Release Date: November 1st, 2003
Budget: $46 million
Domestic Gross: $85.3 million
Worldwide Gross: $250.4 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%
IMDB Score: 6.8/10
Storyline (per IMDB): Kenai, a man who resents bears after a fight with one kills his older brother, is turned into a bear so he can see life from a different perspective. He is visited by the spirit of his older brother, and is told that, if he wishes to be changed back into a human, he must travel to the place where the lights touch the Earth, in other words, the Northern Lights. Fueled by hope, Kenai sets off on his long journey, and, along the way, encounters a younger bear, Koda, who is a chatterbox and a fun-loving spirit; Koda is trying to find his way back to his home, the Salmon Run, which, coincidentally, is right next to where the lights touch the Earth. Koda and Kenai team up, but are hunted by Kenai’s other brother, Denahi, who fears that the bear has killed Kenai as well. Along the way, the two bears meet other friends, including two moose, some rams, and some mammoths, with whom they hitch a ride. However, Kenai discovers that he likes being a bear, and realizes that humans aren’t only …
Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through this journey with another film that I have never seen and one that doesn’t get talked about too much, and it is like a lot of these films in the 2000s where it has its supporters though not a ton of them. I have been going in optimistic with all these films and aside from Lilo and Stitch, none of these films from the 2000s has surprised me and have felt just blah so hopefully this is the one that manages to turn things around.
Voice Cast: In what has to be a first since the earliest films, we have a cast that features all newcomers as the main characters though we do have some familiar voices return though they are relegated to very minor roles. The returning actors include Patrick Pinney, Bob Bergen, Rodger Bumpass, Roger Rose, Debi Derryberry, Randy Crenshaw, Phil Proctor, John Schwab, Bill Farmer, Pamela Aldon, Hope Levy, and Sherry Lynn as they filled out the background. Now moving onto the new actors in the film, we start off with Joaquin Phoenix who voices Kenai as he was about to hit his stride in terms of his career, and then we have Jeremy Suarez who voices Koda as he was hitting the peak of his young career. Next, we have the pair of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas who voice Rutt and Tuke respectively as Moranis would retire shortly after this and Thomas was in the prime of his career, and then we have Jason Raize who voices Denahi in one of his lone film appearances as he would sadly kill himself a year later. We then have D.B. Sweeney who voices Sitka as he was at the peak of his career to this point, and then we have Joan Copeland who voices Tanana in what would be one of her final film roles of her career. Next, we have Michael Clarke Duncan who voices Tug as he was in the prime of his career at this point, and then we have the pair of Greg Proops and Pauley Perrette who voice the two bears in love in minor roles. We then have Estelle Harris who voices the old lady bear as she was about to start winding down her long career, and then we have Darko Cesar who voices the bear who speaks in Croatian in a minor role and we also have Bumper Robinson who voices the chipmunks in a minor role. Next, we have the pair of Paul Christie and Danny Mastrogiorgio who voice the rams in minor roles and finally we have Oscar Kawagley who voices the Inuit Narrator in one of his lone film roles. This was a clear transition of the veteran voice actors mainly being used for smaller roles while bigger name actors would take the main roles, and we will see if that continues to play out over the course of these films.
Hero/Prince: It is pretty interesting because the hero of this film is someone that at first glance doesn’t seem like he should be considered a hero, but this is pretty much a life journey for him and that is of course Kenai. He is the younger brother of Sitka and Denahi who is given his totem which is the bear of love much to his chagrin, and after the tribe’s supply of salmon is stolen Kenai hunts the bear to retrieve it. Sitka and Denahi follow him and Sitka ultimately sacrifices himself to save them which causes Kenai to vow revenge, and he hunts and kills the bear only for the Great Spirits to punish him by turning him into a bear. He learns he must atone for his actions and appeal to the spirits to change him back to a human at the mountain, and on his journey he meets Koda who is heading to the salmon run and offers to help Kenai if Kenai helps him in exchange, and despite some reluctance the two become close as Kenai learns that Koda’s mother is missing. When they reach the salmon run, Koda recounts her mother being attacked as Kenai realizes that the bear he killed was Koda’s mother, and he confesses this to Koda who runs away in disbelief and Kenai reaches the mountain. Denahi follows him as well not knowing who he is and tries to kill him until Koda saves him and then Kenai sacrifices himself to save Koda, and he is given a chance to become human again though he decides to remain a bear and stay by Koda’s side as Denahi gives his blessing and Kenai becomes a man. Kenai is a classic example of someone who doesn’t know what his meaning in life is and he is dejected with his totem, and after Sitka dies he becomes consumed by revenge which results in him becoming a bear as punishment for his action. Through this and his friendship with Koda, he finally comes to terms with his actions and redeems himself in the end even electing to remain a bear to stay with Koda and thus he is a worthy hero for the film.
