BROTHER BEARStudio:DisneyYear:2004Film Length:85 minutes Aspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 2.35:1 (dual 2.35/1.85:1) OAR, 16x9 1.66:1 MARAudio:5.1 DD English, French, Spanish, 5.1 DTS (Disc 2 OAR version)SpecialFeatures:Commentary (by the two mooses), Outtakes, Music Videos, Bear Legends, Recording Follies, Deleted Scenes, Making Of Documentary, more…ReleaseDate:March 30, 2004 The Movie... This film is likely to appeal to some Disney fans and not to others. I don’t think I’m saying anything too surprising or controversial to suggest that Brother Bear isn’t quite up to the caliber of other modern Disney classics we’ve come to know and love (think Lion King or Aladdin). It’s not terrible either, and lands somewhere in the pile of other noble “attempts” like Atlantis and Treasure Planet. Its strengths are that (to my surprise) it manages to engage emotionally with the viewer in one or two key scenes. Its weaknesses are a generally “flat” and predictable story/delivery that just sort of makes me go “yawn”. You’ve got the typical scenario of a stodgy, embittered protagonist on a quest who’s plagued by a pestering side-kick who he manages to find incredibly annoying…yet…we are instructed to feel sentimental and amazed when this protagonist (shock of shocks) finally opens up and learns the message of love and friendship. Didn’t we just see that with Ice Age? Coupling that with animation that seemed a bit uninspired help loose any remaining bonds of guilt for my lack of affection for Brother Bear. Ok, now a bunch of you will write and say how great the movie is and how much you like it. I’m sure you do! Different strokes to different folks…and that’s why I stated early that I didn’t think that brother bear was bad...just not quite up to the usual “classics” level of accomplishment. The Disc Presentation... A standard plastic keep-case houses two DVDs with lovely silk-screen art and an insert-booklet that has all chapter stops and a nice navigation map for all the DVD extras. Disc 1 contains the MAR (modified aspect ratio) presentation in, of all things, 16x9 encoded 1.66:1. Yes, I was wondering the same thing. Disc one also has a nice helping of extras, the most worthy of which is the feature-length commentary by the two moose characters (more on that later). Disc two contains the 16x9 encoded 2.35:1 OAR (original aspect ratio) theatrical presentation. In theaters, this film was actually presented in dual-aspect ratio…the beginning portion of the film being 1.85:1 and the later portion widening to 2.35:1. This effect has been properly preserved on the DVD with the first 1.85:1 portion of the movie being “windowboxed” on all for sides in the 16x9 frame allowing the presentation to appropriately “widen” to 2.35:1 to completely fill the frame width when the aspect ratio changes. This presents a constant-height/vary-width solution which conveys an increased sense of panorama when the 2.35:1 switch occurs. Thank-you to Disney for opting for this presentation because the intended effect would have been completely lost had the DVD encoders chosen to present the first 1.85:1 portion using the full width of the 16x9 frame (which would have maximized image resolution, but would have essentially had the image narrow/shrink to 2.35 rather than widen). Confused? Sorry! Only noticed “forced” (you can skip via remote) trailers on Disc 1. And one thing I’d really like to point out and thank Disney for is the feature of “running time” that appears when you navigate to a particular selection on the special-features menu. This is wonderful…you can instantly see how much time a given special feature is going to take. This is something I would like to see on EVERY DVD special-feature menu. Good job. Picture... Please grant me a moment’s grace to mention a personal aside: When your life takes a turn and you move and have to “downsize” to fit into a studio apartment…what’s the only logical, practical thing to do? Why, of course, you get rid of your clunky “television” and get a 16x9 high-definition digital projector that you can ceiling mount and project onto a 100” screen. It’s only practical Yes friends, DaViD has finally done it. And Brother Bear (deserved or otherwise) bears (groan) the coveted honor of being the first full-length feature film to be viewed on my new 16x9 1280 x 720 HD2 DLP BenQ 8700 projector. I just love saying that. Let me say it again: My new 16x9 1280 x 720 HD2 DLP BenQ 8700 projector . Ahhhh. Ok. So, how did it look!? I’m extremely disappointed. In fact I’m mad. The image of brother bear (both the 1.66:1 MAR and 1.85/2.35.1 OAR) looks seriously over-filtered on a large