Meet the Robinsons (2007)

I would attempt to name them all L to R, but I can't...

I would attempt to name them all L to R, but I can’t…

 

I want to start this review by talking about John Lasseter:

Animation GOD!!

Animation GOD!!

If you don’t know who that man is, you can’t call yourself a Disney/Pixar fan. You just can’t. As far as I’m concerned, this man is the animation GOD.

Why is he God? First of all, he’s pretty much responsible for directing Pixar’s first three movies, and now he acts as executive producer on literally EVERY SINGLE MOVIE DISNEY PUTS OUT (Disney animation as well as Pixar, with the exception being Cars 2).

In 2006 when Disney bought Pixar, Lasseter was named Chief creative officer. Suddenly, this guy was put in charge of not only Pixar, but Disney Animation as well.

BEST. CHOICE. EVER

I’m not saying that Disney animation had been in a lull. Ok, maybe the fact I’m not reviewing Chicken Little and Home on the Range means something (those are generally agreed upon as being the WORST Disney movies ever…), but I’ll be the first to admit the the age before Disney’s so called “revival” isn’t as bad as many people think.

Now why am I talking about Lasseter on a movie before the Disney Revival? Because this is the first movie he oversaw as part of his new assignment. And while this movie is super messy, it has things about it that you can just “tell” are him. Starting with this movie, Disney movies (to me at least) begin to feel a bit more “Pixar-ish.” The sad part is I can’t even explain what I mean….

(meanwhile, Pixar would be starting to go “downhill”… according to everyone but me. But we’ll get to that later…)

So! Meet the Robinsons. This crazy little movie is kind of in a league of its own. It’s not really like Hercules and Emperor’s new Groove, but I suppose I have to put it there…? It’s sort of by itself. Let’s dive in and see what I think of this one. I’m going to be brief with the synopsis, because I could explain it all day and you might still not understand it….

This movie centers around an orphan named Lewis. Lewis is a “special” kid – he’s insanely smart, loves inventing things (and often fails), and doesn’t understand why no one wants to adopt him. After believing no one will ever want him but his own birth mother (who dropped him off when he was a baby), he invents a machine for the science fair at school called the “memory scanner,” which scans your brain for a desired memory and displays it in picture form on a screen.

But things don’t go so well for Lewis at the science fair after he runs into a kid named Wilbur who says he’s a time cop from the future and is after a man in a bowler hat who stole a time machine. Lewis of course thinks he’s crazy, but we see the bowler hat guy and his hat, who he calls Doris (it’s actually DOR-15, and she’a robot) sabotage Lewis’s memory scanner. It blows up, causing Lewis to leave in a frustrated state.

Back at the orphanage, he meets Wilbur again, who has followed him. Wilbur tells him he has to go back and fix the memory scanner or the time stream will be ruined. Lewis thinks he’s crazy until he shows him his own time machine and takes him to the future, hoping that will make him realize he has to go back to the science fair.

But Lewis has other ideas. Now that there’s a time machine, he says the memory scanner is pointless. He can just use the time machine to go back and find his real mom. He messes around with the time machine and it breaks. Wilbur freaks out, saying his parents are going to kill him because he wasn’t supposed to take it. He’s not really a time cop but instead a kid who’s trying to make up for a mistake he’s done.

He and Lewis manage to get the time machine back to Wilbur’s house, where Wilbur makes lewis a deal: if he can fix it, Wilbur will take him back to see his mom. Lewis attempts with no avail. Wilbur heads off into his house and orders Lewis to stay there. Of course this doesn’t work, and Lewis manages to meet all of Wilbur’s family.

His mother Franny is super welcoming and has him stay for dinner, where Lewis is part of a sort of insane… thing. He attempts to fix an invention of theirs and fails (again). Ready to apologize and run out, he’s surprised when they all clap and tell him that failure is good.

Meanwhile, the bowler hat guy is back in the past trying to pass off the memory scanner as his own to change the future. When it doesn’t work, he and Doris work to kidnap Lewis to get him to fix the memory scanner so he can help them. There are a few mishaps at seizing the boy.

Some stuff happens, Lewis is asked to join the Robinson family (but can’t – according to Wilbur), the future manages to change (for the worse) and only Lewis can fix it.

I don’t want to give away a lot of the last part of the movie, because I think it has a lot of good twists and plot points. You don’t really see it coming, and I enjoyed watching it the first time because of this. I want to keep this review spoiler free.

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In a lot of ways, this movie is just one giant ridiculous mess. You spend half of the movie wondering if any of this craziness even has a point. I think that’s why a lot of people just write this movie off. Strictly put, I don’t think a lot of people “get” this movie.

