Why did no one warn me? Seriously? Why did none of you have the goddamned decency to let me know what was in store? Oh sure, you said it was bad. But there is a difference between saying “You know, trains can be dangerous if they hit you” and screaming “GET OFF THE TRACKS YOU IDIOT!!”. Hell, why didn’t Disney warn me? How could they just release this on an unsuspecting public? Okay fine, I don’t expect them to flat out say “Our movie is cinema’s answer to the Khmer Rouge” but they could at least have hinted in their marketing that some serious shit was coming our way.
Bad? Oh hell yes.
I…I…ohhhhh that is hard to answer. Do you take the flaming mace to the nutsack or the being forcibly fed live moray eels? Dinosaur is horribly deriviative, ugly and deathly dull. Brother Bear, at least, is only one of those (the last one). It’s not a particularly bad looking film, certainly not jaw-dropping but not an assualt on the eyes either. And I certainly would never call this movie deriviative. Dinosaur’s plot is so rote you pretty much know how it’s going to play out within five minutes. Brother Bear though? Credit where it’s due, I guess, I would not have predicated the story choices this movie makes. It certainly tries to break the mold and try something different. But…”different” is not always “good”.
I honestly have never watched any Disney movie so slack jawed with utter disbelief at what I was watching. Never have I stared at the screen, silently mouthing the words “No. NO! No. No…No.”
I wanted to give you some background on this movie, what they were thinking, who thought it, what punishment was eventually meted out to them but there is nothing really. Nothing on the internet, nothing on the DVD barring the moose commentary. And no, I didn’t listen to it. I don’t owe you that. I don’t owe anyone that.
Sigh. Let’s just do this.
No. You know what? I refuse to take ownership for this.
Okay, expectations suitably lowered then.
Denahi tells us that his people believe that the Northern Lights can work miraculous changes and that the greatest he ever saw was on his brother Kenai, a boy who desperately wanted to be a man.
So we’re introduced to Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) as he tries to outrun a stampede of heroic deer who are trying their damndest to nip this whole sorry mess in the bud.
“Mufasa! Stampede! In the gorge! Kenai’s down there!”
Kenai leads the stampede to where his older brothers Denahi and Sitka are because he’s a massive jerk. Seriously, he’s just the worst. The three of them hide under a boat until the deer pass overhead. Denahi chews Kenai out and Sitka, the oldest, has to make peace between them. It turns out that today is the day Kenai becomes a man and receives his animal totem. Sitka and Denahi already have theirs, Sitka has the eagle (For Guidance) and Denahi has The Wolf (For Men. I mean, For Wisdom). Sitka tells Kenai to tie up their food so that no bears can get at it but he half asses the job and the food falls back to the ground. Kenai sees this but is in too much of a hurry and leaves it where it is. This one instance of slacking off is the inciting incident for the rest of the entire movie. Everything stems from this, to the point where every time I watch this movie I expect time travellers to appear at this scene who’ve travelled back to change history and spare the world from this movie. We also get a seriously weak song here written by Phil Collins and performed by Tina Turner called Great Spirits
.You might remember that I really loved Collins’ work on Tarzan
. Well, that was then. This is now, my friends. The bleak and terrible now. The three arrive at the mountain top where the tribe are already partying like it’s 1999 BC. The medicine woman asks Kenai if he’s ready to receive his spirit animal and he’s all like “fuck yeah!” and she tells him that it’s a good one. She then gives him his totem, the bear of love.
Kenai is pretty embarassed about this. Now personally, if I was told my spirit animal was a bear I’d be struttin’ around like King Big Cock and asking where all the pick-a-nick baskets are at but in Kenai’s tribe bears are apparently symbols of love and nurturing.
Well of course.
Kenai gets teased by Denahi and angrily says that he doesn’t want the stupid bear totem and I’ll admit…there are the seeds of an interesting idea here. A boy who wants to be a warrior is told that to become a man he has to embrace his nurturing side, there’s all kinds of issues of masculinity and gender roles raised by that that could be interesting to explore. Actually, these first few minutes of the movie are by far the best. They’re not great, and in fact none of the three actors playing the brothers are up to much but I found myself relating to this part of the story a little. Maybe it’s because I too have had problems with my brothers.
“And so you see, dear Brother, with the amulet at last in my grasp, all the Earth shall bow down before me!”
“You monster! That amulet belongs to the villagers!”
“God, it’s the same argument every damn Christmas with you two!”
