A movie based on the beloved Walt Disney World animatronic concert Country Bear Jamboree? It’s even weirder than it sounds. In fact, “The Country Bears” could very well be the most head-scratching cinematic creation to see release this summer—and that’s about the only reason why the grown-up audience will stay awake during this family film.
The movie takes place in a strange parallel universe where the presence of anthropomorphic bears is a fact of everyday life, yet for some reason the human adoptive brother of young Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) is the only one in the world aware that Beary is… a bear. Feeling out of place, Beary leaves the adoptive family to get in touch with his bear heritage, namely his favorite band, the long-disbanded Country Bears. To save Country Bear Hall, the band’s once-regular performing venue, from demolition by an evil banker (Christopher Walken, who has perhaps reached the zenith of *his* weirdness with this one), Beary hits the road to round up the Bears for a reunion concert.
While featuring a number of performance scenes, “The Country Bears” is not a traditional musical, but given that the tunes are what made the Bears such a popular theme park attraction, it probably would have been better off as one–not to mention that the two most interesting scenes are a couple of out-of-nowhere, break-into-song moments. But in keeping with the general oddness of the film, these two elaborate production numbers–one a quasi-music video; the other a full-blown, ’40s-musical-style song-and-dance– (1) have virtually nothing to do with the story, (2) are as far removed from the movie’s dominating country/bluegrass sound as can be, and (3) *don’t* focus on the Bears, instead pimping unknown teeny-popper Krystal and late-’90s one hit wonder Jennifer “Crush” Paige. More known music figures (Elton John, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, among others) also turn up in wink-wink, nudge-nudge cameos, leaving one to wonder if this film is supposed to be for the sub-age-7 audience that would eat this film up or their sure-to-be-flummoxed parents. It makes no sense, but then again neither does much of anything in “The Country Bears.”