Remember the day when a Disney old-school animation film was money in the bank? If it had singing animals and enough plush toy inspiration, the movie would have the legs of a rhino and occupy a space at the multiplex for what seemed like an eternity. The days of that particular Disney dynasty appear to be coming to an end.
Disney has been hinting for the past couple of years that it will cease making traditional cell-animation feature films like The Lion King in favor of more 3-D computer-animated films like Pixar’s Finding Nemo. With the exception of the passable Lilo & Stitch, their old-school animation studio, a most reliable moneymaking machine in the past, has been churning out box-office disappointments and bad cinema with their recent work (Treasure Planet, Atlantis: The Lost Empire).
The Disney cell-animation films have looked progressively worse since 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, where the art form may have achieved its artistic modern day peak. Lately, apart from getting visually sloppy, the stories have stunk, and the music has been unbearably bad. The drab-looking Brother Bear continues the genre’s downward spiral. Given the massive promotional campaign that has undoubtedly hooked the kiddies, the film’s box-office performance could be enough to make Disney execs say “Just kidding!” and return their animators to the drawing boards. What it won’t do is return the traditional animation studio to its former artistic glory.
Brother Bear is a frighteningly immature take on Native American life 10,000 years ago, where, as Disney sees it, tribal dances were accompanied by trashy Phil Collins songs and elderly Native American women looked like troll dolls. With unimpressive drawings, a story that insults the intelligence and Collins’ jarringly bad tunes, the film can take its place alongside The Aristocats and Treasure Planet as one of the worst Disney animated offerings.
The story is moronic: A young, ill-tempered Native American man named Kenai (voice of Joaquin Phoenix), who sees big bears as monsters that must be squelched, is transformed into a bear by ancestral spirits in order to see life through the eyes of an animal. In the animal world, it’s proven that men are the monsters who don’t appreciate the sanctity of animal life. Of course, there’s a wannabe catchy musical number where bears hunt down and mercilessly chomp their killing jaws into a countless number of fleeing, terrified salmon. The onscreen massacre of helpless fish is OK because fish have no feelings, right? Tell that to the kids who fell in love with the clown fish in Finding Nemo.
Kenai the bear becomes surrogate brother to Koda the cub (voiced by Jeremy Suarez). The two fill holes in each other’s lives: Kenai lost his older brother due to an unfortunate mishap with a small spear that managed to take out half a glacier, and Koda’s mom is missing due to mysterious events that won’t surprise anybody. How does the movie solve the problem of Kenai’s inevitable return to human form? The solution is stunningly bad.
For comic relief, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas revive their SCTV McKenzie Brothers in the guise of talking moose Rutt and Tuke. For adult fans, hearing the duo say “Trample off!” instead of “Take off!” is sort of funny. Perhaps a big box-office for Brother Bear will revive interest in the drunken siblings. This could restart Home Brew, the abandoned sequel to Strange Brew that had its plug pulled the day it was to start shooting four years ago. If that should happen, Brother Bear might just be worth the 81 minutes of misery it provides.