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Brother Bear & Brother Bear 2: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD Review

Brother Bear (2003) movie poster Brother Bear

Theatrical Release: October 24, 2003 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker / Writers: Tab Murphy, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman

Voice Cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Kenai), Jeremy Suarez (Koda), Jason Raize (Denahi), Rick Moranis (Rutt), Dave Thomas (Tuke), D.B. Sweeney (Sitka), Joan Copeland (Tanana), Michael Clarke Duncan (Tug), Harold Gould (Old Denahi), Paul Christie (Ram #1), Daniel Mastrogiorgio (Ram #2), Estelle Harris (Old Lady Bear), Greg Proops (Male Lover Bear), Pauley Perrette (Female Lover Bear), Darko Cesar (Croatian Bear), Bumper Robinson (Chipmunks), Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley, Ph.D (Narrator - Inuit)

Songs: "Great Spirits", "Transformation", "On My Way", "Welcome", "No Way Out (Theme from Brother Bear)", "Look Through My Eyes", "No Way Out (Theme from Brother Bear)" (Phil Collins Version)
Brother Bear 2 (2006) original DVD cover art Brother Bear 2

Video Premiere: August 29, 2006 / Running Time: 73 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Benjamin Gluck / Writers: Rich Burns (screenplay); Jeff Hand, Roger S.H. Schulman (additional screenplay material)

Voice Cast: Patrick Dempsey (Kenai), Mandy Moore (Nita), Jeremy Suarez (Koda), Rick Moranis (Rutt), Dave Thomas (Tuke), Andrea Martin (Anda), Catherine O'Hara (Kata), Wanda Sykes (Innoko), Wendie Malick (Aunt Siqiniq), Kathy Najimy (Aunt Taqqiq), Michael Clarke Duncan (Tug), Jim Cummings (Bering, Chilkoot), Jeff Bennett (Atka), Jessie Flower (Young Nita), Tress MacNeille (Hoonah), Jason Marsden (Additional), Bobb'e J. Thompson (Additional), Jack Weber (Young Kenai)

Songs: "Welcome to This Day", "Feels Like Home", "It Will Be Me", "Welcome to this Day (Reprise)"

Buy Brother Bear from Amazon.com: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD / DVD: Original Sequel / Instant Video: Original Sequel

An air of doom and gloom hung over fans of Disney animation through the first decade of the 2000s. With computer-animated features thriving and Disney's own cartoons often sputtering at the box office, the writing was on the wall that the old, beloved tradition of hand-drawn animation could be in jeopardy. There was this unmistakable feeling that each new release could make or break the medium.
Lilo & Stitch does well... maybe the old way is in the clear. Five months later, Treasure Planet bombs... is this the end? No matter the reception, the highs of Disney's 2D animated features were not as high as those of CG 'toons and the lows were much lower.

Disney's 2003 animated feature Brother Bear wielded promise both commercially and artistically. This film clearly recalled two of the studio's most esteemed and successful works of the previous decade: The Lion King as a tale driven by talking animals in the wild and Tarzan as a movie featuring songs written and performed by Phil Collins. Brother Bear suffered by those comparisons it invited. It wasn't as visually and dramatically potent as those two blockbusters, nor was it as much fun. And though it had domestically grossed more than double the canon's previous release, Treasure Planet, its $85 million tally seemed puny following a summer in which Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean each passed the $300 million mark Disney had only previously seen with Lion King.

Ten years after its theatrical release, Brother Bear is the very definition of a mid-range Disney film. Neither its fans nor detractors show it great enthusiasm. It's not loved on the order of forebears The Emperor's New Groove and Lilo & Stitch, nor is it loathed like the subsequent Home on the Range and Chicken Little. Brother Bear feels more like a typical Disney movie than any of those, with its talking animals, near-musical stylings, and Bambi-esque natural world allegory. Whether that makes it easier to overlook or a more familiar comfort comes down to taste.

Transformed into an animal he detests, Kenai isn't thrilled to be accompanied by chatty cub Koda to the salmon run in Disney's "Brother Bear."

Set in the distant past, Brother Bear directs our attention to a trio of young adult human brothers. Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) and Denahi (the late Jason Raize) are prone to playful conflict, while their wiser big brother Sitka (D.B. Sweeney) calmly oversees. At the ceremony in which he is to be declared a man, Kenai is disappointed to be assigned the bear of love as his totem. He's not a big fan of bears and his dislike of them grows when Sitka dies in a showdown with one. Kenai hungers for vengeance, but after his own close encounter with the same bear, the young man finds himself transformed into a bear by one of the Great Spirits, namely the eagle that once was Sitka.

