When we think of Disney's animated features titles like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, The Lion King, and even Tangled immediately spring to mind. But think on this. In 2003 Brother Bear was Disney's 44th animated feature, and yet I bet you cannot name, let alone say you have seen them all. I certainly can't and yet I love animation. In fact I was shocked to find out that in 2003 Disney had made 44 animated features.
Well before last night I had never heard of Brother Bear! I stumbled across it last night whilst rummaging around in the cabinet below the telly. At first I wasn't interested simply because I and never heard of it. But into the DVD player it went and afterwards some 'net searching did I do! What I found out surprised me. I was shocked by how many animated features Disney have made of which I know nothing about. I mean Brother Bear is only 8 years old and yet I don't recall this playing at my local cinema.
The thing here is that this is a feature that grossed US$250 million world wide and yet has all but slipped into relative obscurity. In many respects it has suffered the same fate as 2008's Bolt in being a financial success without capturing the viewers imagination. I think this is because like Bolt it is a one watch unremarkable animated feature. It is a film that just doesn't stay in your mind except maybe in re-calling that it was somewhat.....bland?
What is surprising is that it was nominated for two Oscars ( one of which was for Best Animated feature ). It really had no hope of winning when you realise it was up against Finding Nemo, which is to be honest, the far superior feature. To be sure it isn't a case of computer over hand drawn animation but one of Finding Nemo being more original overall, if not more striking. On release for instance Brother Bear was criticised for retreading ground from the likes of The Lion King and parallels to Ice Age. The criticisms are valid up to a point. There is a definite Lion King feel at times, but the comparison between it and Ice age are unfounded because Brother Bear was in production BEFORE Ice Age.
Other interesting facts include the fact that this was the last hand drawn animated feature to come from Disney. This is probably because of the success of Finding Nemo. Again if you compare Brother Bear against Finding Nemo it must be said hand drawn animation was looking somewhat dated. In all reality to survive Disney had to make the switch to keep competing. I'm a fan of hand drawn over computer generated but what got me as I watched Brother Bear last night was how it looked older than its 8 years. It really did hit me just how quickly I have gotten used to computer animation.
In all honesty though I don't think the quality of the hand drawn animation in Brother Bear is of previous Disney efforts. It isn't poor but it just isn't quite there either. At times it is quite jerky and to my eye looked like a straight to DVD feature from a minor studio of limited budget. One thing about the animation really bothered me right throughout, and that was the mouth of young bear cub Koda. That's right his mouth! In profile it looked more like a monkey's than a bear's! Seriously watch it as it doesn't look at all like a bear's mouth but a primates. I found this highly distracting and reinforced my feeling that the animation overall in Brother Bear wasn't quite there. At times it looked somewhat sloppy.
Besides that there are other elements lacking. Generally speaking all Disney features have a good dollop of humour thrown in. But in Brother Bear there was decided lack of it. I mean in its entire 80 minute running time I laughed only once. It is not that it is overly serious in tone it is just that the intended humour doesn't come off. For instance the two squabbling, bumbling Moose brothers don't have the humour of past Disney comic characters. Even the dialogue between the characters was somewhat bland. I particularly found Koda's runaway, smart arse-mouth approach, more tiresome than humourous.
Another thing in the film had me frowning as well. It was the copious amounts of head slapping of the human characters. I'm not sure this is appropriate in a film aimed at children. Animated features are renowned for promoting morals and values, and yet here is all this slapping going on. It sort of demeaned the message the film otherwise had and it felt out of place to me. But if you overlook the low level violence the story and moral are typical Disney.
Over all then it must be said that even though Brother Bear was a financial success it hasn't stuck around. The fact an animation fan such as myself hadn't previously heard of it says a lot. This isn't a bad feature but it is far from Disney's best. All the ingredients are certainly there but they don't come together. The animation is lacking in the usual Disney quality and it shows because at times the film looks jerky. The humour is also absent which is unusual for a Disney film because it is a real staple of the studios animated features. I can't say I like or disliked Brother Bear. But to be honest I found too much to criticise than I would have liked to have.
IMDB has this with 6.6/10. I'm more prone to give it 5/10 simply for it being so unremarkable. Sure it looks and feels like a Disney animated feature but it just isn't one of the studios best...far from it. Something is palpably lacking. Maybe the fact its sequel went straight to DVD says something in itself??