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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BROTHER BEAR (article first published : 2004-04-2)

Brother Bear is a visually rich and heartwarming animated film peddling morals and offering sweet treat for the under-10s.

The sad thing, however, is that it is likely to be remembered less for receiving an Oscar nomination this year for best animated feature (it lost to Finding Nemo), than for being possibly the last traditional, hand-drawn, two-dimensional film from the Disney studio.

Financially speaking, 2-D just doesn't cut it anymore and, alongside the wondrous computer animated features, takes longer to create and at more expense. Already Disney has closed its big animation studio in Florida, America, and scrapped work on a half-complete, 2-D feature titled A Few Good Ghosts.

All of which makes one appreciate Brother Bear more.

Set in the Pacific Northwest, shortly after the Ice Age has ended, the movie focuses on a Native American youth called Kenai (the voice of Joaquin Phoenix). After an initiation ceremony promoting him to manhood, Kenai is disappointed when spiritual leader Tenana (Joan Copeland) presents him with a bear totem symbolising love, especially when he recently had a bear steal the salmon he and his brothers caught.

But when, later, through tricks of magical light and fate, Kenai is magically transformed into a bear, his loathing of the animal starts to change, thanks in no small part to his friendship and eventual devotion to a cute lost bear cub called Koda (the voice of Jeremy Suarez).

The two set out on a series of adventures, the best of which has them crossing paths with two hilarious, dim-witted mooses, Rutt (Rick Moranis) and Tuke (Dave Thomas), who are such scene-stealers they should be given their own movie.

Also fun is a scene involving two lazy rams that have a constant argument with their own echoes. All the while through Kenai's escapades, his older brother, Denahi, who saw a bear lumbering off from Kenai's clothes and spear, imagines the worst and begins to hunt his brother.

Although the animation in this film is first-rate when it comes to landscapes and the salmon run sequence, the characters themselves, surprisingly, are not particularly well realised, with the exception of those mooses.

And the handful of intrusive, sappy, forgettable Phil Collins songs, thrown into the mix of what is not a musical, is also a big thumbs-down, even if one is sung by Tina Turner.

All considered, however, the 85-minute film is way better, visually, than Disney's lacklustre recent efforts, Lilo and Stitch and The Jungle Book 2. And make a note of sticking around for the end credits - they provide the film's best laughs, by far.

Brother Bear, also feauring the voice talent of Michael Clarke Duncan - The muscley star who played a prisoner with magical powers in The Green Mile - gets a rating of 7/10. - Billy Suter




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