The transformation is meant to change Kenai's outlook on bears and it doesn't right away, as he resists the company of Koda (Jeremy Suarez), a talkative young cub whose mother has gone missing. Kenai reluctantly agrees to accompany Koda to his destination, a salmon run, purely because it is near the spot where the mountains and Northern Lights touch, the site where Kenai hopes to be turned back into a human. While the two bears are on their journey of self-discovery, the still human and angry Denahi seeks revenge on Kenai, mistaking his unintelligible brother for a bear that killed him.

Brother Bear uses The Lion King as somewhat of a blueprint, attempting to recreate certain beats, most strikingly a big opening song resembling "Circle of Life." Like Lion King, this film offers one of Disney's darker stories, full of death and guilt. Thus, the filmmakers seize every opportunity to lighten it up. Kenai and Koda become mismatched buddies in a road trip comedy. There's also comic relief had in Rutt and Tuke, a pair of Canadian moose voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas in the style of their McKenzie brothers of "SCTV", Strange Brew, and assorted commercials. Timon and Pumbaa, they are not, but their bits are some of the better ones in a film that's spotty comedically.

The first 25 minutes of the film, those in which Kenai is one of three human brothers, are spent pillarboxed in the relatively narrow aspect ratio of 1.73:1. Meet the comic relief of "Brother Bear": Canadian moose Tuke and Rutt, voiced by SCTV's Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis.

Dramatically, the film is somewhat iffy as well. Its story, which Pixar's Brave resembles too much not to mention, is laid out a little clunkily. There are corny, touchy-feely moments and inconsistencies that fall apart under scrutiny. You wouldn't mind if the film's sights weren't set so high in the sky, clearly determined to move viewers with perspective-shifting lessons on life's connections, cycles, and natural order. The film seems to believe it has a shot to one-up The Lion King,
even though it is destined not to resonate with audiences to such a profound degree.

Despite these shortcomings, I find the film highly appealing and probably more so than any than other Disney animated feature in between the ends of last decade. It may rely on formula and calculated appeals for audience support. It may not inspire the devotion and fandom of Disney's best modern efforts. The writing may even have the feel of a lesser, unknown studio aspiring to Disney-type entertainment. And yet, it makes for an almost entirely enjoyable viewing, full of good music and pleasant diversion.

I also find Brother Bear more memorable than the average animated film, although that is probably attributable to personal experience, having seen it twice in theaters and then having it be the first film reviewed by advance press screener on this site. Though I don't believe I've rewatched the film in the nine years since that DVD review, every moment remained familiar this time, undoubtedly heightened by the significance of past viewing conditions.

If Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has taught us anything in the past few years, it is that Disney animated films sell well on Blu-ray and well enough to justify the costs needed to make even not-quite-classics available on the format. Brother Bear was an obvious choice for release, not only because as a digitally-stored modern production, it requires little work to look and sound terrific on Blu-ray, but also because it has a direct-to-video sequel with which it can form a 2 Movie Collection seemingly high on value.


Brother Bear 2 made its debut late in the summer of 2006. That was near the end of DisneyToon Studios' lucrative but derided run of creating follow-ups to Disney's most popular animated films. As a product of that stretch, the existence of this sequel is easy to question (was anyone clamoring for this or a country music-flavored Fox and the Hound 2?), while the technical quality is harder to criticize.

Two significant personnel changes are both telling and somehow appropriate given the move from theatrical release to video premiere. Melissa Etheridge takes the musical reins from Phil Collins, writing some and singing all of the songs designed to advance the story. The other downgrade finds three-time Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix replaced by "Grey's Anatomy" star Patrick Dempsey as the voice of Kenai. The effects of those changes are felt immediately. Etheridge's songs lack the power and elegance of Collins' compositions. Meanwhile, Dempsey shifts the dynamic of the character, supplying more warmth and none of the character's edge. You're left guessing whether the makers wanted a softer, more lovable Kenai or simply didn't bother to watch the original film.

Water-fearing Nita gets a ride from Kenai, her transformed childhood companion, in Disney's "Brother Bear 2."

This time around, Kenai is less a protagonist and more the most physically substantial part of an ensemble. Little time is wasted before an old love interest is retconned for this human turned bear. Nita was a girl that Kenai saved from drowning as a child. Now, Nita is grown up (and voiced by Mandy Moore, taking her first step up the Disney animated heroines ladder) and on the verge of entering into an arranged marriage. If the first film took its cues from The Lion King, this sequel seems to recall Disney's next animated feature, Pocahontas, with this portrayal of Native American life.

