Friday 12 April 2013

Brother Bear Blu-ray Review - A Flawed But Well-Rounded Set, Eh


Brother Bear is available to own on Disney Blu-ray™ from 15th April 2013

The third of four Disney movies that are coming to UK Blu-ray players on 15th April is one often cited as a low-point for the studio, 2003's Brother Bear. That's because Brother Bear, the 44th feature animated film from Disney, came in the midst of an ostensible dark age for the Mouse House, amidst a storm of creatively damp and visually uninspired films like Dinosaur and Home on the Range. I put it to you though, that Brother Bear is in fact quite a good film: sweet, well-meaning and visually inventive - if not particularly groundbreaking. The Blu-ray, likewise, is a good, but flawed, package.

The main menu of the Brother Bear Blu-ray.

In the bonus features, directors Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker discuss wanting the aspect ratio to widen out after protagonist Kenai's transformation into a bear, symbolising the growing breadth of his understanding and experiences. This means, though, that the full screen isn't utilised at any point in the film: for the first 25 minutes, the picture is windowboxed, and there's a good two inches of black space around each edge, before it then opens up into a letterbox ratio, which, again, leaves inches of black space at the top and bottom. Rather than provoking some sub-textual emotional response, it instead provoked a rather more explicit feeling of irritation.

The rather underwhelming windowboxed picture of the first 25

On the plus side, the image sandwiched between those black bars is a very crisp, colourful and impressive one. The film's very visually distinct and disparate three acts, although not providing the most cohesive story in the world, do provide a lot of eye candy. The second act, with its deep coloured foliage and all the oranges, yellows and greens which that entails, and the lusciously drawn fur of the bears, is the particular standout. Although the third act, with all of the stunning light-aerobics and the clear blues of the water, is also impressive - but some outdated CG does somewhat ruin the effect.

The picture quality isn't immaculate though and there are quite a few instances of artifacting and jagged lines (often noticeable on the outlines of characters) and aliasing from some of the old CG. The crisp HD also highlights the flat, listless backgrounds -  have you heard of something called the Multiplane Camera, Disney? I could've sworn you guys invented it...

These flaws are more prevalent than they were with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and significantly more so than with Aladdin (which still remains the best of the bunch), but fortunately the good still outweighs the bad. Brother Bear was a visually impressive film to begin with, and the HD treatment does unsurprisingly enhance the overall experience - just not to the extent to which you might have hoped.

Similarly, the set's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track was good, but not as good or as immersive as you would've liked. The film's songs and some of its more impressive score tracks are impressive, but the overall sound quality is underwhelming, particularly when compared to the booming audio of Aladdin or the operatic score of Hunchback.

Having not seen the film in a while, I came away with a better impression of Brother Bear than I was expecting to, and the film packs some very funny moments: the mournful wife-bear who is lamenting the loss of her husband, only to be echoed by his cries of "Quit telling everyone I'm dead!", tickled me particularly well. There's also some witty self-referential humour by Disney, when Kenai moans to Koda "How about you stop talking?", to wit the cute cub (and. man, he really is adorable) replies "Okay, I'll sing instead!", lightly mocking the ludicrously spontaneous and occasionally superfluous combustion into song that musicals often adhere to - although all songs used here are background ones, not musical numbers.

Reusing character models is nothing new for Disney (see the chihuahua
in Lady and the Tramp/Oliver and Company), but reusing a design as prominent
as Lilo's is an odd move.

The film is flawed though, indicative of the dark, pre-Lasseter times that Disney Animation was in at the time. Particularly, the film falls into the pitfall that early drafts of Toy Story fell into: it assumes that, because a character is going to become selfless and likeable in the end, it's okay for them to be a d-bag in the beginning - this isn't the case, and in the case of Brother Bear, it just makes Kenai an entirely unempathetic character for the first half hour of the film. Goofy sidekicks in Disney movies range from the classic to the utterly insufferable, and alas the moose in Brother Bear land in the latter category. (Also look out for a cost-cutting and completely random quasi-cameo by Lilo).

It also strikes me as curious that people griped and moaned about the use of magic in Brave - simply because it's Pixar - but largely didn't complain about the completely unexplained, logicless, seemingly omnipotent magical spirits in Brother Bear. And indeed, there are a few weak plot points in this film, not least how quickly Koda seems to forgive Kenai for killing his mum...

In the bonus features, the crew constantly compare the film to The Lion King. This is ridiculously overambitious; it's good - far better than it gets credit for - but it's nowhere near that good (is anything?). That is a useful segue though, because bonus features are the last thing to talk about here. As with Aladdin and Hunchback, there are no new features, they're all copied over from the DVD release. But unlike with Aladdin and Hunchback, there are a sufficient amount of features being carried over, that that doesn't really matter - in fact, I was thoroughly pleased with the bonus features on offer on the set!

US '2 Movie Collection' combo pack cover art.

Although both the picture and sound quality are less impressive than those of the previous two Disney Blu-ray sets we've reviewed, Brother Bear does still look and sound very good in HD, and the higher quality and quantity of bonus features means this is a Blu-ray of more symmetrical quality than the picture/sound-heavy and bonus feature-light sets that the other two films produced.

(Blu-ray stills via

Movie: 8/10
Picture Quality: 7/10
Sound Quality:  8/10
Bonus Features: 8/10

Overall Blu-ray package: 7.5/10

You can pre-order Brother Bear on Blu-ray via our Amazon Link above (UK, left/US, right).

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