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movies > brother bear

brother bear

Brother Bear is the story of three human brothers living with their tribe in the Ice Age. In a very short amount of time, the film defines these three characters as wise oldest brother Sitka and his two younger siblings, half-witted but well-meaning Kenai and the jesting, hard-headed Denahi.

Kenai is excited to be receiving his totem from tribe elder Tanana, but when he winds up with the "Bear of Love" as his symbol he is disappointed. Kenai doesn't see how a bear (or he, himself) can represent love. His feelings certainly don't change when it is when the three brothers are fighting a bear that Sitka is killed. Kenai sets out to kill the bear responsible for his older brother's death. When he does, though, the spirits that govern interspecies transformations see to it that Kenai is transformed into the big brown bear that he has just killed.


The highlight of Disc 1 is Rutt & Tuke's Commentary, which is just like any audio commentary, except that the speakers are Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas in character as the film's comic relief moose. It feels totally improvised, and Moranis and Thomas are in prime form. It's mostly quite funny, and I do wish it wasn't only on the reformatted disc. You can choose to listen to the commentary with visuals or without; with the former selected, you occassionally get to see well-done silhouettes of the moose. Of course, the entertainment value of the commentary, like Strange Brew, is totally subject to taste. Some may find the dim-witted banter and heavy sprinkling of "eh"s abrasive, but for me, I found it quite entertaining, for the most part. It would have been nice to have this character commentary on the properly-framed disc.

Koda's Outtakes (2:45) present Disney Feature Animation's attempt to create a series of bloopers which treat the film's characters as actors. The idea may seem familiar, and it should, as the practice was employed by Pixar for three of their high-profile animated films, beginning with A Bug's Life. The clips here are a bit entertaining; they don't seem like a complete retread of the jokes that Pixar's already done. This outtakes reel, hosted by Koda, does feature the obligatory bodily humor, but also a cool Stitch cameo.

In the music video for "Look Through My Eyes" (4:00), Phil Collins performs with a band in front of and in between clips from the film. The Sing Along Song of "On My Way" (4:02) of course presents the musical segment of the film (in 1.66:1 non-windowboxed anamorphic widescreen) with the lyrics on screen.

There are two options to choose from "Brother Bear Games." In "Bone Puzzle", you select from a pallette of uniquely-shaped bones to fill in the prints of various animals. After successfully completing a puzzle, you are treated to a short montage of facts and clips of the animal whose part you just assembled. These include some clips from other Disney films and shorts; the raccoon featurette, for instance, briefly features Pocahontas' Meeko. The game requires closer attention than most typical games, though it might frustrate some viewers. There's no way to lose, and ultimately, they start repeating the same ones, so I suspect the (safe) assumption is that you'll tire of it eventually, even if the "prize" clips are fun.

"Find Your Totem" poses a variety of questions and then "the spirits" tell you which symbol most represents you. It's like the "Princess Personality Profile" game. The only drawback for antsy players is you have to wait to hear the question each time, even after the response choices appear. I got the otter totem.

"Bear Legends" (2:55) is a short but dry bunch of Native American tales featuring wall drawings and narrated by Tanana.

"Making Noise: The Art of Foley" (3:16) is a little featurette on Brother Bear's sound effects hosted by Jeremy Suarez (the voice of Koda). It may be geared towards a young audience, but I think all will find it fascinating, even those familiar with the process.

"Art Review" (9:55) is the closest thing to a filmmaker's commentary on the DVD, and it's enjoyable. Conceptual and development art for Brother Bear, accompanied by the film's score, is described by art director Robh Ruppel and Byron Howard, the supervising animator of Kenai. The development of the film's characters is discussed. It's more lively and informative than a simple stills gallery, and it's a great bonus feature, which those interested in Disney's artwork will particularly enjoy.

