Brother Bear 2

Traveling to a feast of berries far away, bears Kenai (Patrick Dempsey) and Koda (Jeremy Suarez) are stopped by Nita (Mandy Moore), a human who Kenai once held love for when they were younger. Looking to break a curse that’s preventing her from marrying, Nita requests the help of the bears to cross the countryside. Along the journey, the connection between Nita and Kenai is reignited, leaving Koda to ponder if Kenai should really live life as a bear, or would he be better off as a human again.

Admittedly, it was an animated production glued together by scraps from other Disney hits, but 2003’s “Brother Bear” knocked me down in ways few of the Mouse House’s offerings have been able to do since I was 10 years old. It was a splash of thrilling autumnal colors, jubilant character development, and confident storytelling that ignored many Disney crutches (chiefly a villain, along with singing and dancing), and preferred to lead with its heart. Over the years I’ve revisited the film several times, and today find it to be one of the stronger entries in Disney’s towering animated empire.

While not racking up huge box office numbers in America, “Brother Bear” charmed enough on DVD to warrant a direct-to-video sequel, which is both a promising and lamentable idea. Where the first film was an animated feature, the sequel is simply a cartoon.

First and foremost, “Bear 2” is missing the majestic hand-animated woodsy vistas to backdrop Kenai and Koda’s adventure; the nuanced and trembling voice work from Joaquin Phoenix; the layered, widescreen score by Mark Mancina and pop song interstitials from Phil Collins (Melissa Etheridge substitutes here); and a penetrating story about friendship and the mystical wonders of life that elevated “Bear.”

What we’re eventually handed in “Bear 2” are elements that show a step down in effort from the first film, but still allows time to be spent with old friends. The film remains a charmer, even with a brittle acting job from Patrick Dempsey and a Saturday morning cartoon level of animation. “Bear 2” is a minor diversion, and the filmmakers have lightened up the material substantially to appeal to a younger crowd. Let’s put it this way: the original film took its time with the Inuit characters, respecting traditions (even the invented ones), and placing emphasis on careful animation to express the splendor of the spiritual world; “Brother Bear 2” brings in Wanda Sykes to play a village elder.

Regardless of the loosened standards, “Bear 2” still affects with its story of dormant romance, cleverly finding ways to challenge Kenai’s decision in the last film to become a bear. Agreeably voiced by Mandy Moore, the addition of Nita adds the only conflict the film needs. Again, the absence of a mustache-twirling villain is truly something praiseworthy. Equally hard to resist are returning moose Rutt and Tuke, played to the McKenzie Brothers hilt by Dave Thomas and the sorely missed Rick Moranis. Since the theme of love is in the air, the boys have their own objects of moose desire, played appropriately by some more “SCTV” cast members, Andrea Martin and Catherine O’Hara.

As money-grabbing animated product goes, “Brother Bear 2” rests nicely on a lowered expectation level, and is hardly an offensive affront to the first film. The texture and polish is deeply missed, but the characters are so strong and engaging, it still entertains.

Rating: B

Jimmy Stewart – The Signature Collection

I love and adore Jimmy Stewart. Who doesn’tr As beloved and popular as he remains to this day, it’s safe to say he’s still a household name, like his co-stars in The Philadelphia Story, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. His enduring popularity with generations of film audiences is a testament to his remarkably long career, which includes a staggering number of impressive performances in some of the screen’s greatest films of all time. Sadly, the titles gathered for the supposed “Signature Collection” do not reflect the true brilliance of his many achievements. In fact, the films presented here are unlikely to be recognized for any reason other than Stewart’s (and co-star Henry Fonda’s) participation, but rather are mere side notes to a remarkable list of credits generated by a single actor.

With the exception of The Naked Spur, this box set falls far short of justifying a special collection to be purchased as a whole. The additional titles, The Cheyenne Social Club, Firecreek, The FBI Story, The Spirit of St. Louis, and The Stratton Story are a group of rather uninspired choices from an otherwise illustrious career. One would expect a more well-rounded and higher quality selection to represent a body of work from such a Hollywood luminary. With so many other high profile pictures to choose from, one is lead to believe that these films were perhaps leftovers available to create a product that could be packaged and sold on the weight of the star’s impressive name alone.

This is not to say that these are bad films, unworthy of attention. After all, Jimmy Stewart is worth watching in just about anything at any time (such as his virtual cameo in Airport ’77). With the likes of some notable directors such as Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., Sabrina), Mervyn LeRoy (Mister Roberts, Random Harvest, Gypsy) and Sam Wood (Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Kings Row, The Pride of the Yankees), the talent involved in these particular movies cannot be overlooked. But these artists have all done better work in other more noteworthy productions too numerous to list in their entirety here.