Okay, so they get back to the camp and, would you look at that, a bear has stolen their basket of fish because Kenai is a Dumbass. I’m going to be using that expression a lot, so going forward I’m just going to type BKID as shorthand. Denahi is pissed because he spent two weeks making that basket aaaaaand maybe you’re just lousy at making baskets Denahi? Kenai, already in a pissy mood, says that he’ll go and get the stupid basket.
He finds the basket torn to pieces (Nice workmanship Denahi. I can see why that took two weeks) and sees the bear wot done it over in the distance. Alright, time for some interesting facts about bears:
- They are the largest carnivores walking the earth.
- They are incredibly intelligent.
- They can run at over 30 miles per hour.
- They can smell blood at distances in excess of forty miles.
- They can climb, swim and smash their way through almost anything to get to you.
From this, we can extrapolate that the odds are good that at any given time somewhere there is a bear that could kill you and simply chooses not to. Which is why, everyday, I take a few minutes to get on my knees and thank my bear.
Oh mighty bear. I thank you. For in your benevolent ursine mercy you have decided not to kill me by smashing my head open with your mighty bear paw like a melon. Yea. Like a melon. I pray that you will let me live another day.
“Meh. I’ll think about it.”
So just how stupid do you have to be to throw rocks at one? Kenai stupid, that’s how.
Accept no substitutes.
So Denahi and Sitka arrive just in time to see Kenai reap the fuzzy whirlwind. Sitka saves Kenai and Denahi from the bear by triggering an avalanche, sacrificing his life for his younger brothers. The bear survives and swims to shore and escapes into the woods. Kenai swears revenge. No, for real, he swears vengence on the animal who only attacked because of his provocation. BKID.
Denahi tries to talk him out of it, saying that following the totem of the bear of love probably doesn’t involve killing bears because you hate them so much. That, actually sounds like the opposite of what you should be doing. Kenai angrily says that love “has nothing to do with being a man”.
Barry White would beg to differ. Aaaaaaaaaw baby.
Kenai throws his totem away and goes off into the forest to find the bear and kill it with his little pointy stick. BKID. He finds the bear, and the two face off on top of a mountain.
Denahi arrives and sees Kenai fighting in the distance. Through a fluke, Kenai actually manages to spear the bear and kill it. He then climbs out from under the bears body, sees what he’s done and yells to the heavens for some fucking reason.
“You ah tearing me apart bear!”
Suddenly the Northern Lights appear in the sky and Kenai sees visions of wolves, bears, eagles and basically all the animals that Marshall Bravestaar gets his powers from. An eagle turns into the ghost of Sitka to let Kenai know that if he thinks the great spirits are cool with him murdering his totem animal then he’s got news for him: The great spirits are not cool with that. Then some glowing blue tentacles descend from the sky and turn Kenai into a bear.
Denahi arrives at the top of the mountain to see his brother gone and this bear just sitting there like what the hell and so he assumes that the bear killed Kenai. And that is profiling, dammit! Kenai then trips and falls into the river below. BKID.
LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!
And so Denahi decides that his brother was right all along and swears vengence on the bear. BDID.
Kenai wakes up and suddenly the art direction and colour scheme have become much more cartoony to reflect Kenai’s change of perspective. Also, the aspect ratio has changed from standard widescreen to anamorphic which is a big deal to people who care about aspect ratios. Kenai is being cared for by Tanana the Medicine Woman and he tries to explain to her what happened but she says “Kenai, I don’t speak bear!” What? No “listen with your heart, you will understand”? Kenai sees his reflection and realises he’s been turned into a bear and starts freaking out.
“Oh no! NOT A BEAR! OH WOE AND LAMENTATION!”
She tells Kenai that Sitka has done this to him and that if wants to change back he must travel to the mountain where the northern lights touch the earth and draws him a diagram on the ground.
“You must journey past the fish with terrible breath.”
Kenai then sets off and soon runs into two moose named Rutt and Tuke (Rick Moranis and David Thomas). Okay, SCTV is not really a thing in Ireland so I’m just taking IMDb’s word on this one:
“The moose, Rutt and Tuke are voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, the same two who played the MacKenzie Brothers (two beer punks) in their shows and movie The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew (1983). With that being the case, they even act out Rutt and Tuke as the same nutty personality types as they did as The MacKenzie Brothers. Even using the same type of language, like their over use of the Canadian expression “eh”.”
First off, Canada? You did not invent the word “eh”. Secondly, good God but these two are not funny. They’re not horribly annoying either, but their scenes just go on and on and on and on and there’s nothing there. They’re the movie’s comic relief, in that they relieve us of the expectation of comedy.
