Brother Bear, released in 2003, is mostly forgettable both as a film and within the context of Disney history. The second to last traditionally animation Disney film before the transition to CG animation, Brother Bear didn’t make a great impression upon its release and is often forgotten within the Disney canon as a whole. The story, however, is classic Disney.
When a man decides to kill a bear as revenge, he is taught a lesson of empathy as “the spirits” transform him into a bear. This idea is an old fashioned one, inspired by folklore and fables from the past. While there is nothing wrong with this story, it is not exactly original.
Brother Bear followed in the steps of Tarzan, where the songs are featured in the background of scenes, rather than sung by the characters. Phil Collins came back to write the songs. Unfortunately, his music worked better in Tarzan; the songs in Brother Bear are mostly uninteresting and forgettable (except for No Way Out). Perhaps this is why Disney never adapted this for the stage as they did with Tarzan.
The main problem I have with the film is that I don’t feel any attachment to the characters. Kenai, the main character, is not likable. This is the intention when the film begins but he never becomes a character that I enjoyed spending time with. For me, the ending also is problematic, though I won’t be going into spoilers.
Rutt and Tuke are without a doubt the highlight of the film and, based on their marketing, it seems that Disney was aware of this. With two voices that are perfect for the roles, they are the comedic sidekicks that a great Disney movie deserves. Unfortunately, Brother Bear isn’t a great Disney movie and stands as one of my least favorite entries in the Disney canon.
Live-action remake: There is no live-action remake planned for Brother Bear.
Brother Bear in the theme parks: In Disney’s California Adventure, there is a walk-through attraction called Redwood Creek Challenge Trail which features characters from and references to Brother Bear.
Sequel: Brother Bear 2 is the sequel from DisneyToon Studios. This film features a largely new cast, with only four of the original voice actors returning. The main character of Kenai, voiced by Joaquin Phoenix in the original, is now voiced by Patrick Dempsey. The young cub Koda maintains the voice of Jeremy Suarez as well as the two moose, who maintain the voices of Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis. In fact, Brother Bear 2 was the last film that Moranis was a part of before retiring from acting for many years. For more discussion on this and other DisneyToon sequels, check out my 25 Weeks of DisneyToon Sequels.
Brother Bear is available to stream on Disney+.