Brother Bear (review)

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Humans are monsters, nature is serene, and the world is full of grating, saccharine Phil Collins songs, or so this latest hand-drawn animated outing from Disney would have us believe. It is Brother Bear‘s very bad luck to be released almost simultaneously with the long-awaited DVD of The Lion King — a fresh look at that modern masterpiece only serves to highlight the new film’s dramatic deficiencies. A Paleolithic fantasy set amongst the first people to settle North America sounds a grand idea, and there’s some promise at first in the tale of Kenai (the voice of Joaquin Phoenix: Signs), an impetuous young man transformed into a bear by the spirits in order to teach him sympathy for his fellow creatures. But there’s more ransacking than respect in how the Disney team handles this appealing mythology, and the reminder we could use today about the awesome power of nature and the worth it has entirely apart from humanity’s needs gets short shrift in favor of goofy comedy and a too-contemporary laid-back attitude. It’s like Wild Kingdom on Prozac. All the overly idealized and anthropomorphized animalia sit particularly poorly next to actual human characters, and worst of all are the pair of slapstick moose voiced by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (Ghostbusters) in full-on Bob-and-Doug-Mackenzie mode: they’ve taken what was once clever and sneakily subversive and turned it into something brainless and pointless. Get out, eh?

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