Before Nita can marry Atka, the Great Spirits use a storm and parting to make it clear that this wedding is not acceptable. Nita consults sassy "shawoman" Inoko (Wanda Sykes, naturally), who reminds Nita that she is already matched up, per the amulet Kenai gave her in childhood. Because there's got to be a journey, Nita must head to Hokani Falls with Kenai to burn the amulet on the Equinox, which happens to be just a few days away. To aid her on this bond-breaking mission, Inoko gives Nita the ability to speak and understand bear (shouldn't someone have given that to Denahi last movie?).

Moosettes Anda and Kata initially shrug off the advances of Tuke and Rutt. Kenai and Koda briefly check in with Tug, one of the original film's few characters to resurface.

To flesh out this thin adventure to its 73-minute running time, Rutt and Tuke are back (still Moranis, who's stayed retired ever since, and Thomas), gripped with spring fever, and looking for love in all the wrong places. They come to set their sights on Anda and Kata (fittingly voiced by fellow "SCTV" alums Andrea Martin and Catherine O'Hara), "moosettes" not easily impressed. Koda is also around, largely just to play third wheel to Kenai and Nita and feel left out. Adding some conflict, there is also a long-held fear of water, a forest full of angry raccoons, and a random avalanche.

Partly because it arrived so close to the original film and partly because DisneyToon Studios had been honing their skills for a dozen years, Brother Bear 2 shouldn't anger many people. Its mediocre current 6.1 IMDb user rating is at the high end for a Disney DTV sequel and remarkably close to its predecessor's 6.6. The visuals are unusually good, the backgrounds more than the character animation. The writing is adequate and if you think of this as animated romantic comedy, you'll find it's more sophisticated than most of the live-action kind. You'll see the inevitable resolution coming from a mile away, but it works well enough. In short, for being a sequel with no good reason to exist, this film is quite all right.

Brother Bear & Brother Bear 2: 3-Disc Special Edition 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

Blu-ray: 1.73:1-2.35:1 & 1.78:1 Widescreen; DVDs: 1.66:1 & 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English)
DVDs: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish); BB2: DTS 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish; BB1 DVD: English for Hearing Impaired
Most BD Extras Subtitled; DVD Films and Extras Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 12, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 2 DVD-9s)
Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Brother Bear also available in 2-Disc Special Edition DVD ($15.99 SRP; March 30, 2004) and on Amazon Instant Video / Brother Bear 2 also available in standalone DVD ($15.99 SRP; August 29, 2006) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

In theaters, Brother Bear opened in an approximately 1.66:1 aspect ratio and then, 24 minutes in, shifted to 2.35:1, utilizing the wider frame to reflect a new perspective for ursine Kenai. Like DVD, Blu-ray recreates this unusual approach, only the effect doesn't quite work as intended. The first nearly one-third of the film appears pillarboxed in 1.73:1 within the 2.35:1 frame. Thus, the expanded ratio opens up the frame. But unlike theaters, where the curtains ought to have been set to cover the unused edges or you wouldn't have noticed anyway, at home, that opening is just smaller and more distant than it should be. On your television, the ratio change doesn't spell expansion, just relief that things have returned to a normal use of your screen's space.

Nearly the first-third of "Brother Bear" is presented like this, bordered on all four sides, in pillarboxed 1.73:1.

Aside from that creative choice, to which there is no clear and preferable alternative, the Blu-ray's transfer is perfect.
The wide visuals are beautiful, vibrant, sharp, and spotless. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is amazing. There's a lot of life, directionality, and impact to the soundtrack.

The original movie's DVD included here, Disc 1 of its original release, presents it entirely (save for the end credits) in the 1.66:1 "family-friendly widescreen" aspect ratio, a curious compromise that made little sense than and even less now. The cropping is essentially a pan & scan, an ugly, short-sighted practice that has gladly disappeared with 16:9 becoming the standard television aspect ratio. It's kind of a bummer that the film isn't properly presented on DVD here, but that decision, which has supplemental benefits I'll get to, isn't too crucial since the film's 2-disc DVD appears to be staying in print and at an uncommonly low price for a Disney animated feature.

Brother Bear 2 unsurprisingly gets a perfect Blu-ray transfer in 1.78:1 and 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. There's not a flaw to be found and as I mentioned above, the film is more picturesque and faithful to its predecessor's look than the majority of Disney's less swiftly realized DTV sequels.