Kenai sensibly leaves these two behind (it’s no good Kenai, they’ll haunt you like an unfunny Jacob Marley) and walks straight into a trap that leaves him hanging over the forest floor. He meets a bear cub named Koda who’s voiced by Jeremy Suarez who is…a very nice young gentleman who’s doing the best he can. Alright no, that’s not fair. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Suarez’s performance but goddamn it this character is tough to take. I think this character is what a lot of you in the comments have accused Simba of being, the cocky, insufferable brat who just WILL NOT SHUT THE HELL UP. The basic character is the same, it’s just handled here with a lot less finesse and he’s pretty awful. Koda tells Kenai that he’ll help him out of the trap if Kenai takes him to the salmon run and Kenai agrees out of desperation. Koda gets him out but then runs off as he smells Denahi, who’s come to check on his trap. Kenai at first tries to greet his brother despite being a bear. BKID. But then Denahi attacks him and Kenai turns tail and runs. Both bears manage to escape and Kenai tries to welch on his deal with Koda, but then Koda tells him that he needs his help because he was travelling to the Salmon Run with his mother but then she went missing AND OH MY GOD NO MOVIE NO NO NO NO NO…
Ohhhhhhh boy. Okay, you’ve probably guessed where this is heading but I’ll just say it anyway. It’s his mother. The bear that Kenai killed was Koda’s mother. I repeat. The mother of the ostensably adorable bear cub was deliberately murdered by our hero.
There are movies where you could make that work.A Disney movie is not one of them.
I…I just. Wow. Okay. I’m game. Let’s see how this shakes out. How are they possibly going to dig themselves out of this hole?
Koda mentions that the Salmon Run is near where the lights touch the earth so Kenai grudgingly agrees to take him there.
Cut to pointless talking moose scene that goes nowhere and does nothing. And we’re back.
Koda and Kenai make their way through the forest and slowly a bond begins to form between yada yada yada, you know how it goes. Meanwhile, Denahi is tracking them all the time, getting more and more crazed each time the bears manage to escape his grasp and alright stop right there.
“What? What I do?”
Denahi, if you’re going to be this movie’s villain we have got to do something about this look. And here at Unshaved Mouse, we’ve brought in some experts to give you a brand new, so-good-it’s-bad makeover. That’s right folks, it’s time for BAD EYE FOR THE GOOD GUY!
““Facial hair, my dear boy, is the mark of any good male villain. The moustache makes the bastard.””
“Sharp white teeth strike fear in your opponent, let me see that snarl! Oh! Fierce!”
“Denahi, darling. Ask me how much eye shadow is too much?”
“FOOL! THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TOO MUCH EYE SHADOW!”
Alright everybody, let’s see if our former goody two shoes is ready to be a fully fledged Disney villain!
Make ’em proud Denahi.
Wow, they are just magicians, aren’t they? Yes. Quite a large number of them literally use magic.
Well, despite the power of eye shadow, Koda and Kenai reach the Salmon Run which is crawling with bears and we get a montage set to the song, Welcome. This is a pretty dire schmaltzy song about how all the bears just get along and love each other and always share and are one big happy family, oh crap just listen to it yourself.
Anyway Kenai slowly overcomes his hatred of bears and realises that they are actually a gentle, loving community.
As you can see here, where they play with the desecrated corpses of their prey.
The bears accept Kenai as one of their own and they all sit around swapping stories of what they’ve been doing in the last year. Koda tells the story of his mother’s battle against three terrifying human hunters and Kenai finally realises that he killed Koda’s mother and it is just frickin’ hilairous. Sorry, I don’t mean to be cruel, but they do it with these ridiculous grainy flashbacks like they use in nineties thrillers. It even has the close up on Kenai’s face with the goddamn scary violin of tension in the background.
Kenai runs off distraught through the forest and see the mountain where the Northern Lights touch the summit. He almost goes, but decides he can’t leave Koda without telling him the truth about what happened to his mother.Oh boy. This is going to be awesome. How in God’s good name are you going to pull this off, movie? How can you possibly do a scene where the hero has to tell an innocent child that he murdered his…why is the music playing? No. No no no no no. You cannot be serious.
THEY PLAY A GODDAMN SONG OVER THE SCENE WHERE KENAI TELLS KODA THAT HE KILLED HIS MOTHER.
ARE YOU SHITTING FUCKING ME?!