Yes it is crazy. Yes it is ridiculous. There’s a good solid 20 minutes that just leave you scratching your head going “what?” There’s a giant squid as a butler. There are singing frogs. There’s a man who delivers pizza via space ship. There’s a meatball canon, and a guy who thinks his puppet wife is real (and somehow they managed to have kids…?).

Just… do yourself a favor when you watch this movie. Don’t get caught up in trying to rationalize all the weird. Just enjoy the ride. Because in the end, this is what all the weirdness boils down to:

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Right there. That last line. “They’re family.” The Robinsons are crazy and weird, but they are a family unit. A completely cohesive family unit. Nevermind that the movie literally has to take a break from the plot to explain how everyone is related to each other (culminating in that scene above), and never mind I still don’t really know if even I understand how everyone is related. Wilbur is the most normal of all of them, and he’s even a little bit bonkers and wacky. But no matter what, they’re still a family. They stick together no matter what. Even if a giant dinosaur is coming after them. They are a huge, crazy, insane family.

That’s right. This is another Disney movie that somehow manages to convey the importance of family. It’s imbedded in this movie so centrally because it’s the main want of our main character.

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I adore Lewis. I think he is a great, well developed protagonist. Ok yes he’s a typical trope of a nerdy smart kid, and he really looks the part. But let’s not think about his looks for a second. Let’s really dive into the psychy of this kid.

Lewis was dropped at an orphanage when he was a kid. He’s had a ton of adoption interviews, all of which have ended in heartache or disaster. This fact alone is what shapes this kid’s personality and character. He’s desperate for a family, so much so that he’s willing to invent a memory scanner to see the only person who at one time or another actually cared about him! He almost gives up on the past when Wilbur’s mom offers for him to be a Robinson, something that could have screwed with the space-time continuum. He’s a smart kid – he should have known that! But his desire to be loved, accepted, and part of a family overrode all rational thinking.

Another thing I think is interesting about Lewis is that BECAUSE all of his adoption interviews have failed, he believes that failure is the worst possible thing in the world. He’s used to his inventions failing and people getting mad at him. Only when he goes to the future and meets the Robinsons and “fails” does he realize that there can be another way to look at it. “From failing, you learn.”

This is an incredibly unique lesson for Disney to teach in a movie. It’s one I don’t think they’ve ever taught before, and believe it or not, it’s well done. Because we’ve all been that kid who gets pissed because we just can’t get it right. we’ve all apologized when something we did screwed up and hurt someone, physically or emotionally. It’s good for everyone to just remember that failing is just a part of life. Without failing, you don’t learn what’s wrong, and you don’t learn what to try next. By failing you can even create something you never set out to create.

The other message in this movie again is another unique one for Disney to explore, and it’s done actually pretty well and surprisingly subtly (for kids at least). It’s best illustrated again with the help of Tumblr:

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Now I know it’s just a silly mashup of Disney contradicting themselves, but it’s really not. That there is the man in the bowler hat, or (one of) our villains. He’s in the past telling Lewis’ roommate Goob how best to live his life. See, this is what the man in the bowler hat has done his whole life. He’s let his hatred fester and rot him deep down, and in the end it gets him nothing. He dwelled on a few random incidences that happened in the past, and it destroyed him. Only at the end of the movie when he let’s go and decides NOT to dwell on the past is he able to move past it.

DOR-15 is the same way. She was created to be a helping hand, but when Mr. Robinson decided it didn’t work and she was getting out of control, he shut her down. She (the hat) is taking this and running with it (although to be fair she’s just super evil… the man in the bowler hat is a better example of this lesson…)

Heck, they even illustrate this point with Lewis. He’s so set on finding his family in the past by visiting his mom that he refuses to think of what “could be.” He’s not willing to wait to see his life develop and get good. Instead, he pours himself into this invention to find something in the past that he probably can’t change. Dwelling on the past only ends in heartache and destroys your personality to open itself up to the possibilities.

It’s like Wilbur’s dad’s motto: Keep Moving Forward.

With all the amazing good things about this movie, I will say that it isn’t perfect by a long shot. It’s a mess. You can almost tell that someone came in a tweaked this movie to try and make it flow a bit more. LASSESTER! 60% of this movie was changed when he came in. You can tell, but it’s not without its flaws.

It’s hard to understand sometimes. It’s hard to follow others. Sometimes you don’t understand the purposes of our characters, and other than Lewis, Wilbur, the man in the Bowler Hat, DOR-15, and maybe Frannie and Bud (Wilbur’s mom and grandfather), you don’t know the other characters more than just as caricatures.