Other Characters: It’s not often that we have a film where there is only one character talked about in one of the previous three categories, and that means that the majority of the characters in this film will be talked about in this category. The first one is the bear Koda who saves Kenai from a trap he had gotten caught in and Koda tells him he is heading for the salmon run with his mother though he lost her, and Kenai agrees to take him to the salmon run in exchange for Kenai reaching the mountain. Despite Kenai’s initial coldness to Koda, they start to warm to each other and become like brothers when they reach the salmon run, and Koda tells the other bears the story of his mother fighting off several hunters which causes Kenai to realize that he killed Koda’s mother. He confesses this to Koda who runs away in disbelief though he is convinced by Rutt and Tuke to forgive him, and he helps Kenai against Denahi until Kenai sacrifices himself to save Koda. Kenai is absolved of his sins and offered the chance to become human again, but he elects to remain a bear and becomes family to Koda who is accepted into Kenai’s tribe. Next, we have Denahi who is the brother of Sitka and Kenai as he loves to tease Kenai while showing Sitka respect, and after Sitka dies saving them Denahi tells Kenai not to take revenge and follows him. He doesn’t know that Kenai has been turned into a bear and assumes Kenai has been killed so he vows to get revenge, and he follows Kenai to the mountain and nearly kills him until Koda saves Kenai and Kenai sacrifices himself for Koda. Denahi learns the truth about Kenai and forgives him as he also gives his blessing when Kenai decides to remain a bear, and he returns to the tribe with Kenai and Koda. We then have Sitka who is the older brother of Denahi and Kenai as he is the level-headed one of the group, and when he and Denahi go to assist Kenai against the bear Sitka sacrifices himself to save them and he becomes the spirit of an eagle. He and the Spirits turn Kenai into a bear as punishment and after Kenai sacrifices himself for Koda, Sitka offers to restore Kenai into a human though Kenai chooses to remain a bear as the three find peace with each other. Next, we have Rutt and Tuke the moose who are brothers and they constantly argue with each other, and they follow Kenai and Koda on their journey while dealing with their own issues and they eventually reconcile which convinces Koda to forgive Kenai and the four remain friends. We then have Tanana who is the shaman of the tribe and she gives Kenai his totem which is the bear of love though he rejects it, and when she finds him as a bear she tells him that he must travel to the mountain and convince the spirits to turn him back to a human. In the end, Kenai finds his peace and remains a bear as she christens him a man and he leaves his print on the rock along with the rest of the tribe. Next, we have Tug who is the leader of the bears and he welcomes Kenai to the pack when he arrives with Koda, and he leads the bears in telling various stories of their lives for the past year. Finally, we have the various other characters who appear like the rest of the tribe that Sitka, Denahi, and Kenai belong to, the bears that travel to the salmon run, the pair of rams that argue with their own echoes, the mammoths that Kenai and Koda ride briefly, and the various other critters in the wild that Kenai comes across including Koda’s mother who Kenai kills out of vengeance for Sitka’s death. It is always interesting when practically all of the characters are included in this specific category, but sometimes that’s the way it ends up working out and we will see how that continues to play.
Songs: Prior to this viewing, I had assumed that most of the films from the 2000s had hardly any songs in it or no songs all together, and that we were passed the glory days of the Disney Renaissance which was pretty sad. However, that is not the case here as we do have some songs here and this film is very similar to Tarzan in that the songs serve mainly in the background, and not only that but Phil Collins returned to help write the songs for this film. The first song we have is “Great Spirits” which is sung in the beginning of the film and while it was a good performance by Tina Turner, the song itself was fairly basic in its premises. The next song is “On My Way” sung by Collins as Kenai and Koda make their way to the salmon run, and again it was a fine performance by Collins though the song itself was fairly simple and basic. The next song to talk about is “Welcome” which is sung when Kenai and Koda reach the salmon run, and once again it was a basic song that was sung well by Collins. Finally, we have “No Way Out” which is sung when Kenai confesses to Koda that he killed his mother and I will say, I did like how the lyrics were sung in between the dialogue which made the scene more intense. As usual, I will also make a mention to the song “Look Through My Eyes” which is sung during the credits, and in a fun fact that song would be used as a cover for the soundtrack to the 2007 film “Bridge to Terabithia”. I like how they do still have songs in these films as that has been a staple of Disney films, but unlike the previous films which had very memorable songs these last few films have had some fairly subpar songs to say the least.
