Oh, brother


Issue: "Soldiers in harm’s way," Nov. 15, 2003

Ignore, for a minute, the ridiculously romanticized view of "Native American" culture. Forget about the watered-down mysticism, animism, and nature worship. Treat all of this simply as a frivolous story device-and Disney's new animated feature, Brother Bear, is still a muddled, politically correct mess.

The story is set long ago, when indigenous peoples supposedly lived in harmony, guided by wise female shamans. Kenai is the youngest of three brothers, and when a bear kills his oldest brother, Kenai sets off to avenge his brother's death. The Great Spirits that dance in Lights on top of the Great Mountain decide that Kenai needs to learn a lesson, so they transform him into a bear. Soon, he learns that bears are not vicious killers, but instead fun-loving creatures who also pass on to the Spirit World when they die.

However one interprets the film's basic message-either as environmentalist propaganda, or, more realistically, as a parable for racial and ethnic harmony-it still doesn't make much sense. Brother Bear communicates some nice things about brotherly love, but dig much deeper and the whole flimsy premise collapses. In real life, bears and humans don't mix well, and most children are smart enough to know this. Does a naive denial of reality really teach us something useful about how to interact with each other?

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