November 10, 2003

Brother Bear

Unlike Finding Nemo, Brother Bear is not a movie you're likely to see if you don't have kids. The reviews have not been terribly kind. My expectations were low and for most of the movie, they were justified. Then why did I find myself crying at the end? A dash of manipulation with a pinch of sentiment, yes, but more, I think this is a movie that's actually more than the sum of its parts.

The parts are not so good: animation that jitters, an odd design choice for the small bear (he looks cartoonish, where the main character bear looks almost elegantly drawn), a bickering relationship that has no basis in true differences but feels manufactured to follow the conventions of the form, characterizations so shallow I couldn't remember which human brother was which, sappy-bad songs, and a deus ex machina so blatant and simplistic it hardly seemed enough to hang a tale thereon.

But somewhere around the salmon run sequence -- the end of Act 2, I'd guess -- I realized I cared about these characters. I cared about the revelation of the (extremely obvious) big emotional twist, I cared about what the main character would do to make things right. I cared about those damned bears. And when the spirits came down (sorry if that's a spoiler, but it's a pretty vague one), I got teary. Reunions: the living with the dead, the living with the ones they thought were enemies. All very satisfying. No doubt partly that's because it's a deep-seated wish we all have, to reconnect in that pure way with lost loved ones. But the movie actually brought me there in its own right. Despite several formulaic story beats, there was enough that was fresh in the milieu and tone. It worked.

It's a mystery to me. Why do some stories click and others, with the same storytelling care (or better) and the same mix of original and hackneyed, end up feeling trite and dull? What is that extra spark that's not in inventive, creative storytelling but lies somewhere else?

(An interesting aside: toward the end of the movie, Damian told me how he thought it would end. I thought he was wrong, that it would end in a much more predictable way. Well, he was right, I was wrong. Maybe that's one thing I liked about this movie.)

Posted by Tamar at November 10, 2003 09:38 PM