Brother Bear Review
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When you went to theaters last summer to see Pixar’s Brave, you may have had that eerie déjà vu feeling. The story of a headstrong Scottish princess whose troublemaking ways get her mother turned into a bear may have brought back memories of another animated film about a family member who’s turned into a bear: 2003’s Brother Bear.

After his oldest brother, Sitka (voiced by D. B. Sweeney), sacrifices himself to save his brothers, reckless young Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) sets out to kill the bear that he blames for Sitka’s death. But Kenai’s quest for vengeance turns into a very different kind of journey when Sitka’s spirit decides to turn him into a bear to give him a new perspective on life.

The only way that Kenai can be transformed back into a human is to travel to the mountain where the Northern Lights touch the Earth to ask his brother and the other spirits for help. Along the way, he’s joined by an adorably precocious young cub, Koda (Jeremy Suarez), and a motley crew of other animals. But the journey isn’t all fun and games—because he also finds himself hunted by his remaining brother, Denahi (Jason Raize), who seeks to avenge both of his brothers.

Admittedly, Brother Bear does share a whole lot of similarities with Brave. Both are beautifully natural tales about strained family relationships. And, of course, both feature a character who’s transformed into a bear. Still, each film has its own unique personality—and its own charming characters.

Unlike Pixar’s Scottish romp, Brother Bear was (mostly) animated the old-fashioned way, with hand-drawn characters and watercolor-style backgrounds that offer breathtaking views of the artists’ interpretation of the grand forests found throughout North America. It plays with things like ice and water—and the dancing colors of the aurora borealis—with generally stunning results. Really, the only times when the film doesn’t look its best are those when the artists employ distracting CG techniques that weren’t yet fully developed.

Meanwhile, while Brave focuses on the human aspects of the story, Brother Bear focuses on the animal world. As Kenai and Koda make their way to the mountain (where Koda hopes to reunite with his mother), they meet all kinds of other animals: dueling rams, salmon-fishing bears, a herd of woolly mammoths, and—most notably—a couple of dim-witted moose named Rutt and Tuke (voiced by Strange Brew’s Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas). So although the film has some truly heartbreaking moments, the silly characters help to keep things upbeat, resulting in a dramatic but playful tone that feels similar to that of The Lion King—though not quite as majestic.

Brother Bear isn’t one of Disney’s more popular animated films—but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth watching. Its striking natural setting and its sweet story of brotherly love make it a charming animated adventure.

Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of Disney’s Brother Bear comes with two Brother Bear movies: the original theatrical release and its straight-to-video sequel. It also includes a number of special features—from music videos and sing-alongs to deleted scenes and songs.

For a look behind the scenes of the film’s production, there’s an interesting but lengthy making-of feature, which covers things like the film’s inspiration and history, the characters, some of the changes that were made along the way, and the music. But if you just want to have a little bit of fun while you’re watching the movie (again), check out Rutt and Tuke’s commentary track, a silly little extra that allows Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis to have some bit of fun with the movie (and each other).

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