Plot: After the last film was based on a legendary novel, we go back to having an original story being the basis of the film which has started to become the norm for these films since the 2000s started. Again, not every film has to be based off of something and can work as an original idea, but you have to be careful when it comes to creating a new story because it has to be something that people can relate to especially in an animated film. In this film, Kenai is the youngest brother of Sitka and Denahi and they are part of an Inuit tribe in a post-Ice Age, and Kenai is given his totem which is the bear of love and he resents this as he believes bears can’t love. After the tribe’s salmon supply is stolen by a bear, Kenai goes after him with Denahi and Sitka following him and Sitka sacrifices his life to save them, and Kenai becomes consumed by revenge and hunts the bear as Denahi tries to stop him. Kenai finds and kills the bear though the spirits punish him by turning him into a bear, and Denahi doesn’t realize that Kenai has been changed and believes the bear has killed Kenai which drives him to swear revenge. Kenai learns he must travel to the mountain and have the spirits turn him back though he must atone for his actions, and he meets a cub named Koda who is looking for his mother while heading to the salmon run. Kenai agrees to take Koda to the run and they become friends while avoiding Denahi who is tracking them, and they reach the run and Koda tells a story about his mother fighting hunters as Kenai realizes the bear he killed was Koda’s mother. Kenai reveals this to Koda who runs away in despair and Kenai reaches the mountain though Denahi follows him, and Koda returns to help and Kenai eventually sacrifices himself to save Koda. Sitka restores Kenai to a human and Denahi realizes the truth as Kenai decides to remain a bear to be with Koda who is reunited with his mother briefly, and Kenai becomes a man as well as a brother to Koda. On the surface, this seems like a story that would connect well with audiences as it is about a person who must redeem himself, but for some reason it didn’t on the level that I think Disney was hoping and the downward trend just continues on.
Random Watching Thoughts: We are back to the unique logo for the film; So they have an elderly Denahi speaking in Inuit and yet we have to have a separate narrator speaking English; The Northern Lights are being treated as magical even though they are fairly common; If Kenai wants to be a man, he’s not off to a good start if he’s being chased by a group of caribou due to him trying to milk one; Of all the things Denahi can do to get back at Kenai, he decides to spit on him; Even if the story is not the best and there are some aspects of the film that aren’t good, one thing you can’t take away from it is that the scenery is pretty beautiful; They catch a lot of salmon only for a mammoth ridden by Kenai to come charging through and take it for itself; Kenai is pretty popular with the children in the tribe; To be fair, Kenai vowed he would tie the basket up good yet does a shoddy job allowing it to fall to the ground and then he just leaves it; Call me crazy, but I feel like that little girl looks suspiciously like Lilo; That one woman must have a lot of patience with how many children she has; That mountain must be very high if the Northern Lights can touch the Earth; Kenai was so excited to get his totem only to be completely deflated when he learned it is the bear of love; It doesn’t help that Kenai is not happy with his totem and Denahi can do nothing but make fun of him for it; It is a bit harsh of Kenai to say that bears are incapable of love when mothers love their cubs; In Denahi’s defense, Kenai should’ve made sure the basket was secured; For being given a totem of love, Kenai is showing quite a lot of hate; Even though he knew it would cost him his life, Sitka doesn’t hesitate to break apart the glacier to save Denahi and Kenai; Sitka does all that and the bear somehow still survives; How were they not able to find the body?; Again, Kenai is supposed to follow love yet all he seems to feel is hate; You have to know that Tanana knew that something bad would happen to Kenai after he threw his totem away; Kenai has to feel like a big man by scaring away a harmless beaver; That bear clearly wants nothing to do with Kenai yet he will not stop until she is dead; As usual, we have a death that takes place off-screen; As soon as Kenai kills the bear, the skies turn dark and the spirits show that they are not happy; Sitka knows that Kenai screwed up and has to do what is right by turning him into a bear; They clearly borrowed from Beauty and the Beast in the transforming of Kenai similar to how the Beast turned back into a human; What would’ve happened if Denahi had gotten there sooner?; Kenai fell off a mountain and came down the rapids yet managed to survive; Denahi now becoming overcome with hatred and revenge; Again, it’s like Tanana knew that Kenai was going to be changed into a bear if she knew who he was when she found him; He completely freaks out when he sees his small tail; Kenai claims he didn’t do anything wrong which means he was turned into a bear for no reason in his mind; That goose talking like a parent driving with their family and the kids are getting restless; Rutt and Tuke go back and forth until one of them is called “big nose” and then it goes too far; I know they wanted to make everyone aware that Tuke and Rutt were Canadian, but making them say “Eh” every other word is going overboard; They tried to warn Kenai of the trap, but can’t remember in time and he gets caught