NO! NO! NO! YOU CANNOT DO THAT! YOU CANNOT…
This is it people. This is why I hate this movie. If it wasn’t for this, it would just be a really, really, dull unfunny cartoon but this pushes it down and down and down through the mantle of the earth’s core to where the fucking Balrogs live, right down into the very deepest levels of suck. This is just such a rare confluence of a terrible, terrible story choice and the absolute cowardice to not see it all the way through. You can’t take your story in such a horribly dark and inappropriate direction and then refuse to in any way deal with the emotional consequence of that. I mean, if this scene was actually presented as it should it would be absolutely devasating. Really, too devastating. I still don’t think it’s an appropriate story choice for a children’s movie but maybe I’m just being overly sensitive. Maybe it could have worked. But this is such cop out that it makes everything that went before completely pointless. Who cares if Kenai killed Koda’s mother? Just listen to Phil Collins sounding sad. Oh yeah, the song sucks too. Although I have to say, the lyrics are certainly appropriate.
There’s no way out of this dark place
No hope, no future
I know I can’t be free and I can’t see another way
Ain’t that the truth?
Anyway, Koda runs off in tears because Kenai told him he killed his mother. Maybe. I mean, I’m just guessing here. I assume that’s why Phil Collins is so sad but I certainly never heard Kenai say it. Maybe he just told him that they’re out of Coco Pops.
We cut to Denahi, freezing his villain moustache off in the mountains when suddenly he sees a badass looking eagle.
He realises that the eagle is Sitka and chases after him through the mountains. And I really hope that is actually Sitka and not just a regular eagle.
“Stop following me!”
Cut to pointless talking moose scene that goes nowhere and does nothing. And we’re back.
Actually no, that’s not strictly true. The moose scene does have a point. Koda is wandering in the forest and understandably distraught about the whole Coco Pops situation (or possibly his murdered mother, who can say?) and comes across Rutt and Tuke arguing. The brothers eventually reconcile and Koda realises that that’s what brothers do. They forgive each other. Nice sentiment sure, but if s0meone killed my mother I don’t think I could every forgive them. Even it was my brother.
“Oh will you just LET IT GO!”
Well anyway Koda decides to go to the mountain where the Northern Lights tough the earth to find Kenai. Meanwhile, Kenai arrives at the mountain only to find Denahi there. Denahi attacks and almost kills Kenai, but Koda saves him. Kenai then has to save Koda from Denahi and then, as Denahi watches in shock Sitka swoops in and turns Kenai back into a human. We get a few seconds of “Gasp! That was you!” and then Kenai sees Koda and asks Sitka to change him back into a bear so that he can look after him. Denahi tells Kenai that he’ll always be his little brother no matter what and Sitka transforms him back. Oh, and Koda’s mother is there to. Why not?
And then, as Denahi, Koda and Kenai watch, Sitka and Koda’s mother return to the spirit world.
He’s a ghost who turns into an eagle. She’s a dead bear. They fight crime.
No, it’s not as bad as Dinosaur
. I can’t in good consience mark something that broke the mold as hard as this movie less than that utterly uninspired CGI piece of crap. But good God this is a bad movie. And worse than the terribly handled “Kenai killed my Mommy” plotline…it’s just dull.
It is a slog to sit through. It is a boring, unfunny, lifeless mess. Greatness too often ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Although the movie was made cheaply enough that it was a financial success, the reviews were not kind. Disney, more than ever, was seen as tired, exhausted and increasingly obsolete in the era of Pixar. The signs were everywhere that traditional animation had had its day. For lovers of this artform, everything now rested on the next movie in the canon. Could Disney finally prove to the world that the traditional animated feature, that distinguished genre with a lineage stretching all the way back to Snow White,
was still relevant in the 21st century? Could they turn things around? Could they silence the doubters NO NO THEY COULD NOT THEY FUCKED IT UP FUCK EVERY DAMN THING.
Decent if unspectacular.
Denahi fills this role for most of the movie but he’s not a villain. Not only does he redeem at the end but his motives were at all times understandable and at least somewhat sympathetic.
Want to know how weak the bench is for supporting characters in this movie? There are two comedy Italian-American mountain goats in this. They have maybe half a minute’s worth of screentime. Maybe six lines each. One scene and they’re done, gone, never seen again.
They put them on the DAMN COVER.
What happened to you Phil? You used to be cool. Okay, you were never cool, but you used to be GOOD.
FINAL SCORE: 33%
NEXT UPDATE: 30 January 2014
NEXT TIME: A new era begins as the Unshaved Mouse reviews movies requested by you, the readers! First up? Coraline.