First of all, let’s get one thing straight: No one hated the thought of this film more than me before its release. No, you’re wrong. I hated it more than you. So there. The premise, which hangs an entire movie upon the shoulders of an animatronic exhibit at Disneyland, seemed nonsensical and, as a child, I had become traumatized by the Disney Country Bear Jamboree, on which this film is based. The song “Blood on the Saddle” still gives me the willies. When I read a couple of months back that “Country Bears 2” was already in the works, I prayed for this to bomb. I wanted the project for part 2 to die quickly, or at least be sent directly to video so I wouldn’t have to run it in my theater. Having said that though, let me now say this: What a shame. The marketing department destroyed any chance this film had. Not only did the trailer make the film look completely moronic, but it gave away what little plot there was!
Surprise, surprise though. This is more than it appears to be. Yes the plot is thin, but no more so than “Crossroads” (released about a month apart in theaters), and it has the terrific John Hiatt singing instead of Britney. The soundtrack is decent and, although none of the songs are exactly memorable, they aren’t painful to listen to, either (with the possible exception of a popped-up ditty in a diner, but the choreography in the sequence is fun enough that the song becomes unimportant).
The movie became a joy when I realized that it was also paying homage to almost every musical moment in American film or television before it (or satirizing others). Some are even a bit subtle. Spinal Tap, The Monkees, Elvis films, HR PuffNStuff, 70’s cartoons based on real bands, The Blues Brothers; they’re all here. The movie becomes a game of “Spot the Cultural References,” and a fun one, too. The usual cameos are present as well, the majority of them musicians (Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley, for example) which is fitting, as this is basically a musical “road trip” film.
It’s also actually the funniest movie I’ve seen this summer, although with garbage like Mr. Deeds and MIBII, that’s not such a difficult feat. Still nothing can beat Christopher Walken when he…well, I don’t want to spoil the moment. Suffice it to say, you’ve never seen him quite like this, and he hammily equals his performance in Pulp Fiction.
Dedrich Bader (from The Drew Carey Show) is also decent. This man can actually make an underwritten, slapstick-heavy character funny (I don’t quite get the fake moustache gag, though).
I must say also, that it’s nice to see a creature that isn’t CGI for a change. The bears are a fairly seamless combination of animatronics, puppets and suits. It works, and they all have their own personality.
The only problem I had was with a couple moments of unneccesary violence. The film is rated G, but there is a moment when one character cold-cocks another just because he doesn’t want to do something. This is not a ‘lesson’ I expected from Disney. Also, a character waves around a gun, non-verbally threatening to shoot other characters. The fact that it uses tranquilizer darts is subtle and will be lost on most children.
Still, if you can get in touch with that kid that’s still lurking inside most of us, you could most certainly do worse than The Country Bears. I’m not going to be waiting with baited breath for part 2, but I may just stop talking trash about it.
Pros: More depth than first appears
Cons: Standard, low-brow humor (even for a children’s movie)
Review Rating: 3 out of 5 inner children love to dance on tabletops.
The Country Bears (2002)
88 Minutes; USA
Haley Joel Osment (voice of Beary Barrington)
Diedrich Bader (Officer Cheets/Voice of Ted Bedderhead)
Candy Ford (voice of Trixie)
James Gammon (voice of Big Al)
Brad Garrett (voice of Fred Bedderhead)
Toby Huss (voice of Tennessee)
Directed by: Peter Hastings
Viewing Format: Theatrical Release