The tiniest cubs in the audience might have fun, but grown-ups' interest will soon flag during Brother Bear, the latest animated cartoon from Disney. It's the story of Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix), an angry young Native American who gets to see things from a new perspective when the Great Spirits punish a revenge killing by transforming him into a bear. Phoenix is an offbeat, interesting choice for a mainstream 'toon, but he's let down by a paint-by-numbers script.
"PURELY SUPERFICIAL RESEMBLANCE"
There are whisperings that this rites-of-passage animal adventure - boy kills bear, boy becomes bear, bear learns to respect nature - will be one of Disney's last traditionally-animated features. If that's the case, then it's an even bigger shame that the resemblance between this and Uncle Walt's classic work is purely superficial.
Brother Bear was drawn in Orlando, but it doesn't even live up to the earlier offerings from the Mouse House's Florida outfit, Mulan and Lilo & Stitch. Where those films had engaging characters and lively set-pieces to match their lush visuals, this one has a formula. Talking of formulas, the six new bear-themed dirges by Phil Collins (who also scored Tarzan) are at best brief and at worst intrusive.
"COLOURS GET RICHER"
The film's saving grace is Kenai's transformation into a bear. It's at this point that the frame stretches from a conventional size into glorious widescreen. The colours get richer, too. Make the most of this moment, because it's the only one that'll really impress those viewers old enough to know what bears really get up to in the woods.
Films like Spirited Away and Belleville Rendez-Vous have proved rumours of traditional animation's demise to be grossly exaggerated. But run-of-the-mill fare like this only gives more power to the pixel-pushers. If it's top-drawer contemporary Disney you're after, go find Nemo instead.