Michael Clarke Duncan, the voice of Tug who at one time held a lead role, gives a bear hug to long-haired directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker in "Paths of Discovery: The Making of 'Brother Bear.'" Muri, a squirrel largely cut from the film, has a talking scene among the film's deletions. Kenai takes a rubber ducky to the face in "Koda's Outtakes."

BONUS FEATURES

Brother Bear's Blu-ray hangs on to most of the film's extras from its one and only 2-Disc Special Edition DVD, all of them remaining unsurprisingly in 1.33:1 standard definition.

"Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear"(44:43) is a 12-part, all-encompassing documentary. Featuring interviews with many principal crew and voice cast members
plus some behind-the-scenes and work-in-progress footage, it addresses the story's evolution, the voice cast, and the music.

Three deleted scenes (11:21) are individually and collectively introduced by the directors and producer Chuck Williams. There is a long pun-heavy exchange between the bears and moose, a pencil-animated alternate version of the confession scene, and a cut peripheral squirrel named Muri.

"Koda's Outtakes" (2:45) are like the Pixar gags of yore, unnecessarily narrated by Jeremy Suarez as Koda. They're not so funny.

Phil Collins introduces the "never-before-heard" "The Fishing Song" (3:45), a deleted number presented in story reel and Collins demo. It's similar but inferior to "Welcome", the infectious song ultimately used.

The Bulgarian Women's Choir performs "Transformation" with subtitles translating their foreign lyrics. Phil Collins gets really into it in his "Look Through My Eyes" music video. Cave drawings are ever so slightly animated in the last of three shorts comprising "Bear Legends: Native American Tales."

The song "Transformation" (2:24) is presented with subtitles translating the Inuit lyrics we see the Bulgarian Women's Choir performing in a recording session.

"On My Way" is treated to a sing-along song (4:03), which simply applies plain subtitles (both spoken words and lyrics) to a low quality video of the corresponding sequence from the film. As one of Disney's last films given a Sing-Along Songs video, this probably should have come from that as the DVD's version did.

The music video for the likable end credits song "Look Through My Eyes" (4:05) finds Collins singing amidst a band, silent clips projected on a curtain, and some additional clips interspersed.

"Bear Legends: Native American Tales" (2:56) tells three thematically kindred short fables with minimally animated cave drawings and the voice of Tanana (Joan Copeland).

Jeremy Suarez gets a hands-on demonstration of sound effects work in "Making Noise: The Art of Foley." An image from "Art Review" shows us the height scale for the cast of the film. Melissa Etheridge gives her all to the music of "Brother Bear 2."

"Making Noise: The Art of Foley" (3:16) treats Suarez to a hands-on demonstration of using various objects to create synchronized sound effects for films.

"Art Review" (9:58) lets art director Robh Ruppel and Kenai supervising animator Byron Howard comment upon concept art and research photos. In the process, their designs and remarks share how the story and characters evolved during development and production.

Last but not least, we get a character audio commentary from Rutt (Rick Moranis) and Tuke (Dave Thomas). It's impressive that these two entertainers can keep up the act for 85 unscripted minutes, but then the McKenzies must have been sort of second nature to them by 2003. Enough of their screen-specific jokes and movie references land to make this a lively, amusing way to revisit the film. While some might have preferred a serious filmmaker commentary, this is more memorable and enjoyable.

Brother Bear 2's only Blu-ray bonus feature is "Behind the Music of Brother Bear 2" (8:20), a featurette that finds Melissa Etheridge, Josh Kelley, and the film's makers taking the soundtrack much too seriously. Disney's dated digital copy primer is listed alongside it.

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for The Little Mermaid 3D, Monsters University, and Planes. The menu's Sneak Peeks listing adds ads for Disney Movie Rewards, the video game Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, Radio Disney sweepstakes, Mulan: 15th Anniversary, Super Buddies, Return to Never Land, and the thus unnamed next Tinker Bell movie.

The two DVDs included here are simply recycled from the films' original DVD releases, which ensures we don't lose three set-top games that do not make the jump to Blu-ray.

The recycled Brother Bear DVD retains "Bone Puzzle", a game that lives up to its name. Answer a bunch of questions to receive your totem in "Find Your Totem." The DVD's set-top trivia game "Trample Off, Eh?" asks questions about animals and "Brother Bear 2."