But at the same time… that’s ok. Because this movie IS itself a caricature. It’s a wacky crazy ridiculous movie that a lot of people will brush off because to them, it doesn’t make sense. I’m not saying it does. I’m not saying there aren’t ridiculous plot holes (because there are). I’m not saying they did time travel perfectly (because they didn’t…) but what I AM saying is that this movie TRIES. It tries to give us something we’ve never seen before. It tries to give us lessons we’ve never heard from Disney. GOOD lessons. It might take a few watches to really get it, but when you do, it just clicks, and you realize how smart this movie really is.

It’s hard to write this review without spoilers, but trust me, if you’ve never seen it, you’ll be glad I didn’t ruin it. The way this movie plays out is fun. It has twists and turns you might expect, and it has some you don’t. Just buckle yourself in for a wild, crazy ride.

And if you don’t at least tear up at the end when Rob Thomas’ “Little Wonders” song starts, you’re dead inside. Best. Song. EVER!

I give Meet the Robinsons (2007) a 3.4 out of 5.

(btw, it’s getting insanely hard to put these in a “my favorites” list….)

Up Next: Bolt (2008)

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Brother Bear 2 (2006)

 

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Alright, we’ve reached the last of my three sequels that I actually own. While this wasn’t put out by Walt Disney Animation Studios, (instead DisneyToon), I’m still fitting them in where they should go.

Unlike my other two sequels (Return of Jafar and Lion King 2), I had absolutely no want to see this when it came out. I liked Brother Bear just the way it was, and I worried that they would completely destroy everything that I loved about the first movie.

Well… I guess they tried not to….??? There’s mixed results. Which is interesting because this movie is actually rated higher than the original on Rotten Tomatoes AND IMDB. Maybe I’m the only one who liked the first movie? I don’t think that’s true.

Anyway, I caught this on netflix, watched it, and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t so incredibly horrible I wanted to kill myself. Would I rate it higher than the first one? No. Not at all. I don’t understand how this happened at all.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Kenai’s still a bear, and has been plagued recently by dreams of he and his childhood friend, Nita and a trip they took one time where they promised each other they’d be together forever, and he gave her a pendant. He tells Koda about it, then wonders what she’s been up to, as he hasn’t seen her in years.

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Turns out what she’s up to is that she’s getting married, or trying to. An earthquake right before her wedding causes her, her father, and her tribe to come to the conclusion that the spirits believe there is something wrong with this union. After visiting the shawoman of her village, it turns out that the promise she made with Kenai long ago was a binding union, and if she wants to marry someone else, she has to travel with Kenai to the place they made the promise and burn the amulet. The Shawoman gives Nita the ability to speak bear, and she’s off to find him.

Once she finds Kenai and Koda, she talks them into taking her on this little adventure. Kenai and Nita begin to fall for each other again, remembering how much they had in common, and Koda learns about jealousy. Kenai helps her get over her fear of water, she helps Rutt and Tuke learn how to communicate with the opposite sex, and in the end, well…

I actually don’t want to give it away. You’ll just have to watch it.

Unlike the first movie which deals with ideas like walking in someone else’s shoes, perspective, and what it means to be a man, the second one deals with… love. But not love like the first movie, love like romcom love. the idea of a soul mate. It’s not half as serious about its lesson as the first one, because you could argue that falling in love and “soul mates” don’t exist.

This could be counted as a point against the sequel, but I honestly don’t mind. Not every movie has to be big, and I expect less from a sequel. For what it is, it’s pretty good. I actually really enjoy when movies discuss the idea of “soul mates” because it’s one of those things almost like magic or spirits: does it exist?

In this movie this idea, although not as “big” as in the first movie, is done well. We have the existence of the great spirits again and the aurora borealis acting as the keeper of all the old souls. What I find interesting in this one is we have “proof” again that they come down and affect things on the earth. The earthquake that happens during Nita’s wedding in the beginning is seen as this “proof.” The spirits were a good, interesting part of the first movie, and I’m glad they kept it in.

Now one thing I’m NOT happy they did was take the character of the shawoman and turn her into a joke. In the first movie, Tenana was serious about her dealings with the spirits. She was wise and understood things the way no one could. In this movie we get Nita’s Shawoman, Wanda Sykes (I don’t remember the character name because literally all I think about is the voice actor when she opens her mouth).

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It’s incredibly distracting. She’s not serious. Nita goes to ask her what the earthquake meant, and what she has to do, and sure she gets answers, but it plays like a comedy club conversation. It’s the hardest scene for me to watch in the entire movie because when the first one took itself so seriously, this one pokes fun. I hate it. ugh.

