Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Title: Brother Bear
Budget: $46 million
Box office: $250.4 million
Plot: Three brothers in a post-ice age North America– Sitka, Denhai, and Kenai– return to their tribe in order for Kenai to receive his totem, a necklace in the shape of an animal. The particular animal it represents symbolizes what he must achieve to call himself a man. Unlike Sitka, who gained the eagle of guidance, and Denahi, who gained the wolf of wisdom, Kenai receives the bear of love, inviting teasing from his brothers.
He objects to this, stating that bears are thieves, and believes his point is proven when a bear steals some salmon. Kenai and his brothers pursue the bear, but a fight follows on a glacier, during which Sitka gives his life to save his brothers, although the bear survives. Kenai heads out to avenge Sitka. He chases the bear up onto a mountain and kills it.
The Spirits. (represented by Sitka’s spirit in the form of a bald eagle) transform Kenai into a bear. Denahi arrives, mistaking Kenai as dead, and believing his bear form is responsible, vows to avenge Kenai by hunting it down.
Kenai falls down some rapids, survives, and is healed by Tanana, the shaman of Kenai’s tribe. She does not speak bear, but advises him to return to the mountain to find Sitka and be turned back to normal, but only when he amends his mistake. Kenai quickly discovers the wildlife can talk, meeting two brother moose, Rutt and Tuke.
He gets caught in a trap, but is freed by a bear cub named Koda. They make a deal: Kenai will go with Koda to a nearby salmon run and then the cub will lead Kenai to the mountain. As the two eventually form an attachment, Koda reveals that his mother is missing. The two are hunted by Denahi, who is still determined to avenge Kenai, unaware that the bear he is pursuing is actually Kenai.
Eventually, Kenai and Koda reach the salmon run, where a large number of bears live as a family. Kenai adjusts to his surroundings and is happy living with the other bears. During a discussion among the bears, Koda tells a story about his mother fighting human hunters, making Kenai realize that the bear he killed was Koda’s mother.
Shocked and horrified at what he has done, Kenai runs away in a fit of guilt, but Koda soon finds him. Kenai reveals the truth to Koda, who runs away, grief-stricken. An apologetic Kenai leaves to reach the mountain. Rutt and Tuke, having had a falling out, reform their brotherhood in front of Koda, prompting him to go after Kenai.
Denahi confronts Kenai on the mountain, but their fight is interrupted by Koda, who steals Denahi’s hunting pike. Kenai goes to Koda’s aid out of love, prompting Sitka to appear and turn him back into a human, much to Denahi and Koda’s surprise. Realizing that Koda needs him, Kenai asks Sitka to transform him back into a bear with Denahi’s support. Sitka complies, and Koda is reunited briefly with the spirit of his mother, before she and Sitka return to the Spirits.
In the end, Kenai lives with the rest of the bears and gains his title as a man, through being a bear.
Background: After the success of The Lion King, Michael Eisner1 urged for more animal-based animated features, and suggested a North American backdrop, taking particular inspiration from an original landscape painting by Albert Bierstadt that he bought.
Veteran animator Aaron Blaise came on board the project as director and was soon joined by co-director Bob Walker. Blaise and producer Chuck Williams produced a two-page treatment of a father-son story where the son is transformed into a bear, and in the end remains a bear. Thomas Schumacher 2 approved of the revised story.
After the project was green-lit, Blaise, Walker, and the story artists embarked on a research trip in August 1999 to visit Alaska. They traveled on the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Kodiak Island, Denali National Park, the Kenai Fjords National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the Sequoia National Park.
Animation: The film was the third and final Disney animated feature produced primarily by the Feature Animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida; the studio was shut down in March 2004.
Layout artist Armand Serrano, speaking about the drawing process on the film, said that “we had to do a life drawing session with live bear cubs and also outdoor drawing and painting sessions at Fort Wilderness in Florida three times a week for two months.”
The film begins at a standard widescreen aspect ratio of 1.75:1 while Kenai is a human. After Kenai transforms into a bear twenty-four minutes into the picture, the film itself transforms to an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1. 3
Following the success of Tarzan, Phil Collins was offered the opportunity to compose songs for Brother Bear, as well as let him “co-write the score”. While Collins composed six songs for the film, he shared vocal performance duties with Tina Turner.
