The DONALD Scores are rankings for Disney animated films that combine personal opinion with a pseudo-scientific veneer of hard data. For a full introduction to the DONALD system, please go here. Please contribute your scores in the comments!
For the very first review under my new system, I decided start with an overlooked gem. It goes without saying that I will post reviews of all of the highest and lowest ranked movies. But with 70+ films on our list, and more coming every year, it may take a while to get to the titles in the middle.
Released in 2003, Brother Bear was squished between the surprise popularity of Lilo and Stitch and the ascendancy of Pixar and Finding Nemo. But Brother Bear was a decent entry in its own right, with good music, solid voice acting, and an interesting twist. In case it is not obvious, there are some plot spoilers below. Let’s jump to the numbers…
DONALD Score Sheet: Brother Bear (2003)
1. Story: 6
The elements of Brother Bear’s story are pretty common in Disney animated movies – learning to love others, what it means to sacrifice, and so on. But, in the middle of that is an interesting twist where Kenai has become an actual bear – an animal he dislikes – and is hunted by his own brother. Which might be overly dark, conceptually, for a family movie, but Disney tempers that with cute, animated bears.
2. Music: 8
Brother Bear has excellent music from Mark Mancina and Phil Collins, who also collaborated on the Academy Award-winning Tarzan. The soundtrack for Brother Bear has the great “On My Way,” which should be heralded as a classic, but is undersung (ha!). The song “Welcome” was repurposed as the theme for Walt Disney’s Parade of Dreams at Disneyland, and was a pleasant earworm that I hummed throughout the day when we visited. Both Tina Turner and The Blind Boys of Alabama sing songs in the movie, which is a crazy fact.
3. Animation Quality: 7
The backgrounds and colors are gorgeous in Brother Bear, and arguably the highlight of the animation. The characters themselves are not quite as consistent as in other movies, but I did like their design.
4. Memorable Protagonist(s): 6
Kenai goes on a journey of discovery and learns something about himself, which is a point in his favor. The character design is good, and his personality is pleasant, but aside from the character specifics of being a man turned into a bear, not much about Kenai is unique from other Disney film protagonists.
5. Memorable Antagonist(s): 6
Denahi is Kenai’s brother, and he stumbles onto the scene right after the Spirits turn Kenai into a bear. Believing the bear to be responsible for killing his brother, Denahi pursues Kenai throughout the movie, which climaxes in a fight at the end. This doesn’t make Denahi a Disney villain in the traditional sense, but he is a driving antagonist. I do like a story where those lines are blurred, even if it doesn’t score as high.
6. Script: 6
The overall dialogue is average, on balance, with plenty of fun lines and no real low spots. But, every once in a while the writers tried to dial up a powerhouse line. One example:
Kenai: Koda, there’s… something I ought to… you know that story you told me last night?
Kenai: Well, I have a story to tell you.
Koda: Really? What’s it about?
Kenai: Well, it’s kind of about a man… and kind of about a bear. But mostly, it’s about a monster.
It worked about half the time. The overall effect was pretty good, but could have been better.
7. Supporting Characters: 7
Koda is a cute and funny character that says and does the things that appeal to the kids in the audience. He also serves well as the officially designated heart of the movie (even if the idea of a real, adult, male bear adopting an orphaned cub is wildly unrealistic). Rutt and Tuke (“Bob and Doug MacKenzie” as moose) are also good comic relief, although none of them are transcendent characters.
8. Timelessness: 5
Brother Bear is not known as one of the great Disney animated films, but it has a lasting presence in the parks. Not only are Kenai and Koda characters at the Storytellers Cafe breakfast buffet, but there is an indirect tie to the Grizzly Peak area of Disney’s California Adventure. This presence is trending downward, however, as the Parade of Dreams (and its theme song, “Welcome”) has been replaced by Mickey’s Soundsational Parade. This score will be lower in 5-7 years.
9. Voice Acting: 7
The voice acting in Brother Bear is one of the highlights. I mean, Joaquin Phoenix is Kenai – let that fact really sink in. Is there an actor in a Disney show that is more surprising in retrospect?* The rest of the voice actors are quite good, as well.
(*One possible exception is Christian Bale in Pocahontas.)
10. Charm/Intangibles: 9
Look, I’m not in a position to discuss this rationally. I call myself “The Lumbering Bear” on this blog. I am a big fan of bears. They are, in the vernacular of this movie, my “spirit animal.” So, a Disney movie, where the protagonist turns into a bear, set in the wilds of North America, including a sequence in a Yellowstone-type landscape, with amazing music, and a touching story? This is right in my wheelhouse.
DONALD Score: 67