Where this movie really shines is in its other characters. We have our returning favorites, like Kenai, Koda, Rutt and Tuke. All are voiced by the same actors except Kenai. They couldn’t get Joaquin Phoenix, so they got Patrick Dempsey instead. I will admit it takes a bit to get used to (especially if you watch one movie right after the other), but he’s not bad as Kenai. I would have preferred Joaquin, but it’s ok.

We get to see how Kenai and Koda’s relationship has changed. They’re super close, and while they act more like brothers, Kenai knows that he has to also be an authority figure. Koda enjoys his relationship with Kenai so much that when Nita comes in, he actually gets jealous. Wow. That’s realistic. Dad starts seeing a girl and spends more time with her instead of you. no wonder he’s pissed. His jealousy causes Koda to do some annoying things, but again, I could see a real kid doing this stuff.

It’s also to note that if you were annoyed with Koda in the first movie, I actually don’t think he’s as annoying in this one. They toned him down a bit. Sure he still blabs and tells stories, but the focus of this movie really isn’t on him. It’s on Nita and Kenai.

Ah yes, let’s talk about Nita for a second. Voiced by Mandy Moore (who would go on to Rapunzel fame), Nita is an amazing character for a sequel. I actually really like her. She’s developed, has more backstory than Kenai ever had in the first movie, and is a really good female character.

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What I like about Nita is that she’s good at a lot of things and is brave, but the movie doesn’t act like this is a huge deal. So many other movies have these strong female characters and they’re labeled as “strange” or “weird” or “odd” because they’re not in their typical woman role. This movie doesn’t seem to care about that. “You want to go on a journey all by yourself into the wilderness to track down a bear? ok!” “you need to climb mountains and set traps and actually fend for yourself? OK!”

It’s not a big deal, the movie doesn’t act like it is, and the other characters don’t act like it is either. It’s an accepted thing, and because of it, we as the audience accept it. It’s refreshing and I enjoy that aspect of her character.

But Nita isn’t just crazy woman warrior. She also has depth. In this movie, it’s her phobia of water. Turns out when she and Kenai were kids, she fell through the ice and almost drowned. Kenai saved her, but ever since then she has this intense phobia of water to the point even a lake a few feet deep has her petrified, literally. It’s something that she’s not really willing to admit she has, but is instead this huge secret that comes out only when it’s important. Only then does Kenai help her overcome her fear.

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The relationship between the two of them is pretty well done as well. They have this connection from when they were kids, and sure, at the beginning this movie plays like a horrible romcom – she hates him and only needs him to break the spell. Kenai agrees, but we always get the feeling that he’s still in love with her. What’s great about this movie is you can see that Nita is as well, but is afraid to admit it to herself. Is it because he’s a bear and it’s weird? I dunno. But eventually she lets herself get to know him again, and it’s nice.

Rutt and Tuke again are in the movie to serve for comedic relief, but also to act as a bit of a mirror of the message of the movie. In the first, it was about love and brotherhood and the idea of family. In this one, it’s Love – romantic love. They spend the entire movie attempting to woo these two female moose with no avail. It’s only when Nita adds in her opinion about doing what women would actually want do the two get anywhere.  It’s a cute little storyline, and while they don’t add as much weight as the first movie did, it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

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The animation on this movie is great – almost as good as the original. I know that’s not saying much, but I love my 2D drawn movies. No the aurora borealis isn’t done quite as well, but the mountains, forests, flowers, and characters are done well.

This movie does have songs in it too, which for me are very hit or miss. It opens with a song (or close to opens) that is almost trying to hard to be the first song in the first movie. But Melissa Etheridge’s song “feels like Home” is unbelievable. I want to own it but you have to buy the whole soundtrack on iTunes to get it (the songs from treasure Planet were like that too. boo!!!). And no i’m not into pirating music. Oh well.

All in all, this movie is a good sequel. It has the same characters we love, a solid story, new characters who are well rounded, action, comedy, and heartfelt moments. I just don’t think it hits the seriousness of the first movie in its message. But for what it is, it’s surprisingly solid.

I give Brother Bear 2 (2006) a 3.1 out of 5. For me, it just doesn’t have the magic of the first one.

Up Next: Meet the Robinsons (2007)

Brother Bear (2003)

 

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“Sure your mom didn’t ditch you, Ko-Duh?”