Joaquin Phoenix as His first major film release was Parenthood 4 He appeared in the films To Die For, Quills, Gladiator, 5 Walk the Line, 6 The Master, 7 Buffalo Soldiers, Signs, Hotel Rwanda, The Village, Earthlings, Two Lovers, The Immigrant, Her, Inherent Vice, and You Were Never Really Here. Jeremy Suarez as Koda. He made his debut in Jerry Maguire. He also played roles in many television shows, such as The Wayans Bros., Chicago Hope, King of the Hill, and The Bernie Mac Show.
Rutt and Tuke represent a reunion of the McKenzie brothers. Rick Moranis as Rutt. He first became known for his appearance on Second City Television (SCTV) and later in several Hollywood films, including Strange Brew, Ghostbusters, Little Shop of Horrors, Spaceballs, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Parenthood, My Blue Heaven, and The Flintstones. Dave Thomas as Tuke. Also started on SCTV. He appeared in Strange Brew. The Coneheads, Grace Under Fire, Rat Race, Fancy Dancing, and Beethoven’s Fifth. He also did voices for animation including Animaniacs, Duckman, CatDog, The Adventures of Tarzan, Justice League of America and multiple roles on The Simpsons, King of the Hill and Family Guy.
Jason Raize as Denahi. 8 He was best known for his roles as the adult Simba in the Broadway stage musical version of The Lion King. Joan Copeland as Tanana. She is best known for her performances in the 1977 Broadway revival of Pal Joey and her award winning performance in the 1981 play The American Clock. Her film credits include Middle of the Night, Roseland, It’s My Turn, A Little Sex, Happy New Year, The Laser Man, Her Alibi, Jungle 2 Jungle, The Peacemaker, The Object of My Affection, The Adventures of Sebastian Cole, The Audrey Hepburn Story, The Last Request, and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.
Greg Proops as Male Lover Bear. He is known for both the UK and U.S. versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway? He has done voice work in various films and TV shows, including Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Stripperella and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Proops provided the voice of Bob in the US version of the TV series Bob the Builder. Pauley Perrette as Female Lover Bear. She known for playing Abby Sciuto on the TV series NCIS. She is also a published writer, singer and civil rights advocate. Shemade appearances in several films, including The Ring and Almost Famous.
Michael Clarke Duncan as Tug. 9 His breakout role was as John Coffey in The Green Mile. 10 He also appeared in Armageddon, The Whole Nine Yards, The Scorpion King, Daredevil and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. His voice can be heard in films such as Kung Fu Panda and Green Lantern. Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley 11 as the Narrator. He was a Yup’ik anthropologist, teacher and actor from Alaska. He was an associate professor of education at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks until his death in 2011. He was in the film Salmonberries, and appeared in the television show Northern Exposure.
Estelle Harris returns as the Old Lady Bear and D.B. Sweeney returns as Sitka, the oldest brother.
Critical Reception: Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper both gave the film positive reviews, with Ebert saying that it “doesn’t have the zowie factor of The Lion King or Finding Nemo, but is sweet rather than exciting. Children and their parents are likely to relate on completely different levels, the adults connecting with the transfer of souls from man to beast, while the kids are excited by the adventure stuff.”
Legacy: The film was nominated at the 76th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, but lost to Finding Nemo. The song “Welcome” was later used as the theme song for Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams during the Happiest Homecoming on Earth, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Disneyland. A direct-to-video sequel, Brother Bear 2, was released on August 29, 2006.
Video games: Disney’s Brother Bear was released in November 2003 for the Game Boy Advance, mobile phone and Microsoft Windows.
My take: I have to say, for a film featuring a First Nations tribe, there’s a whole lotta Whitey here.
This wasn’t a bad movie, but it was kind of dull and predictable. The budget was only $46 million and it shows. The few computer animatuon sections such as the caribou heard and the salmon stream stick out. The music is forgettable. Yet somehow it made money.
Next Week: Home on the Range. To quote MST3K, “Deep hurting…”