The Sneak Peeks that play at the beginning of Disc 1 are for Aladdin, The Incredibles, Chicken Little (Disney's computer animated film coming to theaters in 2005), The Three Musketeers, Mary Poppins: Special Edition (the booklet provides us our first look at this set's cover art), Mulan II. There are also ads for the GameBoy Advance Brother Bear video game and Walt Disney World Magical Gatherings, accessible from the "Sneak Peeks" menu which is accompanied by an intimdiating rift on the familiar Sneak Peeks music. Unfortunately, there is no section containing trailers for Brother Bear, even though a few different previews for the film appear on other discs, including The Lion King and Treasure Planet.

Onto Disc 2, the disc which presents the film correctly and contains four bonus features. The most substantial extra of the entire set is "Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear", a 45-minute documentary. This praiseworthy piece takes you through the film's production and boasts an impressive list of interview subjects. Among those who appear are directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker, producer Chuck Williams, Roy Disney, Joaquin Phoenix, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Dave Thomas, and Rick Moranis.

The film's origins go back to 1994 when Disney CEO Michael Eisner, wowed by The Lion King, asked if any other films about animals were on the drawing board. Like The Lion King, but unlike most of the studio's animated features, Brother Bear is not based on any famous literary work and required an original story to be developed and fine-tuned over several years.

The film was originally going to be about Kenai and an older bear named Grizz, voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan. The directors finally gave into their co-workers who said it wasn't working, and Kenai's new travel companion became the younger Koda. Topics covered include the voice cast, the real locations that inspired animators, and the changing aspect ratio. A good portion of the documentary is devoted to the film's music; the songs were written by Phil Collins and originally planned to all be performed by him, too. In a first, Collins also wrote the film's score, with help from Mark Mancina, who scored Collins' previous Disney collaboration, Tarzan.

It is one of the best documentaries I've seen on a recent Disney animated film, or any recent studio film, for that matter. A minor drawback is that title screens turn up from time-to-time which break up continuity. This, nonetheless, allows a submenu to give the option to watch any portion of the documentary by itself, breaking it up into 12 short segments which each run a few minutes long (like last fall's disappointing bonus disc of The Lion King). The segmented-layout to the documentary just barely prevents it from being the perfect supplement to the film, but nonetheless, it is a well-produced and entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the film.

Next is the "Deleted Scenes" section. The three sequences and introduction from the two directors run 11 minutes and 5 seconds altogether with a "Play All" function. In addition, each scene is introduced by the filmmakers. "Where's Koda?" takes place the morning after Kenai breaks his promise to his young companion. Kenai has to go through the moose to get at Koda, who he realizes is necessary to get him to where he's going. It is effectively reconstructed through the use of storyboards. "Confession" employs preliminary black-and-white animation and provides an alternate to the film's existing "No Way Out" scene between Kenai and Koda. "Muri the Squirrel" was originally one of the first creatures Kenai experienced in the animal world and has his own scene, which was understandably deleted.

"The Fishing Song" (3:45) is a number that was written for the film's salmon run scenes, but ultimately replaced by "Welcome", one of the film's most memorable tunes. Phil Collins introduces the bonus feature and his vocals accompany storyboards from the movie. It's a nice inclusion, but the final song in the film is, naturally, better.

"Transformation Song" (2:39) presents a song that Phil Collins wrote for the Great Spirits in this important scene. Ultimately, the song was translated into Intuit and performed by the Bulgarian Women's Choir, who we see here, accompanied by the original English lyrics as subtitles, and interweaved with clips from the scene in the movie.

The pleasing menus offer some environmental animation which ranges from subtle to not-so-subtle. Disc 1's menus are forest-oriented, whereas the second disc's menus center around the salmon run. Some of the Disc 1 menu screens feature banter from Rutt & Tuke talking all around the 5.1 surround speaker setup. In a nice touch, the menus list the running time of the highlighted bonus feature. There are the THX Optimizer tests to calibrate your audio and video settings.

Surprisingly, Brother Bear's DVD is not housed by a cardboard slipcover the way other recent 2-disc Disney releases have been. It's a black dual amaray keepcase, which holds two discs in a standard single case size. Its insert folds out to six pages and contains a scene selection list, a two-page map of bonus features, and previews of the supplements on Discs 1 and 2.

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