Brother Bear 1 & 2 2-Movie Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Disney proudly presents Brother Bear, an epic animated adventure full of comedy and heart.  With five great new songs from Academy Award winner Phil Collins (1999 Best Original Song, “You’ll Be In My Heart,” from Tarzan, it’s another tale of transformation from Disney.  When an impulsive boy named Kenai is magically transformed into a bear, he must literally walk in another’s footsteps until he learns some valuable life lessons.  His courageous and often zany journey introduces him to a forest full of wildlife, including the lovable bear cub Koda, hilarious moose Rutt and Tuke, woolly mammoths, rambunctious rams, and more!


Brother Bear       Brother Bear 2  

Brother Bear was one of the last hand-drawn animated films from Disney and the final film from the Feature Animation studio in Florida which was shut down after this movie was released.  The next film, Home on the Range, dealt the final blow to Disney’s confidence after it performed poorly at the box office.   After that, it appeared that Disney was going to abandon its traditional animation heritage and permanently switch to making their own versions of the CGI cartoons that were being done so successfully by Pixar.  That lasted for five years until The Princess and the Frog finally returned to Disney’s traditional roots.

While Brother Bear did fairly well at the box office and made enough to generate a direct to video sequel (which is included in this set), it never struck a chord with audiences like the previous cycle of Disney films did like The Lion King  or The Little Mermaid.  It’s not hard to understand why as the movie itself had already been done many times over by Disney beforehand.  The story is not only overly familiar but even the songs don’t stand out as much as they usually do in a Disney film despite a few really good songs written by Phil Collins being included.

Every Disney movie is about change of some sort and this one is no different.  This tale concerns a group of brothers who when they are not playfully quarrelling, they are hunting food for their tribe.  There’s the older brother Sitka (D.B. Sweeney), the middle brother Denahi (Jason Raize), and the youngest and most impetuous of the trio, Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix).  The film starts off with the three of them preparing for a big ceremony where some of the young boys will undergo a tribal celebration that will designate them as men and they will receive a totem of an animal that is supposed to represent their spirit and give a clue on how they are to become men.  Previously, Sitka received an eagle totem that symbolized guidance, Denahi got a wolf totem that represented wisdom, but Kenai is given a bear totem which is supposed to symbolize love, much to the amusement of his brothers.

Kenai isn’t a fan of bears as he believes that they are thieves especially when a bear steals the basket of fish they he had failed to secure properly.  When the brothers journey to recover their stolen fish, they come across the bear on a glacier and the resulting fight between the brothers and the bear ends in tragedy as Sitka sacrifices his life to save his brothers by cracking the ice glacier to separate the bear from his brothers which cause it to break and send him and the bear tumbling down the mountain.  If Kenai didn’t like bears before this, he really hated them now since the bear survived the fall while his brother did not.  He becomes obsessed with avenging his brother against the bear even while Denahi counsels against it.

Undeterred, Kenai ventures out and finally finds the bear and kills it only to be turned into a bear himself by the spirit of his brother Sitka who transforms him into the very thing he hates the most in an attempt to teach his brother some hard lessons.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, but when Denahi catches up, he believes the bear in front of him killed another one of his brothers and he becomes just as vengeful as Kenai had been and starts to mistakenly hunt his own brother as he’s unaware that he’s now a bear.  Kenai manages to escape and later grudgingly befriend a young bear cub named Koda (Jeremy Suarez) and two brother moose named Rutt and Tuke (voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas). Thanks to his new friendships with these animals and especially the brotherly role he ends up having with Koda, Kenai starts to grow up and learn how to be a man – even though he’s a bear.

If you liked Pocahontas then there’s a good chance that you will like these Brother Bear movies as they are very similar both in tone and overall direction.  Having watched these two movies and others from this period like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I discovered that even though I’m older now, I’m still not a fan of movies from this period as I prefer the classic Disney movies from the past.  Like Pocahontas, this film tries really hard to be mean something, but the harder they try the more over the top it gets and the more I instinctively resist it.  Disney movies from this era were all about spectacle, as they tried to replicate the Broadway-esque Beauty and the Beast.  I’m all for trying to make a big and moving film, but not when the same basic story is recycled over and over again.

And then there were the direct to video sequels that Disney rushed to the marketplace that barely even made an effort to replicate what worked the first time.  The sequel included in this set is so formulaic that if I told you that Kenai’s never seen before but really important female childhood friend pops up in the movie, you could probably figure out the rest of the movie with just that info.  Watching that movie was akin to doing one of the paint by number pictures where you just follow the pattern to completion.  At least the first film had some ambition and some great animation included, not to mention some good voice acting by Joaquin Phoenix who does his best to make this material work.   He’s replaced in the sequel by Patrick Dempsey who sounds nothing like Phoenix which is another example of why the sequel comes across as lazy cash grab.  Brother Bear offers some generic but decent entertainment that tells a story you’ve seen many times, but the sequel is disappointing and really does nothing to advance the overall story or to justify its existence.