The first disc in Brother Bear's 2-disc set is included here. That allows it to retain Rutt & Tuke's commentary, the "Look Through My Eyes" music video, the superior "On My Way" sing-along, "Bear Legends", "Making Noise", and "Art Review."

The DVD also includes something not found on the Blu-ray: Brother Bear Games! Narrated by an encouraging Sitka (D.B. Sweeney), the sometimes challenging "Bone Puzzle" has you find the missing bones to fill in animal paw prints.

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Solving them treats you to some fun facts about the species whose bones you just assembled. Aurally hosted by Tanana (Joan Copeland), "Find Your Totem" is a personality profile quiz that assigns you an animal totem based on how you answer a series of questions. It's totally legit too; I got the fun otter just as I did nine years ago!

You won't find the deleted scenes, deleted songs, and making-of documentary on the DVD; those joined the original theatrical presentation on the unreproduced Disc 2 of the original DVD.

Brother Bear is launched with dated previews for Aladdin: Special Edition (back when Disney was reluctant to identify things as "Platinum Edition"), The Incredibles, Chicken Little, Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers, Mary Poppins: Special Edition (ultimately called a 40th Anniversary Edition), and Mulan II. Those are joined on the Sneak Peeks menu by nostalgia-inducing commercials for the Brother Bear Gameboy Advance video game and Walt Disney World Magical Gatherings (featuring future two-time "Modern Family" Emmy winner Eric Stonestreet).

Brother Bear 2's DVD has the exclusive game "Trample Off, Eh?" In it, you help Rutt and Tuke (seemingly still Moranis and Thomas) get tickets to the Northern Lights show so they can impress their "moosette" dates. You answer eight questions from three different categories. A randomly falling pine cone determines the category. All questions either pertain to the movie or the real life versions of the cast's animals. Most players will find the questions easy, provided that they've recently watched the movie and know a little bit about nature. The design is sufficient, but the only reward for enduring this challenge is a mildly amusing clip of Rutt and Tuke at the show.

Brother Bear 2 opens with trailers for The Little Mermaid: 2-Disc Special Edition, The Wild, The Fox and the Hound 2, and Air Buddies. Its Sneak Peek menus add ads for Twitches, Cars, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse": Mickey Saves Santa and Other Mouseketales, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, the unrealized Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: A Kingdom of Kindness, and Toontown Online.

The old animated DVD main menus of Brother Bear... ...and Brother Bear 2 show a lot more creativity than the static screens found on the Blu-ray.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Each movie gets a scored, static menu screen on Blu-ray. The Blu-ray doesn't allow you to resume playback or place bookmarks, making it inferior to DVD in one way. Brother Bear's menu utilizes a 5.1 sound field for Rutt and Tuke voiceover, while other characters make the occasional appearance. Brother Bear 2 DVD's main menu plays clips on a cave in between a camp fire and a waterfall, while the Bonus Features menu adds Rutt and Tuke banter.

The standard Blu-ray case stacks the two gray DVDs across from the blue Blu-ray. Disney Movie Rewards and Disney Movie Club inserts reside in the keepcase, which is topped by a nicely embossed cardboard slipcover repeating the mildly revised artwork below.

Kenai adjusts to his new ursine body and voice.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though not widely recognized as it, Brother Bear is one of Disney Animation's best movies from the early 2000s. It may be derivative, but it's a plenty entertaining film on its own merits. While Brother Bear 2 is perfectly adequate for a direct-to-video sequel, its inclusion here at the addition of a disc and probably $12.50 in list price isn't exactly cause for celebration. Still, the high quality of the original film, its extras, and its presentation is enough to recommend this set even to those who are selective about the Disney animation they collect.

Support this site when you buy Brother Bear & Brother Bear 2 now from Amazon.com:
2 Movie Blu-ray + DVD / DVDs: Original Sequel / Instant Video: Original Sequel

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Related Reviews:
New: Mulan & Mulan II Who Framed Roger Rabbit The Hunchback of Notre Dame Adventures in Zambezia Wings of Life
Disney Animation on Blu-ray: Treasure Planet Home on the Range The Lion King Tangled Wreck-It Ralph The Aristocats
Pocahontas & Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World The Fox and the Hound & The Fox and the Hound II The Rescuers & The Rescuers Down Under
Finding Nemo Brave The Incredibles Tarzan Elf Alpha and Omega Bambi Enchanted

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Reviewed April 16, 2013.



Text copyright 2013. DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2003-06 Walt Disney Pictures, 2006 DisneyToon Studios, and 2004-2013 Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.
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