The Country Bears Movie
posted by Mike on 10/15/02
As lame as this sounds, some of my best childhood memories are times spent in arcades. Back then, when Spy Hunter was the epitomy of advanced video gaming technology, my old man could drop me off at the local arcade with ten bucks, and I could play all day. My game of choice was Galaga. I could play Galaga for hours off one quarter, and this was before the advent of the Web, where you can now download a game guide to help you memorize the alien attack patterns.
Of all of the arcades I frequented, my favorite by far was Showbiz Pizza Place (now known nationwide as Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza.) For whatever reason, Showbiz always seemed to get the newest, most advanced games before anyone else in town. It was at Showbiz that I first experienced games like Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, and the fantastic M.A.C.H. 3. Sure, they had the shittiest pizza imaginable, pizza that would make CiCi's Pizza Buffet taste like gourmet quisine, but they had a fantastic (before the advent of Dave and Buster's, anyway) prize counter, classic ticket winners like Pot O' Gold and ski-ball (my love of which would eventually get me banned for life from Chattanooga's Showbiz... I was 17, and was there for a church youth group get together, and was caught running up the ski-ball ramp and dropping my balls in the bullseye by the guy dressed as Billy Bob... and was thrown out by Billy Bob, to add insult to injury... there's nothing quite like being grabbed by the collar and forcefully removed from the premises by a giant talking bear.)
What Showbiz was REALLY known for, however, was their "stage show." The back of the place consisted of a small showroom with booths and tables, at the head of which was a small stage. Once every 20 minutes or so, the curtain would rise, and a band consisting of various goofy looking animals would sing variations of popular songs of the day. This made perfect business sense, as short attention spans of the average kid would never allow them to be pulled from their video games, even for pizza, without something interesting enough to keep them in their seats, stuffing their faces. The band was all robotic, of course, performing their pre-programmed movements with a disctinct lack of realism. But back then, this was big shit. The kids of that era never failed to stop what they were doing and rush back to watch the show. But for me, it was nothing new, because I had seen the indisputable inspiration for such lowbrow entertainment... I had seen the Country Bears.
And now for something completely different...
Now for those of you who haven't been to one of Disney's theme parks, let me give you a little history. The Country Bear Jamboree began its life at Walt Disney World in 1972 (it was one of the Magic Kingdom's few attractions that hadn't begun its life at Disneyland, their older park outside of Anaheim, California.) The Country Bear Jamboree was designed by Disney Imagineer Marc Davis, originally as a stage show for a resort called Mineral King Mines that eventually fell into development hell (Disney's kiddy coaster Thunder Mountain Railroad was also originally planned as part of this unbuilt resort.)
I haven't seen a fat hairy ass that big take the stage since Pavarotti's farewell concert...
The show is themed after an old Western saloon-style stage show, but run and performed by a troupe of talking bears, my favorite of which is without a doubt Big Al, who performs perhaps the most horrid country song I have ever heard, "Blood On The Saddle." I present the lyrics here for your enjoyment:
"There was blooooooood on the saddle,
And bloooooooood all around.
And a great, big puuuuuuuuuddle
Of bloooooooooood on the ground."
The show used what Disney's Imagineers dubbed "Audio-Animatronics" to make the cartoonish bears move, a system where the robot's movements were timed to an audio track, run by an electronic placement card that resembles the moving sheets used in those old self-playing piano systems. They have since been updated by the advent of the modern computer, but the show's bits, jokes, and songs have remained the same, though they have also shown special "holiday" and "Summer" shows, one of which was a love song sung by a bear... who'd fallen in love with an octopus. In other words, it ain't Woody Allen calibur humor we're talkin' about, folks... more like Jethro Clampett.
Fozzo, the lost Marx Brother...
This simple but effective stage show proved so popular that duplicates were built both in Disneyland for their just build "Bear Country" area, and in Tokyo Disneyland in Japan. The Disneyland show was recently torn down to make room for a new Winnie The Pooh ride (one good bear deserves another, I suppose) but the show still goes on in Orlando and Tokyo... and in movie theaters, I'm sad to say.
About two years ago, some numbnuts at Disney's devleopment house (and no, it wasn't Eric, WD SupahStah... he was still admiring Ben Affleck from afar in those days) thought it would be a good idea to make motion pictures based on some of Disney's more popular attractions, thinking it would not only make a quick buck with the kiddie crowd, but also boost their lagging park ticket sales, suffering after the opening of Universal's fantastic Island Of Adventure park. The first of these was a direct-to-video crapfest called "The Tower Of Terror," which starred 80's almost-never-was Steve Guttenburg as an out-of-work writer who stumbles across a haunted hotel. Naturally, it was based on (and mostly filmed at) the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ride at Disney/MGM studios, which is basically a more advanced version of the Georgia FreeFall at Six Flags Over Georgia. It wasn't exactly a best seller (my wife snagged a copy of it on VHS for 3.00 in a Wal-Mart bargain bin) but it brought in enough dough for the execs to consider pumping some more mouse money into the mix and bringing out a small theatrical release. As their first attraction, they chose the Country Bear Jamboree. And so last August, The Country Bears hit the big screen, to the ooh's and ah's of children, and the collective groans of their parents.
