Here, Disney takes another shot at the Native American side of story-telling brought to us by a couple of white dudes from Burlington, Vermont and Toronto, Ontario. Having said that, I can't help but feel that this is, at the very least, more respectful than 'Pocahontas' was. Cards on the table, I have no idea if this is offensive or not when it comes to things like tradition and lack of homework. I do want to be on the right side of things, so feel free to educate me in the comments below. Otherwise, on with the show.
Local tribes in Alaska hold the traditional belief that all creatures, great and small, are created through the Great Spirits, who appear as an aurora (Northern Lights effect) Here, we meet a trio of brothers; the eldest, Sitka (D.B. Sweeney); the middle brother, Denahi (Jason Raize), and youngest and hero of this tale, Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix). The time has come for Kenai to receive his totem. In this tribe, they come in the form of a necklace, with a wooden-carved pendant resembling an animal. Each totem represents what they need to achieve to become men - Kenai's is the Bear of Love. He's a little upset about this, and the others poke fun at him for it (only fooling around, not so much bullying), but soon, none of that matters.
When a brown bear steals a basket of salmon, the three brothers pursue her, only to have Sitka meet a dramatic fate. Then, at Sitka's funeral, the other two swear vengeance on the bear. During the hunt, Kenai has a face-to-face encounter with the same bear from earlier. When Kenai just barely manages the kill, however, Sitka's spirit comes along and transforms Kenai into a bear. After this, Kenai is instructed by the tribe shaman, Tanana (Joan Copeland) to find his brother, Sitka in order to be changed back to a human. However, on his journey, he must atone for his actions.
Potential atonement comes in the form of a bear cub name Koda (Jeremy Suarez) who frees him from a trap. The two make a deal that Koda will lead Kenai to where he needs to go as long as Kenai takes Koda to the annual salmon run. As their journey continues, the pair form a brotherly friendship. Soon enough, Kenai begins to learn what it means to be a bear, and a part of that includes humankind being the Boogeyman. It's very much a shoe-on-the-other-foot movie that doesn't entirely teach that killing is wrong, but it allows you to see the other perspective. It's good for people to learn empathy - especially impressionable children. I really think the message of this movie is well laid out. The execution is something I'm a bit iffy on.
Let me make it perfectly clear that I LIKED this movie. I'm only out to try to forewarn of anything that may offend other viewers. As far as this one goes, I'd probably say its the lack of female characters and the almost completely non-native cast of voices (although a huge kudos to bringing Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis in as two extremely Canadian moose reminiscent of their original MacKenzie Brothers skits). For me, my only real criticism is that it does get a little bit preachy with its message, even if it is a good one to teach. It's certainly not gonna be for everyone, but I quite honestly enjoyed myself with this - bearing in mind that I look at things pretty deeply most of the time.