It’s fitting I’m starting this review now. I’m sitting in a Panera in Wooster, Ohio, in town for my college’s homecoming. Why’s that fitting? Well, I feel like Disney hit a giant void during my college years (2003-2007). Of the four movies that came out when I was in college, I only ended up ever seeing 2 of them. The other two I’d rather not talk about. I think a lot of people would rather not talk about them.

but it worked. I was too busy to even care about going to see movies, and stuck on a campus without a car meant that I couldn’t see them even if I wanted to. This movie, however, I got as soon as it came to DVD without even seeing it. I remember seeing the trailer for it and crying because of the message Disney was going to convey with this one.

A lot of people hate this movie. They pan it, saying it’s a retread, or that they’ve heard the story a million times, or that there’s nothing really special about it. I’ve determined that those people aren’t worth arguing with when it comes to this movie. I have my opinion, and they have theirs. I understand what they’re saying, but I don’t believe it and I don’t agree with them one bit.

What do I believe? This movie is a freaking underrated GEM in the Disney Canon. I LOVE this movie. I don’t care what people think or people say. I’m happy to admit it. I will defend this movie until the day I die. It is certainly not just a retreat. In fact, I hear people say that, and I legitimately wonder if they were watching the same movie I was.

I will explain the plot of this one, simply because I want to prove that it’s not just a retread:

We open in beautiful ice age Alaska or British Columbia or somewhere up there. We meet three Native inuit brothers: Sitka, Denahi, and Kenai. It’s the day of Kenai’s manhood ceremony, and he’s excited to get his totem from the shawoman of their village: It’s a small rock carved in the shape of an animal which is said to be the thing that will help guide him through his life. Wheras some people get an animal that signifies bravery, wisdom or guidance, Kenai receives the Bear of Love.

Upset at the result and believing that bears are beasts incapable of love, he and his brothers leave the ceremony to find that a bear has gotten into the fish they spent all day catching. Kenai goes after it. This leads to a stand off between the three brothers and the bear, and Sitka sacrifices himself, collapsing a glacier to keep the bear away from his brothers. Sitka dies and the bear runs off.

Wanting vengence, Kenai tracks the bear to the top of a mountain, where he fights and kills the bear. This is when the spirits come down in the form of the aurora borealis and transform Kenai into a bear. His brother Denahi, who had tracked Kenai to talk some sense into him, sees a bear walking away and torn clothes and assumes the bear destroyed his brother: now he’s out for vengeance.

Kenai awakens to the shawoman of his village telling him that this is a test: the spirits have something big planned for him, and if he wants to be human again he has to take it up with the spirit of Sitka at the mountain where the lights touch the earth. She mysteriously vanishes, leaving Kenai on his own with no idea where that mountain is.

It’s not long before he meets a pair of mooses, Rut and Tuke, who don’t believe he was a human. Kenai wanders off right into a bear trap, where a cub named Koda comes out, makes fun of him for not seeing the trap, and helps him out with the promise that Kenai will take him to the salmon run (he and his mom were separated and he knows she’ll meet him there).  Kenai does it simply because the mountain where the lights touch the earth is right next to it.

Koda gets Kenai out of the trap and soon Denahi shows up. Kenai is excited to see his brother, but of course Denahi doesn’t know Kenai is a bear and attempts to kill him. Koda and Kenai run to get rid of him, and Kenai deals with the fact that he was just attacked by his brother for seemingly no good reason.

The middle part of the movie is Kenai and Koda traveling to the salmon grounds, trying to lose Denahi and Kenai getting some lessons about perspective. He explains to Koda as they near the salmon grounds about how bears are killers, to which Koda doesn’t understand: Denahi attacked them. They get to the salmon grounds, which is surrounded by bears, and Kenai expects to be mauled, but instead learns that bears really aren’t the killers he thought they were.

The real kicker comes when Koda finally tells the story of when he and his mom were separated. *Spoilers ahead* Turns out the bear that Kenai killed was Koda’s mother. He runs off, Koda finds him, and Kenai has to come clean and tell Koda what happened. Koda (obviously) is upset and runs off. Thinking there’s nothing he can do, Kenai heads up the mountain, begging for Sitka and the spirits to change him back. Denahi shows up, still hell bent on revenge, and Koda does as well after realizing that he cares about Kenai. There’s a fight between the three, and as Denahi goes after Koda, Kenai intercepts them, willing to give his own life for the cubs. It is only then when the lights appear on the mountain and Kenai is changed back into a human.

Things are seemingly happy until Kenai explains to Sitka’s spirit that Koda needs him.  He has them change him back into a bear.

