Despite mixed reviews, the film was warmly-received by audiences and was a box office success, grossing $250 million worldwide on $46 million budget.
Originally titled Bears, it was the third and final Disney animated feature produced primarily by the Feature Animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida; the studio was shut down in March 2004, not long after the release of this film in favor of computer animated features. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature, but lost to the fellow Disney/Pixar film, Finding Nemo. A sequel, Brother Bear 2, was released on August 29, 2006.
The film is set in post-ice age in Alaska, where the local tribesmen believe all creatures are created through Spirits, said to appear in the form of an aurora. Three brothers, Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix), Denahi (voiced by Jason Raize), and Sitka (voiced by D.B. Sweeney), return to their tribe in order for Kenai to receive his sacred totem, its meaning being what he must achieve to call himself a man. Unlike Sitka, who gained the eagle of guidance, and Denahi who gained the wolf of wisdom, Kenai receives the bear of love, much to his objections, stating that bears are thieving monsters. He believes his point is made a fact when a bear steals some salmon. Kenai and his brothers follow the bear's trail; when they find the bear, Kenai recklessly throws rocks at it. Provoked, the bear attacks Kenai and he and his brothers battle the animal on a giant glacier. When the bear gets the upper hand, Sitka sacrifices himself to save his brothers by causing both himself and the bear to fall off the glacier. However, the bear survives and runs off into the woods.
After Sitka's funeral, Kenai, outraged that Sitka died and the bear was allowed to live, heads out to avenge his elder brother. He chases the bear up onto a mountain and engages it in a fight, eventually stabbing it and killing it. The Spirits, represented by Sitka's spirit in the form of a bald eagle transforms Kenai into a bear after the dead bear's body evaporates. Denahi arrives, and, mistaking Kenai for dead and his bear form is responsible for it, vows to avenge Kenai.
Kenai falls down some river rapids, survives, and is healed by Tanana (voiced by Joan Copeland), the shaman of Kenai's tribe. She does not speak the bear language, but advises him to return to the mountain to find Sitka and be turned back to normal, but only when he corrects what he had done wrong; she quickly disappears without an explanation. Kenai quickly discovers the wildlife can talk, meeting two brother mooses, Rutt and Tuke (voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas). He gets caught in a trap, but is freed by a chatty bear cub named Koda (voiced by Jeremy Suarez). The two bears make a deal, Kenai will go with Koda to a nearby salmon run and then the cub will lead Kenai to the mountain. As the two eventually form a sibling-like bond, Koda reveals that his mother is missing. The two are hunted by Denahi who fails multiple times to kill Kenai, still unaware that he is his brother. Rutt and Tuke run into the bears multiple times, the group hitching a ride on a herd of mammoths to quicken the pace to the salmon run, but the moose are left behind when the bears move on. Next, the bears encounter some cave paintings, a pair of rams arguing with their own echo, and a land of geysers. Kenai and Koda escape Denahi again, and reach the salmon run, where a large number of bears live as a family, including the leader Tug (voiced by the late Michael Clarke Duncan), a huge Grizzly Bear. Kenai becomes very much at home and at content with the other bears. During a discussion among the bears, Koda tells a story about his mother fighting human hunters on a glacier, making Kenai realize that the bear he killed was Koda's mother.
Guilty and horrified, Kenai runs away, but Koda soon finds him. Kenai reveals the truth to Koda, who runs away heartbroken, because he is an orphan now. Unable to apologize to Koda because he can't find the cub, Kenai leaves to climb the mountain himself. Rutt and Tuke, having fallen off the mammoths (Rutt having lost an antler in the process), reform their brotherhood in front of Koda, prompting him to go after Kenai. Denahi confronts Kenai on the mountain, but their fight is intervened by Koda who steals Denahi's hunting spear. Kenai goes to Koda's aid out of love, prompting Sitka to appear and turn him back into a human, much to Denahi and Koda's surprise. Even though he can't talk to humans, Koda doesn't want Kenai to leave, because ever since he came into the cub's life, he has been like a brother to him. However, Kenai asks Sitka to transform him back into a bear so he can stay with Koda. Sitka complies, and Koda is reunited briefly with the spirit of his mother, before she and Sitka return to the Spirits. In the end, Kenai lives with the rest of the bears and paints his paw print on the village wall. At last, Kenai gains his title as a man, through being a bear.
