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"Brother Bear 2": A Kodiak Moment

by on February 23, 2007

It goes without saying that the modern generation of Disney animated films revolutionized the industry in the early 1990s. Their breathtaking animation and enchanting songs put them head and shoulders above the competition. However Disney exited the 2D theatrical business a few years ago with two water-treading films. The less said about the horrendous Home on the Range the better, but Brother Bear was a fairly successful application of the well-worn formula that simply came a decade too late. These days Disney has retreated to the calmer waters of the DTV market to make increasingly derivative 2D sequels to once grand properties. Though its predecessor wasn’t quite a classic, Brother Bear 2 bucks the trend by delivering an adventure nearly its equal.

ImageUnlike halfhearted fluff like Mulan 2, this DTV sequel is careful to employ the same key elements that worked in the original. In this case, that means interpersonal conflict, which in the first film resulted when the Inuit hero Kenai, having been transformed into a bear, found himself hunted by his own brother. This time Kenai finds himself at cross-purposes with childhood crush Nita.

This sequel also boasts beautiful animation, easily the best of Disney’s DTVs I’ve seen so far, and a solid supporting cast. It’s unfortunate that these appealing contents again come wrapped in a rather bland package. The film is too easygoing and slight to register much.

As when we last saw him, Kenai (Patrick Dempsey – Grey’s Anatomy) is enjoying his carefree life as a bear and surrogate brother to young Koda (Jeremy Suarez). But back in his old village things aren’t going as smoothly for the recently engaged Nita (Mandy Moore – A Walk to Remember), who discovers that the amulet Kenai gave her years ago has forged a magical bond between the two that makes marriage to another impossible. Granted the ability to speak bear by the village shaman, she gets the reluctant Kenai and Koda to accompany her on a hurried journey to their childhood meeting place, where burning the amulet during the spring equinox will set her free. However, the longer Kenai spends with Nita the more old feelings are rekindled, and a resentful Koda starts to feel like a third wheel. Along the way they reencounter their dimwitted moose friends Rutt (Rick Moranis – The Flintstones) and Tuke (Dave Thomas – Strange Brew), who are also having difficulties with the fairer sex

“Look, just repeat after me: Grizzly Man is only a movie…”

The primary players all do a solid job, if not a memorable one. Comedians Moranis and Thomas again help liven things with their goofy, beer-swilling Canadian caricatures Bob and Doug McKenzie, although they’re somewhat restrained by the tepid romance subplot. Veteran Disney voice actor Jim Cummings is the real standout in a brief role as an ornery, kleptomaniac raccoon. This character brings about the film’s action highlight by stealing Nita’s amulet. Desperate, she climbs up into the trees to steal it back, and gets more than she bargained for when an enraged mob of raccoons counterattacks. There follows a mad chase through the treetops that’s something like Looney Tunes meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

As for lowlights, a scene in with Rutt unwittingly rolls around in excrement seems a tad lowbrow for Disney.

As in Mulan 2 the subject of arranged marriage comes up, but this film takes an impartial rather than intolerant view of it. The familiar mantra of “follow your heart” arises, although it is complicated by Kenai’s quasi-parental responsibility to Koda. Perhaps this is an acknowledgment of the dating challenges facing single parent households. Just as in the first film, the resolution of the central dilemma depends on a sacrifice that is presented as heartwarming and/or romantic, but is actually pretty darn crazy when you think about it.

The original Brother Bear‘s weakest point was the limp Phil Collins soundtrack. That point becomes weaker still in the sequel, where Collins is replaced by Melissa Etheridge, whose terminally bland “Welcome to this Day” keeps turning up like a bad penny.

Luckily you can shut off the sound and just enjoy looking at Brother Bear 2, which is exquisitely animated to a standard almost on par with the original. Whether it’s perfectly natural human movement or luscious backgrounds, the film dresses to impress.

“Pocahontas never had this problem.”

The extras however come nowhere near the superb original set, which was stuffed with art galleries and production info. All that’s included here is a brief featurette, which discusses how the film’s music was conceived, and a simple trivia game.

Although no more memorable than its predecessor, Brother Bear 2 is an admirable effort that takes DTV sequels to a new level. I only hope Disney will choose more worthy source material next time. After all, I’ve been dying to find out what happened after Cinderella II… Wait, pass me my pills.

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