Reviewed by: Caroline Mooney
bears in the Bible
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Rick Moranis, Jeremy Suarez, Dave Thomas, Joan Copeland | Directed by: Aaron Blaise, Bob Walker | Produced by: Chuck Williams, II | Distributor: Walt Disney
Let’s face it, Walt Disney productions set the standard for animation films. Anticipating the bells and whistles big budgets afford, we look forward to Disney movies. “Brother Bear” delivers catchy tunes, no-expense-spared animation, an epic story, and of course, a moral lesson. Not unlike the film “Pocahontas,” “Brother Bear” is loaded with anti-Christian “spiritual truths.”
Set in the Pacific Northwest some 10,000 years before the Europeans settled in America, three Native American brothers, Kenai, Denahi and Sitka enjoy life within the security of their tribe. After a day of fishing, the brothers return to the village to attend an important religious ceremony. Kenai, preparing to enter manhood, eagerly awaits his gift, a chosen symbol determined by the Great Spirits, to adorn his neck and change his destiny.
The charm, believed to direct the destiny of its wearer, is taken very seriously. When Kenai receives his token of love, in the form of a bear, resentment and disappointment set in. Believing the bear to be a thief and destroyer of mankind, the young Indian boy, Kenai, vows to prove his manhood by hunting down and killing the bear who ambled into camp to steal some fish.
Through some mystical action of the Great Spirit, possibly to teach him a lesson, Kenai changes from the hunter to the hunted; he becomes a bear. When Denahi sees a bear and discovers his brother’s possessions, he fears Kenai is dead. Unaware that the bear is actually his own brother, Denahi determines to kill the bear. Kenai, unable to communicate to his brother, must run for his life. His destination—the place where the lights dance on the mountains, a sacred Indian ground.
On the way, Kenai meets Koda, a talkative, young bear cub who is lost from his mother and completely alone. Not really wanting a tag-a-long at first, Kenai acquiesces to the cubs request to come along, but only because Koda claims to know the way to the sacred spot, the one place Kenai desperately desires to find. Also along the way, Kenai discovers talking animals, a tradition with Disney, and a wise old bear. Fortunately, none of the characters burst into song. Instead, Disney went all out, commissioning Phil Collins to provide the singing.
In real life, few people have the opportunity to literally walk in someone else’s shoes; however, it happens often in the movies, “Freaky Friday,” both the old and new version for instance. Forced to roam the land as a bear, Kenai ultimately understands that bears are not enemies of man, but simply animals doing what they must to survive.
Also true to Disney form, the film layers humor and special effects to please both young and old viewers. Children will love Koda and the talking animals. Adults will appreciate the music of Phil Collins and the hilarious commentary provided by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, voices of the comic moose duo. Additionally, although “Brother Bear” is not a production of previous epic proportions, say the “Lion King,” for example, it is an entertaining film with the usual high quality animations, humor, and a few warm and fuzzy moments.
Of concern to me is the Indian mysticism and “circle of life” thematic core of the film. Some critics might argue that the Great Spirit is God-like, but the spiritual tale includes communication with dead ancestors, tokens as destiny shapers, and equality of man and nature, common elements of Indian legends and directly opposed to God’s Word.
It could be argued that Disney is merely closely following the traditions of Indian legends, and most likely they are. However, parents may want to discuss the mixture of ancestor worship, mysticism, and Hinduism presented as a feel-good story of loyalty and friendship. According to the myth of the Great Spirit, we are all part of the great circle of life. Specifically, when we die, we become part of the Great Spirit, god-like and omnipresent.
The Shaman, for example, says that the “spirits of our ancestors.have power to make changes,” and that Kenai will have to make restitution with his dead brother before the Great Spirits will change him back into a person again. Moreover, the Great Spirits, the collective body of our dead ancestors and all other dead creatures, guide us and direct our destiny. This might sound to some like the telling of some harmless Indian legend, but to many people, particularly those not fully grounded in God’s Word, it is a nice way to say that everybody goes to some wonderful place after death and that our goodness ultimately makes us as gods.
What bothers me most about the movie “Brother Bear” is the not so subtle theme, that we are all “brothers”. Innocent sounding but completely unbiblical, is the idea that people are as valuable as animals, and that we all end up in the same vaguely defined place after death. According the book of Genesis, God clearly created man to rule over the Earth; man and beast do not share the same status in the eyes of God.
Parents need not worry about language. There is no cursing or vain use of the Lord’s name; however, some childlike name-calling peppers the dialogue for comic relief. The brothers tease each other as siblings often do. Insults such as “dog breath,” “Pine cone breath,” and “fat head” are exchanged. Some birds “poop” when flying. Otherwise, the language is clean and acceptable for children to hear.
There is one reference to alcohol, though it was over the heads of my children. One moose tells his brother they should celebrate the happy ending with a “cool bed of hops.”
A few scenes are quite intense, but this is not surprising considering the nature of hunting. Some hunters, for example, trap a bear. One bear, while charging a man, lunges into a spear. The audience sees the dead bear lying on the ground. In two other scenes, one of Kenai’s brothers falls into a dangerously raging river, and the other falls into a crevice. Kenai and Koda must flee from Kenai’s angry brother, but of course, the brother has no idea he is trying to kill his own sibling. The brothers clearly love each other; in fact, Sitka lays down his own life by triggering a huge landslide to spare Kenai from the spear of his other brother.
On a positive note, viewers of “Brother Bear” witness the reconciliation of the moose brothers, the sacrifice of one life to protect another life, and Kenai’s desire to make atonement for killing Koda’s mother. Though there are some good one-liners and a few moral lessons to bring home, the film’s emphasis on spiritual mysticism is of mammoth proportions and of grave concern to me. I urge parents to discuss the concepts of the Great Spirit, the circle of life, and “destiny”—before, during, and after viewing this film.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: NoneYear of Release—2003