screen. Anyone with a direct-view television viewing from a “normal” TV distance (greater than 3 screen widths away) or who sits at a generous distance from a hi-def rear-projection or large plasma may not find anything objectionable. But that’s not the holy-grail of DVD video reproduction by which we should judge the objective performance standard of a disc. DVDs CAN look remarkably film-like at a 1.5-1.75 viewing distance from a large-screen presentation when properly mastered and Brother Bear doesn’t make the cut. The image looks so soft and out-of-focus, that I was convinced I had improperly calibrated my projector. However, putting in any number of other reference (Disney) live-animation DVDs like Tarzan or Lion King produced an image that looked stunningly clear and well defined. Friends, all I can assume is that someone from Disney failed to double-check that HF filter setting on their console or perhaps falsely assumed that the gain in facilitating MPEG compression would outweigh the visual loss of detail. I was sitting 1.75:1 screen widths away from the image and found myself feeling dissatisfied by the lack of detail in the picture. It was downright frustrating. I mean, hand-drawn animation of this kind is composed of crisp out-lined foreground characters that ought to appear sharp and clear by their very nature. My one theoretical consolation was that perhaps all of this “soft focus” was the result of some artistic design on the part of the film’s artistic creative team and was inherent in the source image. However, when I had almost resigned myself to this notion (hey, I’m a think-positive kind of guy ), I put on the 45 minute making-of featurette and there, to my astonishment, were clips of the movie (non-anamorphic 4x3 1.66:1) in the documentary that were crisp, clear, and just loaded with all the detail that my brain kept telling me ought to be present in the feature film! All that “fuzzy blur” that seemed to obscure the feature film was just GONE in the clips on the documentary. I should mention that I have witnessed the same effect with several other highly touted Disney DVDs: Parent Trap, Pollyanna, Swiss Family Robinson, and 20,000 Leagues; the image of the feature-presentation on those DVDs seems much softer and lacking in fine detail than what my brain says I ought to expect…and when I compare the (16x9) feature films against clips in the (4x3) “bonus material”, the same discrepancy exists there with much more apparent image detail in the less-refined bonus material clips! Oh yeah…you also get some minor edge enhancement. Check out the halo around the bald eagle right after the “transformation”. Sheesh. Am I bitter? You betcha. This DVD is generated directly from the digital source-files and supervised by THX certification. There’s just no excuse for an image that looks “blurry” on a calibrated front-projection system (especially when scenes in the bonus material demonstrate a higher-resolution picture). NONE! Bright side? Colors are bold without appearing over-saturated. Black level is solid and I noticed no visible MPEG2 compression noise (excepting a slight bit of occasional color-banding that shows up in the brown-tones of the bears and mammoths--as pointed out by another HTF member in this thread). The shift in contrast, color saturation, and hue that accompany the “transformation” (the moment of aspect ratio change) are rendered flawlessly on this disc. Other than the lack of image detail, a very fine DVD picture. PQ Summary… Before you get ready to boycott this title, please understand that most viewers who sit more than 2.5 screen-widths away from their display will most likely not find anything objectionable at all. It’s just that Disney Studios and the DVD medium are capable of a higher-standard and my critical comments should be interpreted in this context. Picture: 3 / 5 Sound... Superb. The audio on this disc is absolutely first-class. The 5.1 DD English (we even have 5.1 French and, on Disc 1, 5.1 Spanish) is gorgeous. The soundscape is natural and involving. Surround use is not gimmicky or “distracting” but at the same time is used to an above-average degree to create a very real sense of 360 degree space that seamlessly pulls the sound from the front soundstage out into the room and around the listener. I’m a big fan of surround use that creates a sense of real acoustic-space in tandem with the front mains and this soundmix does exactly that. When the rear channels appropriately are called upon to render more directionalized effects (like the stampede early in the film) they do so without being shy. Frequency response is wide and dynamic range is broad. Bass