So why not present some of Jimmy Stewart’s other films as part of a signature collectionr One doesn’t have to be a movie buff to come up with a more auspicious list of his films off the top of one’s head. Heck, you could do a number of themed collections based on directors he’s worked with (four with Alfred Hitchcock, eight with Anthony Mann and three with Frank Capra), actors with whom he frequently co-stared (three with June Allyson and four with Margaret Sullivan), Jimmy as the Young Romantic (Destry Rides Again, The Shop Around the Corner and The Philadelphia Story) as well as the family-oriented films of his later years (Mr. Hobbs Takes a Holiday, Dear Brigitte, and Take Her, She’s Mine).

From early on in his career, Jimmy Stewart came to personify the Everyman, on and off the screen. It’s safe to say that with more than ninety film credits spanning fifty years, his universal appeal will remain unequaled for years to come. The regular guy, down to earth actor who relied on experience rather than acting lessons never failed to entertain audiences, regardless of the quality of the film in which he appeared.

When it comes down to investing your expendable income in an actual collection worth collecting there are better options out there for the Jimmy Stewart fan to consider. Any Alfred Hitchcock set would most likely feature at least two films starring the acclaimed actor and another Stewart collection called “The James Stewart Hollywood Legend Collection” contains five great films that reflect a greater span of the Jimmy Stewart legacy including Destry Rides Again, Winchester ’73, Harvey, Rear Window, and Vertigo.

Rating: C+

World’s Best Prom, The

An appealing reminder that not all teenagers are horrible human beings, “Prom” is a bittersweet, slightly overstuffed, exceedingly good-natured documentary, and perfect for anyone in the mood to relive their golden moment of teendom. Maybe it’s my age showing, but I’ve reached the point in my life where I honestly think that MTV is evil. Leading the cavalry charge of disease is the morbid, screechingly awful teen show, “My Super Sweet 16,” which showcases young, rich girls cursed with unbridled sassmouth and zero respect for anyone who isn’t Kanye West or Mariah Carey.

“The World’s Best Prom” is a sweet, fleeting reminder that not all teenagers are horrible, ungrateful bastards. This documentary takes a look at life in Racine, Wisconsin, an archetypal Midwestern hamlet where factory jobs are scarce, people come from miles around to have a bite of a Kringle (a round pastry), and the prom is an event. Let me clarify: the prom is everything to this town. Starting back in the 1950s as a way to keep the local kids out of trouble, the Racine prom has exploded into a pageant of showoff cars, glittery dresses, and awkward personal expression, topped off with local television coverage and bleachers for the parents. It’s huge.

“Prom” tries to whittle down the experience into a manageable size by focusing on three participants: Dori is a Catholic high school student with big dreams and a taste for the chronic; Tonya is a young, intelligent African-American girl (cursed with the worst nervous laugh around) looking forward to the prom and college; Ben lives in the criminal shadow if his misguided older brother, and looks forward to challenges outside of school. While the doc is peppered with Racine’s youngest throughout the journey, the filmmakers keep their cameras trained on these three to guide the viewer through the rituals of prom.

“Prom” started life as a short film (which might explain why the doc covers the class of 2000), and was gently nursed to feature length through the inclusion of a historical background for Racine and diversions with the local, and impossibly loving, adults. “Prom” offers more information about Racine than anyone should rightfully know, but thankfully it doesn’t take long to get to the heart of the beast: the bonkers prom.

After a day of manicures, hair prepping, dress fiddling, and general anxiety, the kids finally make their way to the show. The first stop is the obligation to their school’s own function. After drinking in those tepid delights, it’s on to the Racine prom, herded in by the most outlandish assortment of vehicles one could imagine. Some come by limo or mom and dad’s tricked-out car, others by military truck (archival footage shows a couple atop an elephant); whatever it takes to wow the bystanders and top their peers is encouraged.

All the arrival pandemonium is captured by television cameras that send the evening out to the citizens of Racine (in homes and local bars) who can’t devote hours of their life to saving a seat on the bleachers. It’s stunning the amount of work and money (the city spends $30,000 for the night) that goes into such a simple, traditional mainstay of adolescence, especially in a town where, during filming, unemployment was on the rise. The prom provides a spark of glamour to a place not known for such luxuries, and gives these Midwestern students a taste of Hollywood-style attention that keeps them coming back year after year.

“Prom” gets a little clumsy trying to tie together an overall portrait of the event’s history and impact. The film is much stronger as a slice of high school life, complete with whiny angst, racial lines that are strictly adhered to, and embarrassing mothers. “The World’s Best Prom” taps into sentimental feelings with ease, and it’s lovely portrait of rural community glamour, concluding with an bittersweet epilogue for each subject interviewed as they struggle with the realities of adulthood (the lone benefit of having the film shot so long ago) and recall fondly their time in the spotlight.

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Rating: B+