"The Bear of Love?" A bear doesn't love anyone! They don't think! They don't feel! I mean they're...they're thieves!
~ Kenai expressing his distaste for his totem
Kenai is the main protagonist of Disney's 44th full-length animated feature film, Brother Bear and it's 2006 sequel, Brother Bear 2.
He is the younger brother of Sitka and Denahi, the adoptive older brother of Koda, and the husband of Nita. He is the youngest of three brothers who gets turned into a bear, to teach him to see through their eyes.
In the first film he is voiced by Joaquin Phoenix, who also played Merill Hess in Signs. In the sequel he was voiced by Patrick Dempsey, who also played Robert Philip in Enchanted.
Kenai was a young Inuit on the verge of becoming a man. He is first seen collecting fish with his brothers before returning to his village for his manhood ceremony where he will receive a totem necklace. Sitka has an eagle of guidance totem whilst Denahi has a wolf of wisdom totem. Kenai is tasked with tying the basket containing the fish up in a tree away from bears (which Kenai hates). However upon hearing that the village's shaman woman Tanana has arrived with his totem, Kenai forgets to tie the rope and leaves to go to the ceremony, causing the basket to fall. Kenai is dismayed when Tanana gives him a bear totem which represents love. Tanana tells Kenai to let love guide his actions and one day he will be a man and will place a handprint on a wall which has the handprints of their ancestors. After the ceremony, Kenai is teased by Denahi about his totem, but Sitka cheers him up by saying he too was at first unsure about his totem when he was first given it by Tanana, but now that he is older, he knows that it's about being a leader and keeping an eye on his brothers. When Kenai expresses his wish to put his handprint on the wall, Sitka tells him to be patient and to live by his totem. Just then, they find the fish gone and bear paw prints. Denahi berates Kenai for not tying up the basket properly. Kenai goes to try and return the basket.
Kenai finds the bear that stole the basket and attacks it. Sitka and Denahi catch up with him and fight the bear on a glacier. When the bear attempts to attack Kenai and Denahi, Sitka stabs his spear into the glacier, causing it to crack, sending him and the bear into the lake below. Kenai and Denahi see the bear emerge from the lake and run off. They go down to the lake to look for Sitka, but only find his totem and pelt, realising that he is dead as his body was taken by the Great Spirits. After Sitka's funeral, a vengeful Kenai, against the wishes of Denahi, decided to kill the bear at all costs and throws his bear totem into the ashes of the funeral pyre. Tanana picks up the totem, which Denahi takes and goes after Kenai. Kenai tracks the bear and kills it, but for acting out of hate rather than out of love as he had been commanded to do, Sitka and the other spirits turned Kenai himself into a bear as punishment for his actions. Denahi arrives moments later and sees Kenai in his bear form and the remains of Kenai's clothes, causing him to think that the bear in front of him killed Kenai. Kenai then falls into a river and bangs his head against a rock and falls unconscious. The next day, Kenai wakes up and discovers that he is now a bear. He is then told by Tanana that the only way for him to become human again was to travel to a mountain peak called, "the place where the (Northern) lights touch the earth." Along the way, however, Kenai meets two moose brothers named Rutt and Tuke and a bear cub named Koda, who has been separated from his mother. Koda made a deal with Kenai that if he would take him to a salmon run (where Koda thinks his mother will be), he will take Kenai the mountain where the lights touch the earth (which is next to the salmon run). At first Kenai did not like the young bear's company, but eventually he became attached to him.
During his journey, Kenai was pursued by Denahi, who cannot speak bear and wishes to avenge Kenai unaware that the bear is Kenai. Eventually, Kenai and Koda reach the salmon run and meet with Tug and the other bears. Later, the bears tell stories to each other and Koda tells the story of how he got separated from his mother. He says that she got separated from Koda after protecting him from hunters. Kenai realises that the hunters Koda was referring to were him and his brothers and that Koda's mother was the bear he killed. Horrified by his actions, Kenai leaves the salmon run and isolates himself from the other bears. The next day, Koda finds a depressed Kenai, who tells him that he has a story for him that is a man and a bear. When Koda says that he doesn't like the story, Kenai tells Koda that his mother isn't coming, causing Koda to realise that Kenai caused his mother's death and runs off in sadness. Unable to convince Koda that he is sorry, Kenai decides to go to the mountain himself.
Upon reaching the mountain, Kenai calls out to Sitka and sees a eagle shaped silhouette in the distance and believes it to be Sitka. However, it is then revealed to be Denahi, who attacks him. Just then, Koda (having forgiven Kenai) arrives and comes to Kenai's aid and tries to steal Denahi's spear. Denahi chases Koda and Kenai tries to stop him hurting Koda. After saving Koda from Denahi, Sitka arrives and returned Kenai to his human form, much to Denahi's surprise. Not wanting to leave Koda alone, Kenai, with the blessing of Denahi, returned to his bear form to care for Koda. Kenai and his brothers share one last hug before Sitka returns to the Great Spirits. For doing an act of love, Kenai was declared to have become a man by becoming a bear and places his paw print on the wall with Koda, Denahi, Tanana and the other villagers watching.
Brother Bear 2
Kenai and Koda wake up from hibernation and met Kenai's childhood friend Nita who haven been given the ability to talk to animals, asks Kenai to come with her to burn an amulet he gave her in childhood so she can get married to her fiancé Atka. Kenai and Nita begin to rekindle, causing Koda to think Nita will convince Kenai to became human again and so flees but Kenai tells him he would never do that.
After the amulet is burned, Nita bids farewell to Kenai and Koda and returns to her village to marry Atka. Koda follows Nita with Kenai following soon after, where they are attached by Atka and the villagers. Kenai is badly injured by Atka but Nita stops anymore from happening and declares her love for Kenai. The spirits turn Nita into a bear so she can be with Kenai and the two get married.
Kenai is the first Disney protagonist to kill someone's parent (in this case, Koda's mother, which is why he got turned into a bear in the first place due to his sin).
Kenai's age is never stated. Though judging by the fact that he had a manhood ceremony in the first film, he is most likely aged between 16-18 as that is usually when a person comes of age.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Kyle Chandler and Jason Scott Lee were considered for the role of Kenai before Joaquin Phoenix was cast.
Joaquin Phoenix did not reprise his role as Kenai for the sequel due to scheduling conflicts and the fact that Phoenix doesn't do sequels. Instead, Patrick Dempsey replaced him. Both Phoenix and Dempsey share Kenai as their only voice acting role to date.
Originally in Brother Bear 2, Kenai was going to turn back into his human form permanently in the end.