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ok – now you name me another Disney movie that teaches about perspective and walking in someone else’s shoes through transformation. What’s that, you can’t? That’s what I freaking thought. See? not a retread. Disney has does movies on seeing your enemies perspective (Pocahontas comes to mind) or transformations (Beauty and the Beast technically, Mulan you could argue too). But never have the two come together before.

To me, this movie felt like old school Disney Renaissance. It was hand drawn, had heart, had characters not insanely deep but easy to follow, sidekicks, talking animals, etc. It was a Disney movie that felt like it could have been based on a fairy tale. It felt like a kid movie (as opposed to marketed at teenagers…) that adults could still enjoy. I really really will never understand those critics.

This movie does have things wrong with it, but those things aren’t what the critics pointed out as this movies’s worst problems. I will get to those at the end, but right now, I want to defend my movie:

#1: This movie has a culture, belief systems, and a species spanning religion

This is what I love the most about this movie. The same thing that made The Lion King such a hit (in my opinion) is what makes me love this one. We have a group of ice age inuits who survive by believing very much in the power of nature, the connections they have with it, and the magic of the spirits. In this movie, the spirits take their shape as the beautiful Aurora Borealis, or as Koda calls it, “The night rainbow.”

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This could have been extremely corny. Spirits live in the lights in the sky. They’re responsible for the changes in the world, and when you die, the lights come down and suck you up. But it works in this movie because it takes everything seriously. I LOVE when movies take themselves seriously because it makes the audience take it seriously.

Another thing I love about the way they do this is that it’s one thing for a group of people to believe in something. It’s another for it to actually exist. In this movie, these beliefs are grounded. Magic and the unexplained actually exists in this movie, and we get to see its proof. Now you could argue that it takes a bit of the reality out of the movie. You don’t need proof in something to believe in it. That’s true. Every single religion is based on that idea. But at the same time, not every single person in Kenai’s tribe gets to witness these things. It’s just Tenana, the shawoman (which makes sense) and Kenai and Denahi at the end. They get to witness it because it’s part of their test. It’s “divine intervention” if you will. All the other people in the tribe have to take the words of those who have witnessed it that it’s true.

It’s also cool that this “religion” spans species. Koda knows exactly what the night rainbow is, that his grandparents are up there, and that they’re responsible for the changes in the world. It’s a small scene with him and Kenai, but it’s a powerful one, because Kenai’s in shock that he knows about the great spirits. it’s just another aspect of the movie that subtly points out that we’re all the same.

I also want to mention how much I love that even though Kenai’s brother dies, his “spirit” stays within the movie. His Totem was an eagle, and not only do you see Sitka portrayed as the spirit of an eagle (see above), but you also see an actual Bald Eagle floating around in the movie, guiding the two brothers to interact.

#2: This movie has a main character who is relatable and actually changes.

Kenai

Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) is not the most interesting major character. I’ll admit that. But he’s driven. He’s also a very good representation of kids his age (I’m going to guess late teens? I honestly have no idea, but he’s young, no older than mid-twenties…): He doesn’t really believe in anything his elders do. He’s embarrassed when love is his totem, because it’s not “manly” enough. He lives in the moment, and believes everything that he believes is right. He’s stubborn to the point that it’s dangerous.

This movie is a coming of age tale, but it’s one that’s unique for Disney because it tells the story of a man who becomes a man by learning how to love. I want more stories like this for little boys. Stories that show the repercussions of blind hatred and violence. Stories that teach that not all people that are different than you are evil. Stories that teach respect and value to this world we’ve been given. Stories that show that to be a man you don’t have to be violent or “manly.” That in fact it takes a true man to love another with all your heart.

Kenai learns this throughout the entire movie, but it’s never forced. He changes gradually through meeting characters and having experiences. It’s such a natural thing that by the end of the movie he’s almost unrecognizable. It’s extremely well done.

#3: This movie is unique in that we can relate with the villain – even if he’s not the best

 

They did an amazing job making him look insane...

They did an amazing job making him look insane…

There are actually a few villains in the movie, and it’s all about perspective. First, we have the giant bear that steals the fish in the beginning of the movie and Kenai eventually kills. To the humans, this is everything a giant monster and villain should be.

When Kenai gets turned into a bear, it’s suddenly his brother, Denahi, that’s after him. He can’t understand and even mentions “It’s not like him.” Koda just says “that’s what they do!” To Koda, Denahi is everything a giant monster and villain should be.

