What’s with all the crappy ratings for this perfect family classic?
By Janis McMath, Editor-in-Chief
Brother Bear feels more authentically family friendly than most movies because the main characters aren’t tonguing each other
Common sense media awards this film with the review, “Lackluster story only for kindergarteners.” Rotten Tomatoes gathers professional critics which offer very insightful criticisms of the film: “The story is so predictable,” “the script is banal and uninspired,” “Brother Bear is a very mild animated entry from Disney with a distinctly recycled feel,” and last but not least, “for all its earnestness, its wholesomeness, and its uplifting moral values, Brother Bear is formula Disney.”
Being surprised that a Disney film has a predictable formula makes you the dummy… it’s not the other way around. Additionally, I refuse to believe that these critics actually predicted every turn of this film; as it is with many other Disney films, there are shocking twists and turns for watchers of all ages. For context, the film features three Inuit brothers Kenai, Denahi, and Sitka as they navigate the natural world around them and the cultural responsibilities they are awarded in the form of sacred totems. When Kenai is given the “bear of love,” he hates it as any teenage boy would, so his brain offers a solution: get into a fight with a bear. During this scuffle, Kenai’s oldest brother Sitka interferes to save the idiot from dying; Sitka must sacrifice himself by crumbling the cliff he’s standing on to save Kenai. Then Kenai is turned into a bear by the Great Spirits as an opportunity to learn compassion. A bunch of critics with sense actually point out that the film is very dark at moments and can be used to teach young children about death aptly (that is if they aren’t too young and too scared of it). Also, the conclusion is not exactly predictable as Kenai decides to permanently turn into a bear; personally, I was totally surprised by the end!
The film faces so much hate for being simple and recycled, but I don’t see it. Sure, I’m not going to deny that you can draw parallels with so many other Disney films in the values it espouses. But I don’t find “recycled” to be a very valid criticism as all Disney films always have pretty similar values. This dumb criticism about being simple doesn’t rear its ugly head when critics talk about giant hits like Frozen for example—and that film is also centred around the common and braindead value “FAMILY IS ESSENTIAL” and “BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.”
It’s unavoidable that there will be some parallels to other family films as there are only so many family values to cover, but Brother Bear achieves individuality through the transition between the human world and the animal world. A movie like Pocahontas shows you humans looking at cool animals and The Little Mermaid lets humans (or mermaids) talk to animals—but Brother Bear offers a transition from human to animal as a way to communicate its message of “perspective.” This is a fantastic and fun storytelling tool and lends itself to a lot of quality humour; for example, after Kenai is turned into a bear, he meets a large group of bears and screams in utter fear—only to be met with awkward stares.
If you’re looking for more examples of Brother Bear’s originality look no further than the relationships between the characters. This family film actually focuses entirely on family and has no sexy undertones or blah blah blah romantic relationship. Brother Bear feels more authentically family friendly than most movies because the main characters aren’t tonguing each other like they do in lots of Disney films. The romantic relationship is such a tired trope, and honestly it should not have as big as a place as it does in children’s movies. I wish more Disney films would follow Brother Bear’s lead in this regard. (Important note: don’t watch Brother Bear 2 as it completely butchers this value.) The animation is also one of the last examples of that classic Disney skill. Brother Bear (2003) was one of Disney’s last hand-animated films, and what an end to the era that began with Snow White in 1937. Lastly, the online discourse always revolves around Phil Collin’s Tarzan soundtrack, but did you know that Brother Bear has its own impressive line up of original bops all written by Phil Collins? Many of the songs were performed by Phil Collins—and one was sung by Tina Turner!