Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis,
Dave Thomas, Joan Copeland, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jason Raize,
Aaron Blaise, Bob Walker
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By Holly McClure
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
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
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 Crosswalk.com.
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