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Movie Info






Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Joan Copeland, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jason Raize, D.B. Sweeney


Aaron Blaise, Bob Walker


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'Brother Bear'

By Holly McClure
Reviewer, Special Notes: Jason Raize, who originated the role of Simba in the Broadway production of The Lion King, provides the voice of Denahi, the brother who seeks to avenge his brother's death.

Plot: In a tiny village, at the end of the Ice Age when the Earth was young, a determined teenager, Kenai (Phoenix), resents bears because they compete for food, overtake the land, ransack his village and ruin his coming-of-age ceremony. When his oldest brother is killed by a ferocious grizzly, Kenai ignores the village teachings of brotherhood with animals and sets out to hunt the bear for revenge. As he draws closer, Kenai is suddenly changed into a bear by the Great Spirits. Unfortunately his other brother doesn't realize what has happened and Denahi (Raize) tries to kill the bear he believes took his brother's life. Shocked that he is now forced to live as a bear among animals that can talk, Kenai roams the north passing through glacial caverns, frosty tundra, a valley of fire and treacherous gorges, searching for the place where the mountains touch the fire so that he can return to being a man. Along the way Kenai meets a talkative, but adorable, pesky bear cub named Koda (Suarez), a couple of hilarious moose brothers (Moranis and Thomas), a wise old bear (Duncan) and other talkative animals. Over the course of the trip, Kenai has a different perspective about man and bear and ultimately learns an important lesson about the true meaning of brotherhood.

Good: I enjoyed this movie because of the beautiful nature scenes, the hilarious one-liners and witty banter between the animals. Humor is definitely the key that makes this movie work (like it did for Ice Age). There are numerous themes that this story touches on -- ancient Indian legends, an attitude that man is equal to nature, mysticism, spirits of dead ancestors, rituals, breaking promises, family, man and nature living in harmony, death of a sibling, guilt, anger, blame, and wisdom. Although several scenes deal with heavy issues, the characters keep the story light, the music driven by songs from Phil Collins and Tina Tuner keep it lively and little Koda is a character kids will adore. My personal favorite characters are the moose brothers, Rutt and Tuke. Their humor was constantly funny and kept me laughing.
Bad: Looking beyond the "cute" scenes, beautiful scenery and a funny cast, there are a few intense scenes dealing with subject matter that may need to be explained to younger children. There are a couple of hunting scenes where a bear is trapped by hunters. There is an intense scene where one of the brothers falls into a raging river, another falls into a crevice, a man chases a bear and they fight on a rock ledge, a bear falls on a spear when she charges a man and we see a bear lying dead on the ground. Koda tells a story about a hunter chasing his mother, and Kenai realizes it was he who killed his mother. Koda's life is in danger several times as he and Kenai flee Kenai's angry brother and his spear. Two male rams try to get the attention of a female ram by butting heads and yelling to attract a female's attention nearby. One scene that's a funny sort of "adult" line (but will go over most kids heads) is when a male and female bear flirt and another bear says, "get a cave." When Koda  smells something on the ground he says, "If snow is white, it's all right; yellow or green is just not clean."

Bottom Line:  WARNING - Plot point about to be revealed to parents!

"We are brothers and we're all the same regardless of our species" is the theme at the core of this movie. While I appreciate a message of "unity" in any movie for children (and I think it's worthy to emphasize being kind to nature) I resent the subliminal message that is in this movie. In the end, when Kenai (as a bear) has been led to the top of the mountain and is being chased by his brother, then his brother who is dead and now in heaven appears changes Kenai back into a human. The two brothers then hug and rejoice. When Kenai then turns to see Koda, confused and shivering, he realizes he can no longer communicate with the bear. It's at this point that the movie lost me. Kenai turns to his brother who had been chasing him and says, "Koda needs me." He then asks his "spirit" brother to change him back to a bear, so that he can live with Koda and take care of him. This is a confusing message to kids. Did his human brother not need him as well? Weren't his family and friends in his village as important as a little bear?

With that kind of ridiculous mysticism-magic-spiritual mumbo jumbo message, it confuses kids and perpetuates a belief that man is not superior to animals but that we are all just the same. The message that "We must all take responsibility for our own actions" is great but it is, in fact, the glaring difference between man and beast and shows the very area where man is superior because he can rationalize and be responsible for his actions, whereas an animal cannot. Unfortunately the last thought these kids are left with as they leave the theater is a message that doesn't support the sanctity of human life. Instead, kids will walk out thinking, "Is life as a bear, really better than life as a human?" I know it will confuse them because that's what I saw and heard as I left the theater amidst a sea of confused children. This movie does have some wonderful, warm and funny moments that the whole family can enjoy. But in this particular case, the strong emphasis on the spiritual mysticism delivers a message parents won't want their kids believing. So moms and dads, plan on having a good discussion with your kids right after you leave the theater. Talk about the funny, lighthearted parts that your kids enjoyed, but be sure and bring up the mixed messages in the end that definitely need explaining.

Holly McClure writes movie reviews for
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