Brother Bear plays off in a post-ice age North America, where the local tribesmen believe all creatures are created through the Spirits, who are said to appear in the form of an aurora.
Three brothers – Kenai, the youngest brother; Denahi, the middle brother; and Sitka, the eldest brother – return to their tribe in order for Kenai to receive his totem, a necklace in the shape of an animal.
The particular animal it represents symbolizes what he must achieve to call himself a man.
Unlike Sitka, who gained the eagle of guidance, and Denahi, who gained the wolf of wisdom, Kenai receives the bear of love.
He objects to this, stating that bears are thieves, and believes his point is made a fact when a bear takes some salmon.
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Kenai and his brothers pursue the bear, but a fight follows on a glacier, during which Sitka gives his life to save his brothers, although the bear survives.
Angered, Kenai heads out to avenge Sitka.
He chases the bear up onto a mountain and kills it.
The Spirits, represented by Sitka’s spirit in the form of a bald eagle, transform Kenai into a bear after the dead bear’s body evaporates.
Denahi arrives, mistaking Kenai as dead, and believing his bear form is responsible, vows to avenge Kenai by hunting it down.
Kenai falls down some rapids, survives, and is healed by Tanana, the shaman of Kenai’s tribe.
She does not speak the bear language, but advises him to return to the mountain to find Sitka and be turned back to normal.
But only when he amends his mistake; she disappears without an explanation.
Kenai quickly discovers the wildlife can talk, meeting two brother moose, Rutt and Tuke.