In a time when wooly mammoths still existed, a Native American teenager (no, he’s not Cro Magnon) anxiously awaits the initiation ceremony that will usher him into manhood. When his granny gives him a prissy “love” totem, his older brothers dutifully bust his balls. Later, Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix) is magically transformed into a furrier, cuter incarnation of the same scary bear that killed his brother, and for the rest of Brother Bear has to learn to get “in touch with his totem.” In order to make this story as accessible as possible for its young audience, this terrible, dorky Disney toon reduces the spirit world of the film’s so-called Native Americans. Forget that the Eden-like afterlife of the film is a soulless light show in the sky. More dangerous are the implications of everyone’s vested interest in that spirit world (and vice versa). Kenai’s granny is connected enough to the rave in the sky to know that the boy has been turned into a bear but seemingly forgets to tell the boy’s brother, Denahi (Jason Raize), about the transformation. This perpetuates a series of whoopsy-daisy misunderstandings that only serve to reinforce the notion that the earth gods are vengeful. If the spirit world’s judgement is all eye-for-an-eye, it bears mentioning that there’s an underlying sexism to the film. (Here, femininity is likened both to weakness and love.) When the thoroughly modern teens of the film poke fun of Kenai for getting a girly totem, they all but stop short of calling him a “faggot.” There’s an obvious contempt to Sitka’s insult that Kenai needs to connect with his totem (read: feminine side), one that’s further emphasized by Kenai’s bizarre transsexual transformation and nurturing relationship to an adorable bear cub named Koda (Jeremy Suarez). One can only imagine what the transcendent effect of the film could have been if the animals didn’t speak, or if the film’s “natives” weren’t so actively engaged in living out a schematic 2D moral plan. Even worse, this patriarchal-friendly film just isn’t any fun. The supporting comedy troupe of animal goofballs (essentially a smorgasboard of ethnic stereotypes and cultural clichés, from Italian-American rams to surfer-dude bears) and the embarrassing Earth Mother chants by Phil Collins further remove us from the world of the sacred past and straight into a Disney marketeer’s cubicle.
- Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker
- Steve Bencich, Ron J. Friedman
- Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Jason Raiz, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, D.B. Sweeney, Joan Copeland, Michael Clarke Duncan