- Joaquin Phoenix as Kenai, the younger brother of Sitka and Denahi. After needlessly killing a bear, Kenai is turned into one himself to teach him to see through their eyes. John E. Hurst and Byron Howard served as the supervising animators for Kenai in human and bear form respectively.
- Jeremy Suarez as Koda, a wisecracking grizzly bear cub, who helps Kenai on his journey to where the Lights Touch the Earth. Alex Kupershmidt served as the supervising animator for Koda.
- Rick Moranis as Rutt, a comic Canadian moose.
- Dave Thomas as Tuke, another comic Canadian moose.
- Jason Raize as Denahi, the middle brother. Ruben A. Aquino served as the supervising animator for Denahi and Harold Gould provided the voice of Old Denahi.
- D. B. Sweeney as Sitka, the oldest brother.
- Joan Copeland as Tanana, the shaman-woman of Kenai's tribe.
- Michael Clarke Duncan as Tug, a wise old grizzly bear.
- Greg Proops as Male Lover Bear
- Pauley Perrette as Female Lover Bear
- Estelle Harris as Old Lady Bear
- Bumper Robinson as Chipmunks
- Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley as Inuit Narrator (Older Denahi)
- Frank Welker as Additional Animal Vocal Effects (uncredited)
Following the critical and commercial success of The Lion King, Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner urged for more animal-centric animated features, and suggested a North American backdrop, taking particular inspiration from an original landscape painting by Albert Bierstadt that he bought. To track the "king" idea, the hero would naturally be a bear, the king of the forest. At the time, the original idea, which was inspired by King Lear, centered around an old blind bear who traveled the forest with his three daughters. In 1997, veteran animator Aaron Blaise came on board the project as director because he "wanted to be attached so that I could animate bears", and was soon joined by co-director Robert Walker. Because Blaise desired a more naturalistic story, Blaise and producer Chuck Williams produced a two-page treatment of a father-son story in which the son is transformed into a bear, and in the end, remains a bear. Thomas Schumacher, then-president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, approved the revised story and proclaimed, "This is the idea of the century." Tab Murphy, who had co-written the screenplays for Tarzan and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, came on board to write an early draft of the script.
After the project was green-lit, Blaise, Walker, and the story artists embarked on a research trip in August 1999 to visit Alaska where they traveled on the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and Kodiak Island, as well as traveling through Denali National Park and the Kenai Fjords National Park, where they visited Exit and Holgate Glacier. A year later, the production team took additional research trips through the Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and the Sequoia National Park. Around 2000, the story evolved into a tale in which the transformed Kenai is taken in by an older bear, Griz, who was to be voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan. However, Blaise explained that "we were struggling [with the story], trying to get some charm into the film. So we turned Griz into a cub named Koda", who was voiced by Jeremy Suarez. Because Blaise, Walker, and Williams enjoyed Duncan's vocal performance, Tug, the de facto leader of the bears at the salmon run, was written into the film.
In March 2001, Joaquin Phoenix confirmed he was cast in the film exclaiming, "Oh, but forget the Oscar nomination [for Gladiator]. The real pinnacle is that I'm playing an animated character in a Disney film. Isn't that the greatest? I play a Native American transformed into a bear. It's called The Bears. Don't call me a leading man. I don't care about that. I'm a leading bear. I am content!" After the filmmakers heard his audition tapes for Finding Nemo, Jeremy Suarez was cast as Koda.
Much like contemporary animated films where most of the cast members record their voices separately, Suarez and Phoenix voiced the roles separately, although they both did a recording session together at least two times. Voicing the moose brothers Rutt and Tuke, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis performed simultaneously throughout the recording process. Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley, an associate professor who taught courses on Alaska Native philosophy at theUniversity of Alaska, Fairbanks, claimed he was never given a script, but was instead given "the dialogue that they had written, which was being told by a Native person". For the role as the Inuit Narrator, Kawagley translated the dialogue in written form into Yup'ik and faxed the translation back to the Disney studio. He later recorded his translation at an Anchorage studio while being videotaped for animation reference.