Coming Soon: Howard The Duck 2- The Grizzly Years
Country Bears revolved around young Beary Barrington, a talking bear that had been adopted by a human family while vacationing at Yellowstone Park. He was voiced by Haley Joel Osment of The Six Sense fame, which is ironic when you think about it, since he was playing a character based on a show that starred robots, just prior to starring in a movie as a robot pretending to be a human whose best friend was a robotic bear... okay, so maybe it isn't as ironic as I thought... but it's not exactly like I have a ton of material for this one, is it? They're talking BEARS, for fuck's sake!
Beary is feeling out of place in his human home (now THERE's a stretch.) He learns from his asshole brother that he is... GASP!... adopted, and runs away from home to find his roots. He finds them in the Country Bears, the biggest thing on the country music scene... a band of talking bears that travel the country singing horribly and pretending to play musical instruments with their gigantic three digit paws. Along the way, he meets their slightly insane roadie, and also runs into Christopher Walken, who shows by cameoing in this piece of shit that being in a David Spade movie is NOT the lowest your career can sink.
Can you keep a secret?.... I see BEAR people!!!
Beary eventually learns to play banjo in a matter of hours, and joins the band, gaining acceptance from his real family, and admiration from his adopted kinsfolk... but not before making me want to vomit my Goobers all over the four year old in front of me... While watching this truly abysmal movie (see what torture we WD writers put ourselves through to provide you with free entertainment?) I was reminded of two previous bits of "entertainment"... the first was a 1986 film called The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, which was so bad that even collectors of the original cards deny its existance... should I stumble upon stills of this "film," I'll be sure to do a write up on it... the other was the whole Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle phenomenon, which really kicked off after the first film made loads of box office bank... as part of a Pizza Hut promotion, a TMNT stage show, entitled "Coming Out of Our Shelves" hit the Kiddie Arena circuit... morons dressed as the Amphibian Four hit arena after arena, lip-syncing to downright awful 80's style hair metal and pretending to play guitars that... big surprise... were not only unplugged, but had no strings. For those of you who don't believe me, there's a CD floating around out there somewhere that has the entire show set on it... but I don't recommend picking it up, not unless the sound of gang cat rape is music to your ears...
But even as bad as those two childhood memories are, I would gladly sit through a TMNT reunion tour with a song set based on the Jackson Victory album before sitting through another viewing of The Country Bears... I recently visited DisneyWorld, and found that my enjoyment of the original show had actually been tainted by watching the film... I just couldn't sit back and enjoy it without thinking of Beary, or Walken, or that quasi-Big Al whose big funny line in the film was "uh....yeah." Thanks Disney. You've killed one more piece of my childhood...
But that's not enough for the House Of Mouse... They're currently filming a big budget bucaneer epic entitled "Pirates of The Caribbean," starring Johnny Depp as a rogue pirate ship captain who saves his crew from the evil British, while selling red headed wenches to drunks screaming "We Wants Da Redhead! We Wants Da Redhead!"
And just to put the last nail in the coffin, they have a new Eddie Murphy family comedy coming out next summer entitled... my God... The Haunted Mansion... I dread to think of what may come next... It's A Small, Small World - The Musical? Space Mountain Wars? Oh shit... they already did Mission To Mars, didn't they?! Whatever it may be, it is destined to suck... and what's worse, they're not done with bear-inspired films... one of the new animated films they have coming out is currently being called "The Bear King," a title chosen by Michael Eisner himself, concerning a young Native American who kills a mother bear for sport, and is punished by the Great Spirit... by being transformed into a bear cub... oy vey, and I'm not even Jewish...
What it all boils down to is that none of our childhood memories are safe anymore. No matter how far back it goes, whether it be Billy Bob or Bozo the Clown, all's fair when it comes time to trivialize something in the attempt to make a buck, and sadly, Disney is no different. The real goal of their company, which became obvious with the advent of the quick release direct-to-video sequels that began with Aladdin 2 and is not continuing with Dumbo 2 (direct-to-video next year) and Jungle Book 2, in theaters next spring, is to make bag fulls of cash, no matter which intellectual properties they have to rape to do it. Sadly, our children to come will never know. They'll see the Country Bears, and all the dismal money makers to come, as what Disney stands for, and what our childhood experiences in the world Disney envisioned must have been like. Disney World recognized Walt's 100 birthday recently with a yearlong celebration called "Remember The Magic." I wish that I could... but travesties like the Country Bears are wiping them all away, one lost enjoyed moment at a time... I would go to the arcade to lift my spirits, but sadly, it now costs me 1.00 to play my beloved Galaga, and Billy Bob has been replaced by a giant rat dressed like Flavah Flav... I guess I'll just curl up into a fetal position on the couch and watch my Beauty And The Beast Special Edition... which came with a coupon for 3.00 off Beauty And The Beast's Enchanted Christmas... I weep for us all...