Brother Bear follows Disney's frequent pattern of highlighting transformation in its animated movies. Pinocchio changed from a puppet to a real boy; a prince turned into a monster in Beauty and the Beast; a wicked queen became an apple-selling crone in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In this latest effort, a prehistoric Native American lad on the verge of manhood is magically changed into a bear in order to teach him the power of love.
By capitalizing on humor, colorful visuals and a rich musical background, Brother Bear deals effectively with such important themes as brotherhood and man's bond with nature. It's a playful flick with an almost spiritual message. However, some scenes may be a bit scary for toddlers. I remember a time in my own childhood when there was nothing more frightening than the thought of a huge bear growling and showing its sharp teeth and claws. Still, the little ones should perk right up when Koda (Jeremy Suarez's voice), a darling bear cub, enters the picture. He's the one who helps our hero (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) discover what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes - er, paws.
Most of the humor in Brother Bear comes from a pair of very amusing but misguided moose -- voiced by Rick Moranis (Honey I Shrunk the Kids) and Dave Thomas (TV's Grace under Fire). Their version of the "I Spy" game is simply hilarious. Two rams who can't stop yelling back at a mountain echo are almost as funny. Although animation artistry gives the film a three-dimensional feel while showcasing breathtaking vistas, it's the music that impressed me the most here. Phil Collins, working with Mark Mancina, composed the inspiring score; exciting Tina Turner belts out "Great Spirits;" the Bulgarian Women's Choir and the Blind Boys from Alabama sing rousing numbers that enhance the movie with a wonderful blending of diverse musical styles.
Brother Bear's 2-Disc DVD includes fascinating information about the movie's collaborative songwriting process. In "Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear," Collins, who never wrote a film score before, explains how important Mancina's help was to the finished product and why certain instruments were chosen for various numbers. Artists, voice actors and directors also tell how they felt about their own contributions to the movie.
Other bonus features should provide fun for the entire family. "Koda's Outtakes" may not be any threat to Jackie Chan's tradition, but watching them made me laugh out loud. Rounding out this jam-packed home entertainment package are deleted scenes, a new song, a Phil Collins music video, comic commentary by the moose pair, and two games (Find Your Totem and Bone Puzzle). It's another must-have for Disney fans.
(Released by Walt Disney Home Entertainment and rated "G." DVD bonus features unrated.)