Design and animation
The film is traditionally animated but includes some CG elements such as "a salmon run and a caribou stampede". Layout artist Armand Serrano, speaking about the drawing process on the film, said that "we had to do a life drawing session with live bear cubs and also outdoor drawing and painting sessions at Fort Wilderness in Florida three times a week for two months [...]".. In 2001, Background supervisor Barry Kooser and his team traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and studied with Western landscape painter Scott Christensen, where they learned to: "simplify objects by getting the spatial dimensions to work first and working in the detail later."
According to Ruben Aquino, supervising animator for the character of Denahi, Denahi was originally meant to be Kenai's father; later this was changed to Kenai's brother. Byron Howard, supervising animator for Kenai in bear form, said that earlier in production a bear named Grizz (who resembles Tug in the film and is voiced by the same actor) was supposed to have the role of Kenai's mentor. Art Director Robh Ruppel stated that the ending of the film originally showed how Kenai and Denahi get together once a year to play when the northern lights are in the sky.
The film received mixed reviews, praising the film's animation but criticizing its story, with some panning the film as a retread of older Disney films like The Lion King and the 20th Century Fox film Ice Age (although Brother Bear began production before Ice Age did), while others defended the film as a legitimate variation of the theme. The popular American movie critics Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper have given positive reviews of the film. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 38% rotten rating, saying: "Brother Bear is gentle and pleasant if unremarkable Disney fare, with so-so animation and generic plotting." Metacritic has a 48 out of 100 score, which is "Mixed or average reviews". IMDb has the film at 6.6/10 from 25,904 users.
Of note to many critics and viewers was the use of the film's aspect ratio as a storytelling device. The film begins at a standard widescreen aspect ratio of 1.75:1 (similar to the 1.85:1 ratio common in U.S. cinema or the 1.78:1 ratio of HDTV), while Kenai is a human; in addition, the film's art direction and color scheme are grounded in realism. After Kenai transforms into a bear twenty-four minutes into the picture, the film itself transforms as well: to an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and towards brighter, more fanciful colors and slightly more caricatured art direction. Brother Bear was the first feature since The Horse Whisperer to do a widescreen shift. It was the only animated feature to do this trick, until The Simpsons Movie and Enchanted in 2007.
The film made $85,336,277 during its domestic theatrical run and then went on to earn $164,700,000 outside the U.S., bringing its worldwide total to $250,383,219, which is successful.
The film's March 30, 2004 DVD release brought in more than $167 million in DVD and VHS sales and rentals. The film and its sequel were released on a 2-Movie Collection Blu-ray on March 12, 2013.
- This is the fourth Disney film to have dust, after The Lion King, Pocahontas, and Tarzan.
- This is the first Walt Disney Animation Studios film to be scored by two composers (as it was scored by both Mark Mancina and songwriter Phil Collins). However, it would be the last animated film made by Disney to do so until Pixar's film The Good Dinosaur, released 12 years later.
- This is the ninth Disney animated classic to have the 2006 Walt Disney Pictures logo with just Disney at the end of the movie, on current releases.
- This was the first Walt Disney Animation Studios film to be broadcast on STARZ.
- Disney/Pixar prepared a special teaser trailer for Brother Bear to show before Finding Nemo during its initial theatrical release. The moose brothers, Rutt and Tuke, suggest that, "If you see only one movie this year, see this one." Rutt then reminds Tuke that, "For those who see only one movie this year, it's a little late now." Both moose then encourage everyone who are "only going to see one movie this year" to leave the theater. As the scene fades to black, Tuke says, "I see some of them leaving." Rutt then replies that maybe they're going to "go find that Nemo guy." In the regular trailer, Rutt only replies that they're just going to the bathroom.
Awards and nominations
The film was also nominated at the 76th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, but ultimately ended losing out to another Walt Disney pictures film Finding Nemo.
- "Look Through My Eyes" - Phil Collins
- "Great Spirits" - Tina Turner
- "Welcome" - Phil Collins
- "No Way Out" (single version) - Phil Collins
- "Transformation" - Bulgarian Women's Choir
- "On My Way" - Phil Collins
- "Welcome" - Blind Boys of Alabama with Phil Collins and Oren Waters
- "Transformation" - Phil Collins
- Three Brothers (Score)
- Awakes as a Bear (Score)
- Wilderness of Danger and Beauty (Score)
- "Great Spirits" - Phil Collins (Best Buy Exclusive)
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