Thursday, August 2, 2012

#44: Taking Our Place

Brother Bear, 2003
watched July 22, 2012

I've decided to set aside my issues with Phil Collins' ridiculous soundtrack so I can focus on the story. Couldn't resist those cheesy lyrics, huh Phil? Sigh.

After several weeks in outer space, we've returned to the wild outdoors and anthropomorphic animals. Brother Bear, one of the few Disney films set in North America, is also unique due to its nearly all-male cast. This is undoubtedly a "bro" movie.

But even though I'm not a bro, the sibling interactions featured in this film still resonate with me. Here we see Disney showcase a more complex, deeper kind of love, the love between family, like in Lilo & Stitch. As a middle child, I especially connect to the torment of the middle brother, Denahi, who unwittingly becomes the story's villain.

Beyond the three brothers, however, another relationship comes into focus as the story progresses. Kenai, the overconfident youngest brother, is turned into a bear after he unnecessarily kills one. He meets a bear cub named Koda, and as they travel together, Kenai's disdain for Koda's joie de vivre reveals his deep prejudice against their kind. In Kenai's mind, bears are merely savage monsters, and he is keenly intent on getting transformed back into a human as soon as possible.

But, as most Disney characters eventually do, Kenai realizes that he was completely wrong about everything. As he literally steps into the life of a bear, he learns that his ignorance and unwarranted hatred has cost something, and the one who pays most dearly is Koda, whom he has grown to deeply care for.

Kenai's inner and outer transformations are quite significant. While he begins the film as a selfish, impulsive guy, we find at the conclusion someone who makes a life-altering sacrifice for the sake of another. But what causes Kenai to change? It is the experience of walking in another's shoes (or paws?). It is through his relationship with a community different from his own. It is in the discovery that misconceptions come at a high cost.

Change takes place when we take the place of someone else. We experience situations as well as relationships that stretch us and give us new perspectives. Only as we encounter differences do we realize that our own worldview is filled with stereotypes and prejudice. When our world expands like this, we have the opportunity to become people, or bears, who love more fully and freely.

Of course, true transformation is only possible through the one who became a man, so he could walk in our shoes (or sandals?) and give us a completely new perspective. His life-altering sacrifice shows us the perfect example of what it looks like to take the place of another. And through him we are forever altered, taking our place as people guided by love.

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