Though not the last to be released, "Brother Bear" was to be Disney's last traditionally animated film... or so it seemed. It seems to take place in post-ice age North America, focused on three brothers, primarily the youngest Kenai, who is psyched to be getting a totem from the tribe elder. His excitement diminishes when he receives the "Bear of Love," not understanding its significance. He only gets more infuriated when his half-hazard efforts results in a bear absconding with their collection of fish, leaving Kenai to run off to take down the bear. He's left in a tough spot and his brothers come help, all resulting in the elder Sitka to sacrifice himself to save his brothers. After a period of mourning, Kenai goes off in a rage to kill the bear, only to set off the spiritual powers that be, which turn him into a bear. Now the much furrier Kenai must trek to the place "where the light touches the mountain" to turn back to normal, and ends up tagging along with a motormouth scrappy cub Koda who knows the way. Meanwhile, the remaining brother Denahi is on their trail, believing bear-form Kenai is the one who killed his remaining brother.
This is gonna be real tough to fill all this space, because I really can't think of much to say about this one, and that's one of its main problems. It comes across as so bland and banal that it's instantly forgettable. I watched it last night and I forget a lot of what happened. Perhaps because it's made up with elements we've seen in Disney films before: native prophecies ("Pocahontas"), transformations ("New Groove"), young tag-alongs ("Mouse Detective"), and the like. In the same way that "Pocahontas" felt like a Disney Renaissance epic pumped to the Nth degree, this feels like a movie flourished with traditional Disney elements, but like the studio could have done in their sleep. A simple redemption story, with your cast of cute talking animals, some dramatic tension between our leads... all very basic. But Disney's made a living out of transforming traditional story elements by gussying them up with different set dressings, making them new and palatable. But here, it feels like a big dead zone.
I guess I'll go through the movie and try to pinpoint some stuff... First off our three brothers feel a bit off; acting like a bunch of obnoxious modern-day teenagers doesn't mesh well with their aged setting. Our lead Kenai is kind of brazen and a slacker, but that's the whole point, I suppose. There are a few neat things pulled off thematically here; the beginning of the film before Kenai's transformation feels very washed out and "real" looking, with lots of great earth tones. As boring as most of the film is, the first part at least looks nice. When we get to the bear portion of our story, nature becomes a lot more vibrant and colorful, which I happened to not like, but it was a neat stylistic choice. So then we have Koda, the cub that won't shut up. He drives Kenai nuts, and I don't blame him. Cocky and talkative young kids are always annoying, and this one is no exception. Plus they gave him a hint of 'tude, as the great John K calls it, making him an unusually obnoxious character.
So Kenai grows fond of Koda through a music montage, with Phil Collins playing, who returns since "Tarzan" to do a few songs sprinkled throughout the film. They're nothing special, but they're nice, I suppose. Then we get to the salmon rush with the other bears, and then... some things happen, and... I tell you, I really haven't retained a lot of this. I could watch again and try to pinpoint exactly why a lot of this movie isn't that memorable, but why? A good film should grab you from one watch; you might appreciate it more the more times you watch it, but you should at least have some interest to watch again. I will say the twist at the hour mark is pretty interesting, and since I don't care if I spoil it, the bear Kenai killed is actually Koda's mother. That perked my interest slightly. Too bad there was only fifteen minutes of movie left. Oh yeah, there are also these two Canadian moose (meese?) that show up from time to time to provide comic relief. I guess they're supposed to be funny. I guess...
Verdict? I just don't know where this movie came from. I've heard rumors Michael Eisner really wanted to push a bear film through product to sell plush bear dolls, so maybe there's your answer. Everything about this movie feels very dated; to follow the extravagant "Lilo & Stitch" and "Treasure Planet" with something like this seems very odd. Not that I'm against doing a more traditional film, but it's got to have some twist or twinge of new interest, but this film feels very flat, quite boring, and not a single thing about it feels memorable. ...sounds kinda harsh, but what can I say but what I think, eh?