Disneyland Ride Movies (Part 4)


There’s one question that hangs over all of these movies: how do you make a movie out of this? Even with all the lore built into dark rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, they don’t have characters or story. In this case we do have characters, and yet it’s the most perplexing entry in this marathon. A bunch of bears who play country music? How, on Earth, do you develop that into a movie? Why would you even try?

Movie: The Country Bears

Director: Peter Hastings

Released: 2002

Cast: Haley Joel Osment, Christopher Walken, Diedrich Bader, Stephen Tobolowsky, Daryl Mitchell, M.C. Gainey, Candy Ford, Meagen Fay, Eli Marienthal, Kevin Michael Richardson

Plot: Beary Barrington comes to the realisation that, as he is a bear and the rest of his family are human, that he’s adopted. This leads him to go on the road to reunite his favourite band – The Country Bears – so they can perform a concert to save their concert hall.

The Ride: The Country Bear Jamboree holds the unique distinction of being the first ride created for the Magic Kingdom in Disney World to be popular enough to be brought west to Disneyland. Although it didn’t prove to be as much a hit in California and was eventually closed, it retains a home in Orlando and has been recreated in Tokyo Disneyland.

Initially intended for a ski resort concept that never went through, The Country Bears Jamboree was built as a sit-down show in the vein of The Magical Tiki Room with more elaborate audio-animatronics. After considering a number of musical styles, they settled on a country band and opened the attraction in 1971. Audiences could take some time to get rest their feet and take in a surprisingly large cast of characters perform a concert of country songs…and that’s about it.

Although it is a simple concept, the ride did become a staple of the parks and has been referenced and parodied in everything from Futurama to Monty Python’s Flying Circus even by Disney in The Goofy Movie.

Movie Review: To come back to our previous question – how do you even make a movie out of this? Apparently you attempt a remake of The Blues Brothers. Just without the charm, wit or originality. Beary Barrington (Osment) wants to meet his heroes, The Country Bears, and convinces the manager Henry (Richardson) to travel around and convince the band to get back together to save their concert hall. Not exactly saving an orphanage from the bank, but it serves as a basic structure. Upon tracking down each member of The Country Bears there’s a popular musician on hand to perform a musical number.

Hang on, let’s wind back. The movie opens with a Behind the Music style montage of The Country Bears at the peak of their fame, playing huge stadiums and whatnot. This should feel like an entry point for the characters and their world, but it feels more like a recap of a story we already know to the point where I checked to make sure this wasn’t a follow-up to a TV show or something that I’d missed. It doesn’t help that the Country Bears themselves are not the main characters and we’re not going to see any of them again for a good chunk of the movie. Unless you’re taking notes, you’re not going to remember any of these details by the time they’re going to matter. The actual main character is ‘Beary’, who suspects he’s adopted and this gag it dragged out for an uncomfortably long time before he runs away from home to meet the Country Bears.

After meeting with Henry at their concert hall turned failing tourist attraction and learning that an evil bad guy wants to buy and demolish it (Walken, who looks like the plot hasn’t been adequately explained to him), they hit to road to find their friends. At the same time, a pair of inept police officers hilariously named Hamm and Cheets (Mitchell and Bader) are on their trail being under the impression that Beary has been abducted by Henry. They travel to various bars and studios to find the bears who don’t want to come back to the band, but then they talk them into it.

This feels like a movie made by lifting successful parts from other movies and musical acts and cobbled together with the expectation that this will make for a good movie. Let’s say, for example, you want an obnoxious teenage brother character. You just get Stifler’s Brother from the American Pie movies. You need a conflict and a ticking clock, so you take the vengeful police and risk of losing an important building from The Blues Brothers. The biggest difference is that The Blues Brothers featured timeless acts like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Cab Calloway. The Country Bears, conversely, has flash in the pan pop stars like Krystal and Jennifer Paige who had disappeared from the public consciousness within a few years. The big name stars who do appear, such as Elton John and Queen Latifah, only appear as cameos rather than performers so they don’t contribute much. /

The story structure isn’t up to much, but the bear animatronic suits are very good. Made by the Jim Henson company, they’re as impressive as you’d expect. The facial expressions and movement is excellent, and it was a relief to find that that the effects were done practically rather than the poor CGI we were expecting. This is somewhat undercut but the suits looking too heavy and sluggish to walk around in to seem like real bears walking around as opposed to people in awkward mascot costumes.

We haven’t said much about the characters of the bears, mostly because they are all basically the same. The personality of each one amounts to ‘talks slow and likes things that bears like’. Some get a running joke, like the one who doesn’t want people to walk on his grass. It’s as unfunny as you’d expect. I’ve never experienced this ride for myself, but I don’t think these are all characters from the ride. Not sure why that decision was made.

It’s not funny, the characters are dull and the musical numbers fail to liven things up. We’re impressed with the puppetry, and Diedrich Bader is always good for a chuckle, but we can see why this movie flopped.

Rating: THREE out of TEN

DISNEYLAND RIDE MOVIE RANKINGS

Impressive puppetry aside, this was a dull experience. That does rank it above The Haunted Mansion, which was actively painful.

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  2. Tower of Terror
  3. The Country Bears
  4. The Haunted Mansion