Kenai is the main protagonist from the Disney films Brother Bear and Brother Bear 2. He is voiced by Joaquin Phoenix in the original Brother Bear and by Patrick Dempsey in Brother Bear 2. His bear growls are voiced by Frank Welker.
Kenai was a young Inuit on the verge of becoming a man. But after his brother, Sitka died saving him from a bear, Kenai decided to kill the bear at all costs. He succeeded, but for acting out of hate rather than out of love, as he had been commanded to do, the spirits turned Kenai himself into a bear as punishment for his actions and killing a bear who was Koda's Mother and didn't kill Sitka. To become human again, Kenai had to travel to a mountain peak called, "the place where the (Northern) lights touch the earth." Along the way, however, Kenai met an orphaned bear named Koda. At first, Kenai did not like the young bear's company, but eventually, he became attached to him. Then, Kenai learned that the bear he had hunted and killed had been Koda's mother. When he becomes human again, Kenai chose to stay in the woods and live with Koda, who needed him more than any of his own people. For this act of love, Kenai was declared to have become a man (despite the fact that he was restored to his bear form).
In Brother Bear 2, Kenai awakens from his first hibernation to find that spring has arrived (Kenai separated from Denahi, Tanana and his villagers because they do not need him). Even with snow on the ground and the trees still bare, love is decidedly in the air. Kenai and Koda scoff at the notion of romance, but Tug (the large, dark brown bear from the first film) cautions them (Kenai in particular) that "You can't run from love. It has a way of tracking you down." Kenai laughs, but later has a dream about Nita, a girl he used to know when he was young and a human.
Meanwhile, in her own village, Nita is preparing for her wedding to a man named Atka. But when the big moment arrives, the ceremony was interrupted by the great spirits. The earthquake destroyed everything in its path, it is revealed that Nita cannot marry Atka. The reason for this is that when they were children, Kenai gave Nita an amulet as a gift. What neither Kenai nor Nita realized was that the amulet bonded them as one. The only way for Nita to marry Atka is to go with Kenai to Hokani Falls, where he first gave her the amulet, and burn it.
Nita finds Kenai and manages to convince him to help her. But during the course of their three-day journey, their old friendship sprouts anew and flourishes. When Nita asks Kenai if he misses being human, he says yes. This causes Koda to run away up a mountain, thinking Kenai will leave him. A worried Kenai and Nita look for Koda as a snowstorm hits. They initially have no luck and Kenai keeps going, not noticing that Nita is stopping. Nita finds Koda, but an avalanche starts and as Nita screams, Kenai turns his head and sees the snow heading right for them. The two are pushed down the mountain and soon get buried by the raging snow. Kenai rushes to save them and tells Koda he'll never leave him. Despite the fact that both are developing feelings for one another, Kenai and Nita burn the amulet and Nita returns to her village, only to find that where the amulet kept her from marrying Atka before, now her heart will not let her marry him either.
When Kenai wakes up the next morning, his moose friends inform him that Koda has gone to Nita's village to get her back. Kenai races to the village, knowing Koda will be killed. Back at the village, the villagers spot Koda and chase him up a tree. Then, Kenai races over to the rescue, grabs Koda, and flees. Nita hears the commotion outside and runs out of her tent. She is horrified when Atka goes after Kenai and Koda. She then chases after them to try to stop Atka. Atka chased Kenai into the mountains. Kenai hides Koda and runs off to distract the hunters. Atka finds Kenai and corners him on a cliff. They fight and Kenai is about to kill Atka when Nita runs over and yells at him to stop, but it's too late. Kenai lets Atka go and while he is distracted, Atka throws some embers in his face and kicks him off the cliff. Atka wins and Nita cries out in dismay (because Kenai lost), pushes Atka out of the way and climbs down the rocks to help Kenai. Kenai is alive, though he failed to defeat Atka, and tells Nita he loves her and she tells him the same. The spirits come down and Nita is able to understand the bears again. Koda tells Kenai that he asked the spirits to change him back into a man so he could be happy. Kenai tells Nita that he cannot -- as he cannot leave Koda, but she says she can. So, Nita is turned into a bear that has the same coloring as Kenai, and they get married.
At California Adventure, Kenai appeared as part of the Magic of Brother Bear theme at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, appearing in a totem ceremony show, a wood-carved sculpture at the entrance to the area and the namesake of Kenai's Spirit Cave, where guests are able to find their animal totem by placing their hand on glowing pawprints. In the summer of 2011, the Brother Bear theming would be removed and replaced with an Up theme inspired by the Wilderness Explorers. Though Kenai and Koda no longer appear in the area, the Spirit Cave was mostly untouched with the exception of signs removing Kenai's name.
- Kenai is similar to Beast in the sense that both started out as young and immature, did something wrong (for Kenai, killing Koda's mother and for Beast, rejecting an old woman) and were turned into animals as punishment, had to learn something in order to return back to human (Kenai, learning that killing Koda's mother was wrong; Beast, learning to love), and both have a friend/lover in the end (Kenai, Koda; Beast, Belle). Only difference is that Kenai remained as a bear in order to take care of Koda while Beast turned back to human to marry Belle.
- Another similarity between Kenai and the Beast that one could say is that both had to learn how to love other people. "Love" was Kenai's totem in the first place and Beast never loved anyone before.
- Kenai the third Native American Disney protagonist, after Pocahontas and Kuzco.
- Kenai becomes a nicer person (bear) in Brother Bear 2 because he learned from his past experiences. He also becomes calm and very brave, unlike his timid personality in Brother Bear. Additionally, he learns how to act like a bear since he digs out food for him and Koda.
- The scene where Kenai tells Rutt and Tuke "I'm not a beaver, I'm a bea-I mean, I'm not a bear, I'm a man!" after they call him a beaver after seeing him being turned into a bear by Sitka's ghost could be a reference to a scene in The Sword in the Stone where Arthur (Wart) and Merlin are turned into squirrels by Merlin's magic and tells the Old Lady Squirrel, "I'm not a boy, I'm a squir-I mean, I'm not a squirrel, I'm a man!" after she falls in love with his squirrel form.
- Since Kenai chose to remain a bear permanently at the end of the first film, the only time we ever get to see his human form again in the sequel was him as a little boy in a flashback near the start of the film when he meets Nita for the very first time.
- Kenai is the third Disney protagonist to have a villain as a biological relative, after Simba and Hercules.
- Kenai is very similar to Merida from Brave as both are impulsive young heroes whose rash actions (for Kenai, killing Koda's mother; for Merida, disobeying her mother's rules) end up causing someone to turn into a bear (for Kenai, it was himself; for Merida, it was her mother and younger brothers) and discovering that the only way to undo this is to try to love a certain family member (for Kenai, it was brotherhood with the brother being Koda; for Merida, it was motherhood with the mother being Elinor).
- Kenai is the first Disney protagonist to have a sibling die, followed by Elsa (though Anna was revived by her act of true love) and Hiro Hamada.
- Kenai is the first and only 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).