Denahi is not Disney’s best villain by far. But I would argue he’s the most relatable. For once, we have a straight picture and storyline of how the villain became the villain. He was pushed to do the unthinkable out of fear, anger, and vengeance. He’s not just out to ruin someone’s life because. In fact, he doesn’t even realize he’s ruining someone’s life, lest of all his brother’s. In fact, Denahi didn’t even want Kenai to go after the bear in the first place. He didn’t blame the bear for Sitka’s death. Kenai did. He understood that some things just happen. It’s only after seeing the clothes of Kenai that something inside him snaps. The same anger that raged within Kenai now filled him, turning him into the very “monster” he said didn’t exist.

This movie is as much about Denahi learning a lesson as it is Kenai. Denahi’s totem is wisdom. You could argue he becomes wise because of this ordeal. He learns that love is very powerful, and that perspective is everything.

#4: This movie has some unbelievably memorable scenes in it.

They could be entire scenes, or even just a few single lines. This movie has a bunch that have stuck with me. The best part is, they’re not “words of Wisdom” scenes that feel like they were just stuck in to show off their message. They were stuck in there to up the message, but it’s not forced. It’s real.

First we have the discussion that Koda and Kenai have about the “night rainbow.” This one is just a line, but I love it. Kenai tells Koda that he has a brother up there, and that he wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for him. Koda asks his brother’s name, then turns to the sky and goes “Thanks Sitka. Without you, I would have never met Kenai!”

The second scene is when Kenai and Koda come upon a cave with drawings done by cave men, depicting mammoths, deer, etc. Kenai stops when he sees a scene of a ferocious bear being attacked by a hunter with a spear. He grows a confused, concerned face. Then Koda pops out from behind him and goes “Those monsters are really scary. Especially with those sticks.”

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The last one is the big “Bam!” in the story (*spoilers*) but it’s the one that really get me, and should. I think i like this one because it’s almost that moment that Kenai realizes something about himself. It’s the “No Way Out” scene. Koda has just told everyone the story about his mother on the glacier, and Kenai had to get out after realizing it was Koda’s mother he killed. Koda joins him in the middle of nowhere. Kenai has to break the news to Koda about his mother, but doesn’t know how to do it. So he starts by telling Koda he has a story to tell him.

“What kind of story?” Asks Koda.

“Well… It’s kind of about a man, and kind of about a bear. But mostly, it’s about a monster…”

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It’s then we get the song starting, and probably the best done scene in the movie if not any Disney movie ever. How do you explain you just killed someone’s mother? It’s a dark thing for Disney, and they do it incredibly well. Best use of a song, EVER. It’s a scene that will stick with you and make you tear up. I love it.

#5: This movie stresses the idea of family, relationships, and love.

I mentioned a few reviews ago how the 00s was a time in Disney’s Canon that they seemed to focus more on original ideas and the idea of family. You don’t really notice it a lot in these movies because most of the time they’re focusing on the idea of “what makes a family?” In the 00s, you have a lot of extended family, or friends as family. This movie is no different.

It’s called “brother bear” for a reason. That’s because at the heart of this movie is the relationship between Kenai and Koda. It’s also about the relationship Kenai has with Denahi and Sitka.

This movie teaches us all that love is important, and that it can happen between anyone. It teaches us that all love isn’t romantic: love between siblings or two unrelated individuals can sometimes be as strong if not stronger and move everlasting. It teaches us that love is putting someone else first, even if it means risking your own life. Love means putting aside your differences and understanding what the person (or in this case, bear) is going through and how they see the world.

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This movie teaches us that relationships are not always going to be perfect: brothers fight, bicker, quarrel, and may even try to kill each other. But in the end, they’re still your family, and you would do anything for them.

I'm not sorry for two Gifs in a row...

I’m not sorry for two Gifs in a row…

#6: This movie’s message about perspective is one of my favorites.

Remember my review for the Fox and the Hound? I heralded this movie for the way it dealt with such a grown up idea in such an amazing way. This movie, in a lot of ways, does the same thing.

We have this idea that villains and monsters are those that don’t see eye to eye with us. They’re things, people, cultures, and creatures that we don’t fully understand, so we label them as “evil.” What’s amazing is that even in our own lives, the social norms of those we live around almost determine what we view as “evil.” Someone can be afraid of spiders because their parents are. A whole culture can hate another because that’s what everyone else is doing. It’s only when one person changes their minds that the whole culture can begin to move forward.

That’s what the message of this movie really is. We have two cultures: Bears and Humans. Both view each other as “evil” or “monsters” or “scary.” Why? because they don’t understand each other and that’s just the way that time has progressed. There’s always a hindrance that stops the understanding. In this case, it’s the actuality of not speaking the same language. (wouldn’t it be nice if things were that easy in real life?) Oh and look, once someone of one culture has to be reliant on an individual from the other culture, they begin to see eye to eye and realize that they have more in common than they thought.

