Get ready for something different. For what I believe is the first time ever, Brother Bear presents two separate anamorphic transfers, each with a different aspect ratio. On DVD One, Bear appears in a “family friendly” aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1, while DVD Two presents the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Both discs are single-sided, double-layered; the images have been enhanced for 16X9 televisions.
With the “theatrical aspect ratio” version, the dimensions become even more complicated for other reasons: Bear actually used two different aspect ratios on the big screen. The first 24 minutes or so featured 1.85:1 dimensions, while the rest of the movie blossomed out to 2.35:1. This becomes a challenge to achieve on the small screen. In the theaters, the extra width of 2.35:1 added grandness to the film, but at home, those flicks can look smaller than 1.85:1 ones. Disney handled the transition properly. The image doesn’t “shrink” from 1.85:1 to 2.35:1; instead, the former scenes come windowboxed, so when the 2.35:1 material starts, the image indeed expands the sides of the presentation. None of these issues affect the “family friendly” version, which remains firmly 1.66:1 from start to finish.
For this review, I only watched the 2.35:1 edition of Bear. Sharpness looked very good, as the movie almost always remained crisp and detailed. During the 1.85:1 sections, a few shots looked slightly ill-defined, but those were rare and totally vanished once we went to 2.35:1. From there the movie always seemed tight and concise. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I also witnessed no signs of edge enhancement. The movie presented absolutely no source defects, and I thought that artifacts also caused no problems.
Given its northern North American setting Bear featured a vibrant and rich palette, and the DVD demonstrated excellent color reproduction. It mixed a nice variety of hues, all within the natural outdoors setting. From foliage to animals to other elements, the colors were consistently terrific. Black levels seemed similarly distinct and rich, while low-light shots came across as appropriately dense but lacked any issues related to excessive opacity. Disney don’t often botch transfers of modern flicks, and Bear presented another visual winner.
Many will deride Disney’s choice to include a non-original aspect ratio version of Brother Bear, but I support it. For one, the package also includes the theatrical aspect ratio; as long as it’s there, I couldn’t care less what else they do to the alternate one. In addition, a more gently letterboxed version might work best for younger audiences due to the oddness of the theatrical one’s dual ratios. I happily greeted the correct presentation of the 1.85:1/2.35:1 hybrid, but even so, I must admit the 1.85:1 scenes seem a bit distracting; perhaps because I never see anything so noticeably windowboxed, it feels weird to watch. I imagine that kids will be even more put-off by it, so I think it’s good to have a choice.
Not only does Brother Bear provide visual options, but also it comes with two audio choices. We get both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. For the most part, the pair sounded very similar. The Dolby mix offered slightly weaker bass response, but overall, the two seemed a lot alike.
Although the soundfield moderately emphasized the front domain, it presented a nicely balanced and engaging effort. Some smooth directional dialogue popped up at times, and the score demonstrated clear stereo imaging. Effects appeared in their appropriate places and moved cleanly across the spectrum. The surrounds added solid reinforcement of these elements throughout the film, and they kicked into gear well during louder sequences. The movie’s smattering of action sequences provided some nice discrete audio, with elements that seemed accurately located and dynamic.
Audio quality was generally positive. Speech seemed natural and distinct, and the lines showed no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. The score was lush and vivid, as those portions appeared bright and dynamic throughout the film. However, the mix of pop songs came across as somewhat anemic. The tunes lacked much depth and seemed too heavy in the upper range; they definitely needed greater low-end information, though they weren’t totally free from those elements. Effects came across as accurate and clean. They demonstrated no signs of distortion, and they presented fine bass response as necessary. Except for those songs, low-end was warm and tight overall, and those elements lacked any signs of looseness. The audio of Bear didn’t dazzle, but it mostly seemed satisfying.
The supplements to Brother Bear spread across both of this set’s discs. As we start on DVD One, we find an unusual audio commentary from moose characters Rutt (Rick Moranis) and Tuke (Dave Thomas). Both sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. It may accompany the “family friendly” version of the film, but don’t expect this character commentary to be dumbed down for the kiddies. Indeed, I seriously doubt any youngsters in the audience will get much from it, as the patter from Thomas and Moranis seems firmly aimed at adults.
That makes it a darned fun piece. I always feel leery of character commentaries, for they’re very hit or miss. They rely on the improvisational skills of the actors, which means they can be pretty entertaining or only moderately positive.
Bear’s chat falls into the former camp. Comedic partners for many years, Thomas and Moranis exhibit an easy rapport that makes this track fly. Since they work in character, we get no actual information about the making of the movie. However, they interact in a lively manner and constantly riff on various elements of the movie. They toss out tons of clever and funny jokes, virtually all of which will be above the heads of kids. They discuss chipmunks as the harbingers of doom, interpret the Latin origins of “animation”, and refer to Lee Strasberg, for heaven’s sake! They even do a bit on how the sound system was invented by “Dolby” Gillis. It’s a very fun commentary that offers a consistently inventive and amusing piece.
Note that you can watch the commentary with or without “visuals”. These take the form of MST3K-style silhouettes that pop up onscreen sporadically. Make that very sporadically, as they appear only a few times during the movie and add very little to the package. Turn them on if you want, but don’t go out of your way to watch the film with them.