Brother Bear       Brother Bear 2 

I liked the video quality of this movie more than the movie itself.  The film starts in a windowboxed (1.75:1) aspect ratio as we are viewing the proceedings as a human which was a creative choice made by the directors.  Once Kenai turns into a bear and his world is opened up, the animation style changes as does the aspect ratio as it opens up to a (2.35:1) widescreen format.  While I love the idea behind the aspect ration change, it’s a little awkward on Blu-ray when most people have widescreen televisions.  They should have a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie because it is really odd to see a Disney movie on Blu-ray start windowboxed like that.  That aside, the colors in this transfer look bold and bright for the most part although there are some scenes that look a little muddled.  Detail is also fairly sharp, with every line drawn shown in distinct detail.  Black levels are suitably dark and contrast is also very good throughout the movie.  Even though both movies share the one Blu-ray disc, I don’t think the banding issues are due to that but rather from the material itself.  Brother Bear 2 looks as good as the first one but the animation looks cheaper and less refined.  Overall, both of these 1080p transfers look pretty good on Blu-ray.


Brother Bear       Brother Bear 2 

While this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does sound above average, it doesn’t match the usual quality of the other recent Disney releases that have delivered stellar sound quality.  It’s strange because this mix really could have been one of the great ones with all of the spirit scenes and opportunities to bring the wilderness to life.  The voices and dialogue are clear and concise while the rear speakers come to life on occasion but not to the level I was expecting.  There’s some effort to add some ambience but not as much as there should have been.  With the entire movie taking place in the wildnerness, you’d think this mix would do a better job bringing that soundscape to life but they seem to be more interested in other things.  The songs and music from Phil Collins sound pretty good but again not to the level I was expecting from Disney.  Brother Bear 2 is even more of a front channel affair which still sounds good but you can tell that just like the movie itself, there wasn’t a whole lot of effort invested in it.  Dialogue is clear but the overall sonic experience is very limited and should have been better.


Brother Bear       Brother Bear 2 

Overall these extras are decent but other than the Paths of Discovery featurette, they are pretty bland and basic.  Once again, this is an area that Disney usually shines in.

  • Audio Commentary – If you were hoping to hear the directors talk about the film be prepared for disappointment because this is a character centric commentary starring the two moose Rutt and Tuke (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas), who offer their own thoughts on the movie.  Kids will probably enjoy this but if you really want to learn about the making of the movie, then skip ahead to the next extra.
  • Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear – Without a doubt this is the best extra on the disc as it covers just about every aspect of making the film during it’s almost forty-five minute running time and it includes comments from the key players involved in making the movie.  We hear from the cast and crew and even from Phil Collins who talks about the ardous process of writing songs for an animated movie whose story keeps changing.  We also learn why in this movie only a couple of his songs are actually sung by him instead of all of them like he did for Tarzan.  There’s also a lot of behind the scenes footage included and we learn how the movie evolved over time through the following segments: “Beginnings” (“Story Origins,” “Transformation” and “Brotherhood”), “Mirror to the World” (“Nature’s Palette,” “Inspirations” and “Through the Eyes”), “Welcome to the Family” (“Brothers,” “Bears” and “Moose”) and “Music and Songs” (“Discovering the Songs,” “Designing the Score” and “Finding the Voice”).  The good news is that you can select “Play all” to see them all at once.
  • Deleted Scenes – There’s eleven minutes of deleted scenes spread across three bits including: “Confession,” “Muri the Squirrel” and “Where’s Koda?”  that are introduced by directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker.  None of these scenes should have been kept in the movie.
  • Art Review _ We get a ten minute look at the various artwork designed for the movie in a mutltitude of styles that’s hosted by Art director Robh Ruppel and supervising animator Byron Howard.
  • Never-Before-Heard Song: Fishing Song
  • Bear Legends -A short look at some Native American tales.
  • Song with Original Lyrics – A look at the song “Transformation” with its original Phil Collins lyrics that was changed for the movie.  Fans of Collins may be interested in the original version.
  • Sing-Along Song – This is an option to Sing along with the best song in the movie – “On My Way.”
  • Music Video – “Look Through My Eyes” with Phil Collins.
  • Koda’s Outtakes – This is another one of those fake animated gag reels.
  • Making Noise: The Art of Foley This is a cool but short look at how sounds are designed for the movie.  Kids will enjoy this.

Brother Bear 2 –

  • Behind the Music – We get to hear about the fairly lame music from the second movie from: producers Jim Ballantine and Susan Kirch, director Ben Gluck, and others.


I’m not a huge fan of these movies like I usually am of Disney’s animated movie, but this Blu-ray does offer some pretty good video and audio quality and it does contain both movies although I’m not sure how much most people will want the second movie.  The extras for the first movie are decent but other than the making of featurette are pretty basic but the second movie only has one extra which is really disappointing.  If you liked these movie then I would recommend that you buy this set on Blu-ray because it does sound and look much better in high definition than it did on DVD.

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