The death and killing which springboards the story might seem to cause insurmountable problems--adults who still weep at the thought of what happened to Bambi's mom might react even more twitchily than kids at what happens here, not just to the mother bear but also to the humans who ill-advisedly and inappropriately pursued her. But the spiritual mood of the story, with its suggestion of eternal values, helps overcome these downbeat snags, as does distancing the tale from modern experience by setting it the realm of a campfire myth told way back at the end of the Ice Age.
As usual in animation, the animals easily beat out the humans in screen appeal. The three brothers, Kenai, Sitka and Denahi, of some North American tribe, who have received totems--symbols of the great spirits that will guide them through life and death--are cute in a vaguely non-specific way. The animals, both the bear that Kenai becomes after a tragedy involving his eldest brother, and the other wilderness creatures he can then share his fears and frolics with on his odyssey, are much more distinctively vibrant and amusing.
The doofus moose, Rutt and Tuke, wittily animated by Tony Stanley and Broose Johnson and hilariously voiced by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, are worthy of a show of their own. The irritating bear cub, Koda, voiced by Jeremy Suarez, is nevertheless so pertly pesky and life-enhancing that you can't help feeling sorry when he learns one of life's toughest lessons. The backdrop scenery is beautiful enough to encourage camping. But the numerous songs, despite being by rocker Phil Collins, overlay a rather soupy up, up and away mood, which enhances rather than counterpoints the safe generic tone of what could have been a truly daring piece of storytelling for the whole family. Voices by Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, D. B. Sweeney, Joan Copeland, Jason Raize and Michael Clarke Duncan. Directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker. Written by Tab Murphy, Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, Steve Bencich and Ron J. Freidman. Produced by Chuck Williams. A Buena Vista release. Animated. Rated G. Running time: 85 min