Recent Disney movies are a bit like The Wizard in old Oz: peer past the curtain and you'll see the mundane behind the wonder. Need proof? Dissect Brother Bear and you'll find a dash of Little Mermaid, a sprinkling of Lion King and a pinch of Hercules. Makes sense - after all, each bit has worked before. Thing is, that doesn't necessarily mean it'll work again. However magical the formula, it can only retain its potency for so long...
Kenai is young, brave and a touch irresponsible. Case in point: he leaves the village's food supply unprotected, making it easy pickings for a sizable bear who fancies a bit of nosebag. Can't blame the ursine interloper. Only Kenai does, pursuing the grizzly in a fit of rage that's as disturbing as any scenes in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the action slowly descends downhill from this clutch-lapels, scream-in-face beginning, Kenai and cutesy cub Koda setting off on their treacly quest to the Northern Lights to find enlightenment. En route they learn lessons, skip dangers and, naturally, find themselves accompanied by an agonising Phil Collins soundtrack.
Still, Disney animation done by hand, that's the stuff. The linework is eyelash fine, the colours lush and subtle in equal measure, and the only gaffe is the jarring softening of the animal kingdom once Kenai joins them. It's as if marketing swooped down and said, "No nastiness: push the plushies, dammit!" And while the story has more crafty swipes than a Tarantino script, there are a couple of decent voice performances to guide you through. Best bit? Kenai learning why he's decked in full-length fur. It doesn't matter that you can see it coming a mile off - Phoenix's admirable larynxing will get those heart-strings quivering, no question.
However,having Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas neutering their old McKenzie brothers routine as moose siblings Rutt and Tuke is unpardonable. Unless, of course, you have no idea who the McKenzie brothers are. Then it's just Disney relying on comic sidekicks to add a little snap, crackle and pop; in other words, lazy formula once more.
Like leftover scraps pressed together. But even assembly line Disney has its moments - and the anklebiters will love it.
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