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In the past Disney have been the flag bearers for animated films, but in recent years a handful of new contenders have emerged, Pixar and Dreamworks being just two of them. Worldwide hits such as Finding Nemo and Shrek have strengthened their competitors’ positions within the market while Disney have struggled, with the situation not having been helped by some spectacular flops in recent years. These developments have caused the corporation to have a rethink, take a step back and return to their roots. Brother Bear is the latest movie from Disney and they hope that it can restore people’s faith in their movies.

Brother Bear
Brother Bear follows the story of three brothers, Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix), Sitka (D.B. Sweeny) and Denahi (Jason Raize). The brothers get on reasonably well, but their happy family unit is about to be destroyed when Sitka is killed by a grizzly bear. Kenai is understandably upset by the events and vows to avenge his brother’s death. He sets about hunting down the bear, but even in his wildest dreams he couldn’t prepare for what is about to happen to him. Kenai manages to find the deadly beast and kills it, however in the process he is transformed into a bear himself.

Being a bear obviously brings its fair share of inconveniences, one of which is the fact that Kenai can no longer communicate with humans. This proves to be a potentially life threatening problem as Kenai’s older brother Denahi is intent on killing him. Not everyone is so unfriendly though; Kenai soon befriends a young bear called Koda (Jeremy Suarez) who has been separated from his mother and who sees Kenai as a father figure. The two bears decide to visit the salmon spawning grounds to meet other bears, but along the way Kenai learns that he can be transformed back into a human if he climbs the mountain where the light touches the Earth. This obviously gives him new hope, but will Denahi inadvertently stop his brother from returning to his true form?

So, have Disney returned to successful form? Well, Brother Bear is definitely a step in the right direction! Brother Bear has all the hallmarks of a traditional Disney movie. For starters there is a lively soundtrack from Phil Collins, but more importantly the storyline is charming and involves some loveable characters which children will warm to. It is rumoured that Disney employed several screenwriters for this movie, and their effort seems to have paid off. Some of their recent movies such as Treasure Planet seemed rushed to me and were just excuses to include some attractive looking animation. Brother Bear has more going for it then just fancy animation, in fact Disney have even kept the animation basic so as not to distract from the plot. As well as the main characters, there are also some wacky animals which Disney have introduced. This has become a tradition for the company, and with this movie they have created Rutt and Tuke (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas), two crazy moose who don’t seem to have a brain cell between them!

Brother Bear
Brother Bear is not without its faults though; as good as the storyline is it takes a while to get going. The first twenty minutes of the movie drag a little, but once Kenai turns into a bear the movie really warms up. The conclusion is exciting and should leave kids with smiles on their faces. During the credits there are some humorous outtakes which will also raise a smile with adults, so be warned, don’t stop the DVD early!  I have no doubt that children (particularly boys) will love this film, but these days distributors have to account for parents as well. There are enough ‘adult’ jokes to keep the older generations amused, so I have no hesitation in recommending this movie as one for all the family. Disney are back, let’s just hope they can maintain the standards set in this movie.

Disney have taken the unusual step of releasing two different transfers with this release. This all stems from the fact that the movie was filmed in two aspect ratios for its theatrical release. The first twenty minutes were filmed in 1.66:1, but then the movie switched to 2.35:1 which is the aspect ratio for the rest of the movie. Unlike the upcoming region two release, this edition has two separate transfers (one on each disc). The first is the actual theatrical aspect ratios (as discussed above) and the second transfer features the reformatted 1.66:1 version which is supposed to be a ‘family friendly’ transfer. Straight away it is easy to see the benefits of purchasing the region one version as the UK DVD will feature just the ‘family friendly’ transfer.

Now onto the technical side of the transfers; for the most part Disney have produced a vibrant and true image which suffers only from a few minor issues. The colour palette is up there with the high standards set in Finding Nemo, and you will probably struggle to find a more colourful presentation this year. Black levels are solid, although there are not many scenes where they are fully tested. The image is also incredibly clean and vivid, and detail levels are spot on with every little detail from the forest shown in its entirety. My main irritation with this transfer is the excessive use of edge enhancements which were noticeable throughout. Grain levels and compression artifacts are not an issue, so overall Disney have produced a couple of respectable transfers which will do their reputation no harm.