is deep and highs are airy and open without sounding flattened or bright. Just a marvelous sound job. On Disc 2 (OAR version) we also get treated to a 5.1 DTS mix. I really do try to be as objective about this as I can be. Yes (as usual it seems), the DTS takes everything that’s great about the 5.1 DD soundtrack and just makes it better. Disney very often uses the same source multi-channel mix for their DD and DTS sountracks and unless someone has information to indicate otherwise, I have every reason to believe that the same mix was used for both formats on this DVD. The DTS plays at a slightly higher level in my system--probably because of the lack of dialog normalization (you can toggle between the audio soundtracks via the audio button on your remote) but even after careful level matching the benefits of the DTS encoding remain: Higher frequencies sound better focused, imaging takes on a more front/back sense of depth (what I refer to as a “holographic soundstage”), and surround information blends more seamlessly with the front channels. A familiar description is that the DTS mix helps to make the speakers “disappear” as imaging gains refinement and focus. First-class sound no matter how you slice it. Well done. Sound: 5/ 5 Special Features... Extras Extras Extras. All special features are 4x3 encoded (waiting for the day that changes to 16x9). I’m not going to list them all. I’ll try to nail the ones I think are most worth mentioning: Disc One: [*]Feature Commentary: We’re privileged to have two of the film’s comedic characters, Rutt and Tuke (the two mooses) provide their illuminating insights into the making of this feature film. Honestly, before I played this commentary track I thought to myself “cheezy…gotta be some lame-o kids-oriented thing”. WRONG. If I could take one special feature from this DVD to a desert island…it would be this one. Brilliant. You can watch with or without science-fiction 3000 style silhouette images which appear at the bottom of the screen on an occasional basis during the commentary playback. I’m tellin’ you, not only is this commentary reason enough to grab the DVD…but (about to utter HTF heresy) it more than justifies watching the 1.66:1 MAR presentation (the only way to hear it). [*]Koda’s Outtakes: Cute but definitely kids-oriented. Maybe a couple of notches down from the sort of animated “bloopers” you’ve seen on A Bug’s Life or Toy Story. [*]Look Through My Eyes Music Video (Phil Collins): If you’re going to make a music video 1.78:1 in aspect ratio…is it too much to ask that it be 16x9 encoded so it can be presented in full resolution in its native shape? Am I the only one who thinks this? Nice 5.1 DD presentation although, like many “music video” 5.1 mixes, the center channel is basically a phantom channel with all the lead vocals mixed front L/R. Disney...we’re not spending $$$ on timbre-matched center speakers for nothing, so next time tell those audio mixing dudes to *use* the center channel for its intended purpose. Boy am I cranky. I promise to get in a better mood. [*]Follies: A short but informative look at how some of the audio effects are recorded. Remember…cartoons don’t capture events that really take place so EVERY sound effect has to be manufactured in some way to match the on-screen action. [/list] Disc Two: [*]Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear: A very nice 43 minute documentary that I found well worth watching. Disney deserves kudos for presenting the viewer with a “featurette chapter stop menu” when you select this documentary. This allows you to skip directly to the portion you wish to view or choose “play all”. Once the featurette is in process you can use the “skip” forward/backward button on your remote to skip chapters. Very nice. [*]Deleted Scenes: Three deleted scene “concepts” presented in story board or sketch “work in progress” style. [/list] And there’s more. Post your thoughts once you have the disc in hand… In Closing... Who are you kidding. You’re going to get it anyway to add yet another installment to your growing Disney-animation DVD library and well you should. Despite my tepid response to the story (one or two moments where the eyes watered just to be fair) and criticism of lack of fine image detail, most folks will enjoy this disc and sharing it with their families and friends. While those with large-scale video display systems or who view closer than 2 screen widths may find the image overly soft, stellar audio and quality special features make this disc more than worthwhile. If you enjoyed film during its theatrical run or if you’ve been waiting to screen this movie on DVD…place your order.