Alright. Now here’s some problems that even I have with the movie:

#1: They could have done more with the culture.

There, I said it. I enjoy the culture part of this movie, but there could have been more. We know the other animals believe in the same thing, but we only get Koda explaining that. Why not the Mooses? or the other bears? Why couldn’t this carry throughout the movie about lessons the spirits teach us, as opposed to just that the spirits change things? That could have been a cool thing to add in. That Kenai isn’t the first one they’ve taught a lesson to.

#2: The characters aren’t that great

I will agree with this one. The characters ARE the weak point in this movie. I’ve already talked about some of them and will talk about others below, but this is a legit criticism. They’re nothing that special and this is not where the movie’s strengths are.

#3: Koda, Rut, and Tuke can get a bit annoying

I’m actually putting this one in here because I have heard it from other people. I don’t experience this myself, but I can see where everyone is coming from. So even though I’m putting this in my “problems” list, it’s not really for me. In fact this will probably turn into me justifying them.

A lot of people really dislike Koda. He’s an annoying kid that talks to much about nothing. He’s a smart alec. Then there’s Rut and Tuk. They’re a bit pointless in some ways, and you could argue they’re just there for comedy.

I do agree with both of these points, and they are both incredibly right. We all know I hate most Disney little kids. Mowgli annoys me, and even Simba bugs me with his smug attitude. But for some reason, Koda doesn’t. wanna know why? He’s realistic. Not that the other two aren’t, but Koda seems more like a kid I would actually know. In fact, I do know kids like him. kids that won’t shut up and like to tell pointless stories but really are sweet at heart and don’t realize how annoying they are. They just like to share things with you.

I'm pretty sure I see both of these looks on parents and kids alike...

I’m pretty sure I see both of these looks on parents and kids alike…

Rut and Tuke to me are hit or miss, so I am more likely to agree that they are annoying than with Koda. They’re voiced by the Canadian comedy duo of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, and I kinda like the (stereotypical?) “eh”‘s and the Candian accents they give their characters. They do play into the story a bit, and they almost represent an intact brother duo to help Koda later in the movie. They serve their purpose, and some of their lines are funny. (Why don’t we get a back seat or something? It looks like you hunted me!)

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#3: The songs don’t fit in to the storyline, and most aren’t needed.

I actually love these songs, but they’re fluff, for the most part. They don’t fit in to the movie, they don’t really convey emotions or move the story along in the way that, say, Beauty and the Beast’s songs do. That’s a shame, because it’s the ever talented Phil Collins back again! I think the problem with him doing this movie was that he tried to do it like Tarzan. But Tarzan had a lot of time passing, and needed songs in the background to be good for montages. Brother Bear doesn’t need that. In fact, the one song it needed as a montage song (On my way) is probably my least favorite song. It’s about nothing!

Now to be fair, some of the songs are done very well, and I do like the fact that Phil doesn’t sing all the songs like he did in Tarzan. “Great Spirits” is a good song that fits in well to the beginning of the movie, and is sung by  Tina Turner. The song “Transformation” is unique because it’s in another language, and it fits in, although I don’t know if it was entirely needed. Same with the song “Welcome,” although that one does convey a sense of Kenai’s emotion. Just a little bit…

Then there’s “No Way Out,” which upon initial viewing of this movie was my least favorite song. Now it’s my favorite, because it’s the only one that should actually be in the movie. It conveys emotion, it’s worked into the scene incredibly well (see my #4 above for more on that) and it’s perfect.

And I’m sad Denahi didn’t get a song. Not really, cause that would have NOT fit in. Just because of who voiced him… (Jason Raize (RIP): The original Simba on Broadway! He had an AMAZING voice. If you don’t believe me, Google “Endless night.” UNBELIEVABLE!)

As you can see, I have a lot more “likes” about this movie than “dislikes,” and I even cheated with my dislikes. The truth of the matter is, I love this movie. It’s hard for me to find things wrong with it. That being said, I really do understand why a lot of people don’t like it. I can see it being that type of movie. As for a retread? Yes, it has things similar to other Disney movies. I compared it to a lot of them in my review: Tarzan, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Fox and the Hound. But it’s got components of these movie. It isn’t these movies. It’s its own thing. And I hope, if anything, I’ve shown you all that.

Give it a watch if you’ve never seen it. If you have a son, show it to him. We need more movies like this.

I’m going to give Brother Bear (2003) a 3.7. I know that’s higher than a lot of people would put it, but I don’t care. It has too many good things going for it to put it lower.

Up Next: Brother Bear 2 (2006)