Brother Bear
Brother Bear is accompanied by two English soundtracks, those being Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Both tracks produce an all-round experience which makes full use of the sound stage. Probably the most striking thing about the audio is the fact that ambience noise is brought to the rears at every opportunity.  There is very little difference between the tracks, but as expected the DTS track has the slight edge although it really is only a minimal difference. I noticed several occasions where my Subwoofer came into play and added to the overall effect. Dialogue levels are spot-on and even though the sound mix could be aggressive at times, voices appeared clear and audible throughout. As well as the English tracks there are also a THX certified track, as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks included on both discs.

Subtitles are provided in English for the hearing impaired. It is probably worth mentioning the menus which are animated; they include some amusing lines from Rutt and Tuke and should appeal to children

The extras for this release are split across the two discs. The first disc is aimed at young children while the second disc targets an older audience. For the purpose of this review I will start with disc one, and the first extra I came across was called Koda’s Outtakes. I was expecting these outtakes to be exactly the same as the ones at the end of the movie, but to my delight this was not the case as they are new ones. I actually find outtakes for animation movies to be far funnier than live films and the ones included with this disc are definitely worth a look. There are over two and a half minutes of outtakes on this disc. If you fancy a sing-along then you will be happy to find two songs included on the first disc, both by Phil Collins which are ”Look Through My Eyes” and ”On My Way” , the latter accompanied by karaoke text so that you can join in if you like.

Next up are a couple of fun kids’ games. The first game is called Bone Puzzle and involves making an animal from a set of bones. You have to put the bones in the correct order and once this has been achieved the animal appears on the screen. The other game in this section is entitled Find Your Totem and is a quiz based game. Interestingly there is also a Commentary which is found on the first disc, narrated by the two moose characters in the film, Rutt & Tuke. The commentary can be watched with the movie playing in the background or it can be watched with no visuals.

Brother Bear
The final extras on this first disc are featurettes, of which there are three. The first one is entitled Bear Legends – Native American Tales and runs for three minutes. This short featurette talks about the importance of bears in ancient times. It is very much aimed at children and shows a brief bear story which is based on cave drawings. Making Noise: The Art Of Foley focuses on the sound effects for the movie and is an interesting examination of the effort that went into creating this aspect of the movie. The final featurette is titled Art Review. This extra is introduced by Robh Ruppel (director) and Byron Howard (animator for the film). It concentrates on the characters for the movie and how they were designed and brought to the screen. It also shows a lot of the early designs for the movie and the commentators give lots of interesting information. This extra is suitable for older children/adults and runs for ten minutes.

As mentioned, above the second disc targets an older audience, and this point is emphasised by the first extra that you will find on the disc. It is called Path Of Discovery: The Making Of Brother Bear and lasts for forty five minutes. This documentary is split into four areas as follows : Beginnings, Mirror To The World, Welcome To The Family and Music And Songs. This is a really thorough extra and leaves no stone unturned. Each section of the documentary can be played individually or as one complete section.

As well as the outtakes on the first disc, there are also three Deleted Scenes on this second disc. The scenes last for a total of just over eleven minutes, and each one is accompanied by a brief description from the directors of the movie. The deleted scenes included are not actually animated and are in fact the original storyboards that had been drafted for the movie. The final couple of extras once again give you the opportunity to flex your vocal cords. One is called ”Fishing” Song and is a song that was not included in the movie. This song is introduced by Phil Collins who talks about where the song would have been included and also elaborates on how he found the inspiration for the lyrics. Once again this extra is not animated and is just a storyboard which is shown while Phil Collins’ song is played in the background. The other song is called “Transformation” Song and it includes the original Phil Collins Lyrics.

Brother Bear
Brother Bear sees a return to form for Disney. While it may not reach the dizzy heights of classics such as Aladdin and The Lion King, it certainly has enough promising elements to make it a film children and adults alike will find entertaining. Since the advent of DVD, Disney have shown that they are committed to the format, and this release further emphasises that point. This two disc release has quality written all over it and should leave region two fans feeling a little envious. While the region two disc will only contain the ‘family friendly’ transfer, this edition also includes the original theatrical aspect ratio. The soundtracks are also impressive and the extras take full advantage of the space included with a two disc release. If you are a fan of animated movies or are looking for something to occupy the children then Brother Bear is an easy recommendation.