Brother Bear Movie Poster Image

Brother Bear

Lackluster story only for kindergarteners.
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2003
  • Running Time: 85 minutes

What parents need to know

Violence & scariness

Characters killed. Characters in peril.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the movie has some tense scenes of peril, and two characters are killed. Some children may be disturbed by the way that those characters return as spirits, but some may be reassured that love never dies. There is a little potty humor. The movie's multicultural range of voices and setting in pre-historic Inuit culture add a lot to the movie's texture.

What's the story?

In BROTHER BEAR, Kenai (voice of Joaquin Phoenix) is the youngest of three brothers. He is impetuous, careless, and very impatient for the coming-of-age ceremony where he will be assigned a "totem," a symbol that will guide him through life. But he is disappointed by the symbol he receives, a bear, symbolizing love. His brother Sitka (D. B. Sweeny) has the eagle, for leadership, and his brother Denahi (Jason Raize) has the wolf, for wisdom. Kenai does not think either the bear or the love it symbolizes are very important. When Sitka is killed protecting his brothers from a bear, an enraged Kenai kills it. The Great Spirits want to teach Kenai a lesson, so they use the Northern Lights to transform him into the creature he despises. When Denahi arrives, he thinks Kenai has been killed, and so he hunts the bear, not realizing it is his own brother. Kenai must make a journey, physical and spiritual, before he can become his true self. Guided by a cheerfully chatty cub named Koda (Jeremy Suarez), Kenai sets off for the place where he can return to human form. But Denahi is pursuing them and other challenges lie ahead. The most important are the lessons Kenai must learn about loss, love, and brotherhood.

Is it any good?


The most imaginative part of this Disney animated feature, set in the Pacific Northwest at the end of the Ice Age, is the sunlight on the glaciers. It is magnificently rendered. The grandeur of the settings is nicely evoked, especially after Kenai becomes a bear and the screen literally opens up and brightens. Other than that lovely glimpse of majesty and artistry, the movie is right off the assembly line, an uninspired and lackluster story told with some visual flourish and a few cute moments but without much energy.

There are some exciting moments when Kenai fights the bear and when Kenai and Koda race through a sulfurous geyser field. There are some funny moments with SCTV veterans Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis as a pair of silly moose brothers. But the music by Phil Collins is mediocre, even when legends Tina Turner and the Blind Boys of Alabama do their best to add some spirit. All cultures have legends of physical transformation as a way of making more accessible the idea of spiritual and emotional change. These stories can be compelling and deeply meaningful, even for children. But here, the story is just too superficial and the script is too pseudo-mythological. The conclusion may strike some in the audience as jarring.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about which totems they would like to pick for themselves and what animals they would most like to get a chance to be. What did Kenai learn as a bear that he could not learn as a human? There is an old Native American saying that you should not judge another person until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. How does this movie make handle that idea? What do you think about his decision at the end of the movie? Talk about the movie's perspective on what you do to make amends when you have done something terrible, and about how siblings should support each other. Be sure that children notice how the look of the movie changes when Kenai becomes a bear. As Kenai sees through a bear's eyes, we see through his, the entire shape of the screen changing and the colors brightening. As Kenai also learns to listen, the sound of the movie becomes fuller as well.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 31, 2003
DVD/Streaming release date:March 30, 2004
Cast:Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Clarke Duncan, Rick Moranis
Directors:Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker
Studio:Walt Disney Pictures
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters, Wild animals
Run time:85 minutes
MPAA rating:G
MPAA explanation:all audiences

This review of Brother Bear was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Ice Age Movie Poster Image
    Clever, funny, touching; like a great road movie.
  • The Sword in the Stone Movie Poster Image
    Delightful classic brings Arthur legend to life.
  • Pocahontas Movie Poster Image
    Fine for kids; just don't expect a history lesson.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Educator and Parent of a 6 and 7 year old Written bynancylorel February 25, 2010

A classic

In our home, this is a classic. We love it!! And it's one of those movies that you, as adult, have to see it with your kids and DON'T ever get bored of it. A great movie!!
Kid, 12 years old March 14, 2010

great movie thats fine for kids!

this movie is fun and funny!!! KIDS WILL ENJOY!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent Written bywatchdog_mama April 25, 2014

Wonderful movie! I am so surprised by the CSM review above. This is a lovely story!

I love Common Sense Media and usually agree with their reviews, but I was puzzled by their take on "Brother Bear." I think it's a wonderfully earnest, touching story about family, responsibility, and love. I'm also thrown off by CSM's headline that this is for "kindergarteners only." My oldest is four so maybe I don't have a full sense of the kindergarten age group, but I do know that I wouldn't watch this with my child until I was ready to have some serious conversations about death -- a major theme in this movie. I can see it being helpful or inspiring to a kid experiencing loss, if the child is the right age. From start to finish, loss of immediate family members and threat of mortal peril are part of the story. As cute as those bears and moose may be, this is a parable with some heavy themes. I think that would make it a substantive, entertaining, and meaningful film for kids the right age, but I wouldn't share it just any preschooler or even kindergartener. I think the movie raises some relevant and kid-accessible points about perspective, fear, and perceptions of good guys and monsters. The portrayal of the Inuit culture is beautiful -- I don't know enough about them to say whether it's on point, but I thought it was a wonderful community to get to know. The music is great, heartfelt but not corny. I look forward to sharing this with my son someday. I'd feel good about sharing this movie with a kid who is ready for it. It's full of humor, entertainment and magic, while still being thought-provoking and good fodder for some important conversations. I'm not a big Disney fan of most Disney movies, but this one is making me rethink my stance.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models