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When a young Inuit hunter needlessly kills a bear, he is magically changed into a bear himself as punishment with a talkative cub being his only guide to changing back.
For more about Brother Bear and the Brother Bear Blu-ray release, see Brother Bear Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 11, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Jason Raize, D.B. Sweeney
Directors: Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker (VII)
» See full cast & crew
Brother Bear Blu-ray Review
"No matter what you choose, you'll always be my little brother..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 11, 2013
Disney is keenly aware of the appeal and reach of its catalog, down to the best and worst films under the Mouse House banner. Titles like Cinderella and Peter Pan arrive separately and to great fanfare, while other titles shuffle onto shelves en masse, sans the red-carpet treatment afforded their Platinum and Diamond Edition brethren. Last year, it was The Aristocats, The Rescuers, The Rescuers Down Under, Pocahontas, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, The Tigger Movie and Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, all of which released in a single week in August. This year the mois du jour is March, and the releases include Robert Zemeckis's Who Framed Roger Rabbit (the fan-favorite odd man out in the March 12th lineup) and a trio of 2-Movie Collection Blu-rays: The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Mulan and Mulan II, and Brother Bear and Brother Bear 2. (Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Atlantis: Milo's Return were originally set for March 12th as well but were unceremoniously and indefinitely delayed without explanation.) And, once again, the deluge is another hit or miss affair, with a classic live-action/animation hybrid, three solid (or at least decent) animated features and a near-unbearable batch of direct-to-video misfires.
Brother Bear, Disney's 44th animated feature, falls on the "at least decent" end of the spectrum, although the more critical your viewing, the more disgruntled your reaction will be. It may boast big ideas, a few daring choices and striking imagery, but it also boasts a number of fundamental problems, pawing at meaning and poignancy but never really going in for the kill. It lumbers, it growls, it gorges on everything within its reach. It huffs, it roars, it warms the heart. And yet it's ultimately as tame and harmless as it is easily dismissed and too quickly forgotten.
With warm weather returning after a difficult Ice Age, three Inuit brothers -- Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix), Denhai (Jason Raize) and Sitka (D.B. Sweeney) -- work together to survive, thrive and contribute to their tribe in the hopes of being recognized as men by their people. Tragedy soon strikes, though. Sitka sacrifices himself during a bear hunt to save his brothers, leaving an embittered and enraged Kenai swearing revenge on the beast responsible. But when Kenai tracks and kills the bear in retaliation, the Spirits exact vengeance of their own, turning Kenai into a bear; a bear Denhai, oblivious to his brother's transformation, begins to hunt aggressively. With his humanity on the line, Kenai sets out to undo his curse, albeit with the help of a few unlikely new friends: orphaned bear cub Koda (Jeremy Suarez), grizzly chieftain Tug (the late Michael Clarke Duncan) and Canadian moose duo Rutt and Tuke (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas), among others. Before he can embrace the real change brewing inside, though, Kenai learns a series of important lessons about the the creatures of the forest and the circle of life.
It isn't just Kenai that undergoes a change. Directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker make a number of interesting choices early on, the most notable of which involves an arguably more dramatic transformation: a surprising shift from the somewhat duller, windowboxed 1.85:1 imagery of Brother Bear's first twenty-four minutes to the expressive, richly colored, 2.35:1 widescreen imagery that dominates the remaining film. Sadly, though, it doesn't lead to anything more significant than a singular, momentary visual impact, other than perhaps heightening the wonder and magic of the natural world. But that's Brother Bear's perpetual failing -- a breathtaking burst of inspiration that slowly but surely settles into a superficial rut -- again and again and again. Kenai is an intriguing character, even without much in the way of complexity. And yet the second he becomes a bear, we're dragged along on yet another predictable, Disney-dipped journey toward discovery and understanding, all facilitated by a pack of talking animals with plenty of feel-good one-liners, contrived conflict and pop culture references to go around. Worse, like Mulan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame before it, the lurches from comedy to drama (and back) aren't merely clumsy, they're jarring and unwelcome.
Kids won't mind the simplicity or the lurching, and certainly won't be bothered by the influx of comedy, furry slapstick and cute and cuddly anthropomorphism. Even at its most desperate 2003-04 hour, Disney Animation was still adept at getting one thing right: pandering to its target demographic. But just imagine Brother Bear as it would have been had the filmmakers adhered to Bambi's minimalistic risks and narrative rewards. Imagine the interplay between Kenai, his brothers and the bears; the weight and power of soft-spoken, nearly silent animals behaving like animals rather than four-legged humans; the removal of the Canadian moose gags and the addition of characters that do more than provide comic relief; the animation more in line with the film's opening moments than its jaunt into lighter, buddy-bear cartooning. Children would no doubt be less enthused, but the movie itself would be something refreshing and original: a hand-drawn animated marvel more in line with Disney's early classics than the studio's post-Renaissance misadventures in lowest-common-denominator talking-animal crowd pleasers.
Brother Bear Blu-ray, Video Quality
Disney's faithful 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer initially presents Brother Bear windowboxed at 1.75:1 (with black bars on all sides) and then opens the image to 2.35:1 widescreen (with black bars at the top and bottom) at the 24:30-minute mark. Some will undoubtedly question the windowboxed presentation. However, presenting the film at true 1.75 or screen-filling 1.78:1 would lessen the intended impact of the aspect ratio shift. While less than ideal, particularly for viewers with Plasma or LED displays -- ideal being a true 1.75:1 image opening to a true 2.35:1 image, which can currently only be accomplished via projection -- it's the lesser of two evils and the best solution available. Thankfully, aside from prevailing banding that creeps in from scene to scene and a hint of aliasing inherent to the film's CG elements, the encode itself can be quite spectacular. Before the aspect ratio shift, colors pack punch but are a tad dull. After the shift, the palette is emboldened, suddenly brimming with more vibrant hues, more stunning primaries and richer, inkier blacks. Contrast remains consistently satisfying throughout, while pinpoint detail revels in crisp, clean line art, perfectly preserved animation and every nuance on display. Better still, significant macroblocking, noise and other issues are contained or altogether absent, and the image could only impress more if it weren't so prone to banding.
Brother Bear Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Although I expected a somewhat fuller, more enveloping lossless experience, Brother Bear's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track nevertheless kept me firmly rooted in the soundscape. Voices are clear and well-prioritized, and rarely succumb to surging waters, battles to the death or the bombast of the film's most intense sequences. Low-end output is strong and dynamics are excellent too, digging deep whenever called upon without sacrificing subtlety or prowess. The rear speakers, meanwhile, are light but lively, paying fitting respect to the score and Phil Collins' songs, albeit occasionally at the expense of a more engaging soundfield. The expanse of the wilderness and the depths of the forest aren't as vast, involving or immersive as they could be, even if the original sound design, not the lossless track itself, is the chief culprit. Fortunately, Brother Bear's audio isn't laden with issues or oddities of any kind and does its job, time and time again.
Brother Bear Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Brother Bear Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The orphan of Disney's March 12th releases, the Brother Bear 2-Movie Collection still delivers the goods when it comes to AV quality and, where the first film is concerned, supplemental content. There are ups and downs -- Brother Bear's video presentation being the high point of the release, Brother Bear 2's special features (or lack thereof) being the unmistakable low point -- but fans of the original film will be pleased with the collection's treatment overall.
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