in the trap; Koda is so proud of himself for having realized that there was a trap there; I know Koda was trying to help, but he was treating Kenai more like a pinata than helping him get down; Kenai is trying to get down and all Koda wants to do is tell stories about various trees; Koda just destroyed that trap with ease; Kenai should’ve known that Denahi wouldn’t be able to understand him if Tanana couldn’t; Koda is so confident that he could take Denahi in a fight; Of course the salmon run would be right next to the mountain that Kenai needs to get to; Rutt says that they’ve got a lot of things to get done, but what exactly do moose do?; Tuke does all that stretching and even a bit of yoga to simply bend down and start eating grass; That is pretty harsh of Kenai to say that Koda’s mother ditched her own son; Rutt says he gets cramps when he runs after eating yet he has no choice but to run to escape Denahi and he ends up getting a cramp; Kenai tells Koda not to talk anymore so Koda wants to sing instead; They transition from Koda singing the song into the song being sung in the background as they travel; So to avoid Denahi from following them, Kenai has himself, Koda, Rutt, and Tuke hitch rides on the backs of mammoths; Those mammoths’ trunks are so strong that they can lift up those animals with ease; Interesting to hear Koda thank Sitka for being Kenai to him not knowing that Kenai probably is angry at Sitka for turning him into a bear; That has to be the most boring game of “I Spy” ever; In a fun fact, Kenai mistakenly calling Koda’s friend “Binky” instead of Bucky was a legit botch, but the actor playing Koda ran with it and the dialogue ended up being included in the film; Kenai tells Koda to go away yet he can’t bring it on himself to leave him alone; How were people able to paint at the top of that rock?; Unique perspective here as Kenai believes the bear to be the monster while Koda believes the human to be the monster; So hitting each other in the head repeatedly helps a ram clear their sinuses; Those rams aren’t too bright if they get into an argument with their own echoes; Why is there a random lava pit and barren wasteland right in the middle of the forest surrounded by mountains?; Denahi is so consumed by revenge that he was willing to follow them into such a dangerous area; Did Denahi really think that trying to shove that log off the cliff was going to be enough?; His desire for revenge was so strong that he was willing to leap that chasm just to get at Kenai; When I watched this the first time, I thought Kenai was trying to knock the log off though he was actually trying to keep Denahi from falling into the river; Again, Kenai believes that bears are evil yet Koda is right in that Denahi attacked them; They escape from Denahi and just happen to come upon the salmon run; Kenai thinks Koda is going to blow his cover yet Koda doesn’t even know he was a human; That salmon run area literally looks like a luxury resort for bears; Tug jokes about a family of chipmunks having to live with him after destroying their home, yet they are right there and they are clearly not pleased; That old bear says her Edgar died yet we hear him repeatedly though we don’t see him; Where and when did that bear learn Croatian?; That awkward moment where no one knows what he’s saying, yet they laugh and make like they understood everything he said; Koda starts telling the story he was about to tell Kenai earlier though he told him to wait, but sure enough Kenai comes to realize that he should’ve heard it earlier; It is pretty interesting how they have a song playing at the same time as Kenai telling Koda the truth and we never actually hear Kenai telling Koda that he killed his mother; Sitka appears as an eagle to guide Denahi to Kenai though I wonder if he is aware that Denahi wants to kill Kenai because he doesn’t know it’s Kenai; Leave it to Rutt and Tuke arguing and making up for Koda to realize that he should forgive Kenai; How does Kenai know that’s the specific mountain where the lights touch considering there’s a big snowstorm going on?; I wonder how many people watching thought at one point that Denahi was going to attack Koda; Even though Koda saw Kenai change back into a human, he is unsure if that is really him until Kenai assures him; Quite the trio there with a human, a bear, and a spirit; Good for Koda to get one last moment with his mother; The boy who became a man by becoming a bear; Kenai gets his wish of leaving his mark on the wall though it is as a bear; I believe this is the first Disney film to feature bloopers in the credits; Kenai is so happy with his artwork while Koda paints a masterpiece; Koda trying to do a PSA that no fish were harmed in the making of the film while a bear chases a fish behind him.
Overall Thoughts: Overall, this was arguably one of the worst films in the canon to this point and that even includes the package films from the 1940s. Having never seen a lot of these films, I always go in optimistic that I will be pleasantly surprised and enjoy it, but sadly that was not the case here as I didn’t really get into this film that much. That’s not to say that there were aspects that I didn’t like because there were, but in terms of the whole film it was extremely weak and was just there. The 2000s have been an interesting year for Disney as they were growing in other aspects, but the animated films have seen a sharp decline in quality from just the 1990s and something needs to change to turn that around. As for this film, it is not a good film and in contention as being one of the worst films in the Disney film canon.
Final Grade: 4/10