Next we find Koda’s Outtakes. This takes the Pixar route and gives us two minutes and 44 seconds of fake bloopers. These seem neither clever nor entertaining, as they feature a lot of farting and falling.
After this we get a couple of musical features. We find a music video for Phil Collins’ “Look Through My Eyes”. The clip takes the standard format, as it mixes movie clips and a lip-synch performance from Collins and band. It’s a mediocre song and video. We also discover a sing-along song for “On My Way”. As with other entries in this genre, it shows the clip from the movie with Karaoke-style lyrics displayed on the screen. Yawn!
We find two set-top games. “Bone Puzzle” has you pick the right bones to put together to make part of an animal. When completed, you’ll see a little informational piece about that critter. It’s easy and not very entertaining. “Find Your Totem” requires you to answer questions about your personal choices; when done, it reveals your personal totem. It’s a fun feature, though I don’t think it’s too accurate, as mine came up as “adventure”, and I’m not exactly Joe Adventurous.
With the three-minute featurette Bear Legends two minutes and 57 seconds we get some simple stories. This area presents some Native American tales, and seems like a minor diversion. Making Noise: The Art of Foley offers a three-minute and 15-second featurette narrated by actor Jeremy Suarez. We get a light-hearted, kid-oriented look at the creation of movie sound effects; it’s basic but decent for younger fans.
Lastly, Art Review runs nine minutes, 58 seconds. Art director Robh Ruppel and supervising animator Byron Howard comment as we watch concept art. They offer good details about the material, and we see a lot of interesting pieces.
As DVD One starts, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for Aladdin, The Incredibles, Chicken Little, The Three Musketeers Mary Poppins, and Mulan II. These also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks domain along with promos for the Game Boy Advance Brother Bear videogame and “Walt Disney World Magical Gatherings”. In a nice touch that will make many foes of “forced trailers” happy, none of these ads show up on DVD Two; they’re totally isolated to the “family friendly” version.
Over on DVD Two, the main attraction comes from Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear. In this 44-minute and 51-second documentary, we get the standard mix of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We find remarks from directors Bob Walker and Aaron Blaise, producer Chuck Williams, supervising animators Ruben Aquino, Broose Johnson, Tony Stanley, Byron Howard, Anthony Michaels, Jim Jackson, Alex Kupershmidt, art director Robh Ruppel, (now famously former) Walt Disney Company Vice Chairman and Walt Disney Feature Animation Chairman Roy E. Disney, Executive Vice President of Creative Affairs Pam Coats, composer/songwriter Phil Collins, singers Tina Turner and the Blind Boys of Alabama, President of Walt Disney Music Chris Montan, composer Mark Mancina, and actors Joaquin Phoenix, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, and Jeremy Suarez.
The program covers a gamut of topics. We hear about the origins and development of the project, research, abandoned characters and concepts, themes and the depiction of brothers, casting, character design and development, the challenges of voice acting, visual design and backgrounds, the use of dual aspect ratios, and the songs and score. “Paths” doesn’t present a smooth and coherent documentary, as it actually consists of 12 small featurettes connected via the “Play All” option. They join together acceptably well, but they remain somewhat disjointed.
That factor doesn’t create big problems, but the somewhat general nature of the information makes the piece less than stellar. “Paths” obvious covers a wide range of subjects, and it goes over all the highlights. It relates the basics of the production fairly well, and the liberal use of behind the scenes material works nicely. Collins’ comments about his work seem particularly interesting. Actually, the program discusses the music with much greater depth than any other subject, and we even find some mention of mild discord.
However, most of the comments seem somewhat superficial, as we go through subjects awfully quickly, and we hear far too much praise. This gives the program more of a fluffy tone than I’d like. Ultimately, “Paths” will teach us a reasonable amount of decent information, but it doesn’t offer a terribly rich examination of the film.
Next we find a collection of three deleted scenes. Including introductions from the directors and producer Chuck Williams, these last 11 minutes and seven seconds. The first snippet shows Kenai as he attempts to atone for his lie to Koda, while the second depicts an alternate version of Kenai’s confession to Koda. Piece three includes an unused character, Muri the Squirrel. Clips one and three present storyreels, while the second features mostly rough animation. All three are entertaining and interesting to see.
The following two features connect to the movie’s music. We discover a “never-Before-Heard” Phil Collins number called Fishing Song. Collins introduces this three-minute and 47-second clip and gives us some quick notes about what would become “Welcome”. We then hear the track in storyreel form. It’s essentially another deleted scene and a good addition to the set.
We also find the Transformation song with the original Phil Collins lyrics. The two-minute and 40-second piece, we see shots from the sessions with the Bulgarian Women’s Chorus and see English translations of the lyrics at the bottom of the screen. As it mixes recording images with clips from the film, it’s sort of a half-assed music video and not terribly fascinating, though it’s moderately interesting to see the translation of the words.
Lastly, both discs features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
When compared with Disney’s other animated fare, Brother Bear comes across as firmly ordinary. The movie remains consistently likable and entertaining, but it lacks that spark that would allow it to prosper and turn into something special. The DVD presents the usual high quality picture with fairly solid audio and a reasonably nice collection of extras. Brother Bear offers neither a great movie nor an exceptional DVD, but it does everything well enough to merit my recommendation.