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Toon Talk: The Country Bears
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by Kirby C. Holt (archives)
July 26, 2002
Kirby reviews the latest Disney live-action release, The Country Bears

Toon Talk
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt

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(c) Disney Enterprises

The Country Bears
The Bears in the Band

Those Country Bears don’t seem to get much respect …

Walt Disney originally intended The Country Bear Jamboree, a rollicking hoedown of audio animatronic crooning and wisecracking bears, as a key attraction at a proposed Disney-owned ski resort in the Mineral King area in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, circa the early Sixties. When that project was shot down by irate environmentalists, the bears went into limbo, only to be roused from their premature hibernation to star in the first major theme park attraction to debut at Walt Disney World, in 1971.

Met with enthusiastic response from Florida guests, the Jamboree was quickly cloned in the original park, Disneyland, in 1972. Due to its popularity on the East coast, a whole new ‘land’ was built (dubbed Bear Country) to feature the attraction on the West coast, and a second theater was even added to the ‘Country Bear Playhouse’, an addition designed to accommodate the expected demand for the new show.

But crowds weren’t quite as abundant in Disneyland, and the second theater was eventually only rarely used. Special shows, such as The Country Bear Christmas Special and The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, were introduced to spur new interest in the by-then quaint attraction, with some success. And although the Florida version continued its run successfully, and a third version appeared in Tokyo Disneyland in 1986, by the time Splash Mountain opened in 1989, necessitating a renaming of their turf from Bear Country to Critter Country, it appeared the bears’ days may be numbered in California.

But the bears managed to hold on for a while longer, that is, until last year, when the Disneyland show was sadly shuttered to make way for a new attraction based on a more popular bear, Winnie the Pooh. (Note: the Florida and Tokyo attractions are still open.) That this foreclosure occurred after the filming of a new live action feature film starring the Country Bears had begun, a film that one would expect would generate more interest in the thirty-year old attraction, puzzled many long-time Disney fans.

Alas, after viewing The Country Bears movie, I don’t believe it would have made much of a difference …

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(c) Disney Enterprises

Oddly choosing to abandon the concept and designs for the original Jamboree, these Country Bears are only loosely based on our beloved bruins. Borrowing a few too many pages from Almost Famous, the bears are recast as an ersatz, Grateful Dead-type album rock band popular decades ago, who have long since broken-up, due to in-fighting and honey addictions, in typical Behind the Music fashion.

But unbeknownst to them, their legend lives on in the hearts and memories of their fans, most notably Beary (voiced by Hayley Joel Osment, and looking like a very large Teddy Ruxpin doll), a young cub who was adopted by a kindly human family, conveniently named the Barringtons in what would not be the last in the obvious jokes department. When questions of his origins arise, Beary makes a pilgrimage to Country Bear Hall, the site of The Country Bears greatest gigs, to find his place in the world.

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