except for Hercules every one of them is wonderful. But Hercules was a hint of things to come. If one great movie made a lot of money, surely two so-so movies would make twice as much money, and three terrible movies would make three times as much money. That is the strategy that Disney has followed in the 21st century. Parts of these films, of which Brother Bear is the latest, have been good. If they were not cranked out so hurriedly, they might be very good. But Disney wants at least three animated features a year, and the great animated features took two years to make. Do you want it good, or do you want it Monday?

Rumors that Brother Bear is the last 2D animated movie from Disney are incorrect. As the two previews with Brother Bear show, Disney will crank out cheap animation as long as it makes a buck.

Copyright © 2003 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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