The film's biggest message is that "once you love someone, they stay in your heart forever." It's mixed up with a bit of spiritualism, but the sentiment of remembering those who were dear to us before they died, and "keeping them alive" in our memories and in our hearts is essentially a good one.
When Koda discovers that Kenai thinks about Nita, Kenai reassures him that even if it means he'll never get to see Nita again, he will never leave him ("You're my brother. I'll never leave you. Not ever").
Two times Nita has to decide whether or not to trust Kenai. One situation involves her trying to overcome her fear of water. The other puts her in harm's way. Risking their own wellbeing, Rutt and Tuke (slow-witted, but endearing moose) go out on a limb (literally) to save Kenai from hunters. At different times, both Kenai and Nita put themselves in jeopardy to rescue Koda.
Nita and her father's relationship is very close. [Spoiler Warning] At story's end, he's willing to let his daughter be metamorphosed into a bear rather than see her unhappy. "I will love you, no matter what you choose," he tells her.
Perhaps the best way to explain how much spiritual content flows through Brother Bear 2 is to refer back to our review of Brother Bear: "If the eco-pantheism of Pocahontas could be quantifiably boiled down and deposited in a container, that, let's say, filled a quart canning jar, then this film's spiritualism would fill an oil drum. Brother Bear's New Agey worldview doesn't just guide the story along, it's heavy-handed." As did Brother Bear, this follow-up mixes "Hinduism, ancestor worship and Gaia mysticism. Underneath it all is the onscreen belief that living beings are part of a cosmic brotherhood and that when man and beast die, all enter an eternal celestial home collectively making up the pantheistic Great Spirits. Taken to its logical extreme [a place neither film explores directly], what comes across is the underpinnings of a we-are-all-divine-and-have-Godness-within theology."
It could be argued that this spiritual stew is diluted a bit this time around. That's probably because the director assumes he's building on the original and doesn't feel the need to set the spiritual ground rules again. But the missteps are all still there. For instance, the opening song gives "thanks to the moon" before praying, "So Great Spirits, hear my voice today." Prayers are frequently uttered to the spirits seeking their approval and blessing. At the beginning of Nita's wedding ceremony, they are asked if they are pleased. They aren't. And their swift, physically manifested answer tells viewers that they aren't just stone gods, they're real and they are powerful. It's shown that they change winter into spring, and they cast a spell on Nita, giving her the ability to understand and vocalize animal speech.
The amulet, too, possesses power. Once it's burned, Nita loses her ability to understand Kenai and Koda. [Spoiler Warning] And, ultimately, Nita chooses to be changed into a bear so she can marry Kenai. The Great Spirits, in the form of the Northern Lights, accomplish this task as she's lifted up from the earth a woman and lowered a bear. Similarly, images appear in the fire when the shawoman seeks the counsel of the spirits.
Koda looks heavenward and prays to his mother, asking her to communicate to the spirits on behalf of Kenai.
As in the original, Rutt and Tuke appear at regular intervals. And since it's springtime, they're thinking of "the birds and the bees" and comely "moosettes." An ongoing gag finds the pair trying to court two such beauties by either staging courageous rescues or blurting out really dumb pick-up lines, one of which hints at breast augmentation. Some time after that bit of poetry is let loose, a moosette returns the favor by making a comment about one of the guys having a "nice rack." One of the males says his brother gave him the "heave-ho all for a babe—actually two really, really hot babes." Later, one butters up a moosette, saying, "I'm a hoof man."
Moose aren't the only animals in the forest obsessed with "love." Kenai and Koda joke about kissing and "finding love" after an older bear tells them that "you can't run from love. It has a way of tracking you down." "Can't keep the girls waiting," he calls as he races toward an enamored female bear.
Several perilous scenes will scare very young children. Nita almost drowns after falling through ice. Koda and Nita are buried by an avalanche before being rescued by Kenai. Nita and Koda run for their lives when the cave they're in begins to collapse. And Kenai falls off a cliff into a shallow pond. For a few moments, it's unclear whether he's dead or alive.
Believing he's under attack, and before he recognizes that the human he's battling is Nita, Kenai grabs her with his teeth and hauls her high up into the air. Raccoons pummel Kenai and Koda with pinecones and appear to want to do away with Nita, whose efforts to systematically whack them off a tree aren't sufficient to make them back down.
Not realizing Koda and Kenai are Nita's friends, spear-toting tribesmen go after the two bears, believing they pose a threat to their tribe. One man tries to choke Kenai. A blazing torch is also used as a weapon against him.
Other Negative Elements
Kenai lies to Koda, denying that he dreams about Nita. Although played for laughs, the two moose set up a situation involving a phony bear attack (it's Kenai and he's in on it) to try to impress the ladies. (Some little ones may interpret this scene as a license to use deception when the end seems to justify the means.) Although the plan backfires, there's nothing in the script that addresses the bigger issue of resorting to trickery.
Dialogue leads viewers to think the moose are going to the bathroom. And after you find out that what they're really doing is rolling around in the mud, you quickly learn that the mud ... isn't. One of the moose, after being frightened, exclaims, "I thought I was going to wet my hooves."
Despite the fact that Brother Bear cleared $85 million at the box office and managed to stay in U.S. theaters from October 2003 through April 2004, Disney decided to push Brother Bear 2 straight to video. And that's just fine by me. Although there are several praiseworthy messages (trusting others, self-sacrifice, a father-daughter bond, the endurance of love), once again we must "wade through rivers of spiritual muck" to soak them in.
Some families may feel a frank discussion about the nature of God might justify this film as a springboard for a teachable moment. Clearly, some youngsters are going to wonder if the Great Spirits do indeed exist. I can imagine some wondering if the Holy Spirit is a Great Spirit. But thoughtfulness and great care will need to be exercised. Certainly, if you are going to rent this one, don't just let the grizzly theology slide.
For me, the music was the best part of this otherwise middle-of-the-road project. Melissa Etheridge's vocals seem especially strong here. And I emphasize vocals. I wasn't impressed by her sometimes New Agey lyrics. Preaching shamanism and ancestor worship under the guise of "all-is-well-because-this-is-a-Disney-DVD" is simply, well, unbearable.