Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Country Bears

The Three Bears. Plus three more. And a guitar.

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "The Country Bears" (Disney, 2002). The band "The Country Bears" have been broken up for over 10 years, and their biggest fan, Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) is just your normal fifth grader: He's imaginative, he's curious, eats raw unprocessed salmon, he's covered from head to toe in fur…

Yep. Normal pre-teen.

His brother Dex (Eli Marienthal) convinces him that he's adopted.
Sure, you hate him now, but just wait until you get to know him.

His parents (Stephen Tobolowsky and Meagen Fay) won't give him a straight answer.
Yes, THE Stephen Tobolowsky!

He feels like an outcast, so much so that he runs away to go to Country Bear Hall, the original stage of the band, only to find it closed and on the verge of being foreclosed upon by nefarious banker Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken).
Can they win the battle of the bands and save the community center? Oops, wrong movie.

Easily my favorite part of the film.

The CB's former manager, Henry Dixon Taylor (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) reveals that they're six years behind on payments and it will take $20,000 to save it from Thimple's wrecking ball.
Bears deal with bear problems.

Beary convinces Henry to get the band back together for a concert to save the hall, and he reluctantly agrees, getting the band's (human) drummer Roadie (M.C. Gainey) to get the tour bus out of the barn.
He seems more of an intimidating monster than any of the vears.

Pretty sweet ride, all things considered.

Meanwhile, Beary's parents report his disappearance to the police, officers Hamm and Cheets (Daryl "Chill" Mitchell and Diedrich Bader, respectively).
These two are basically the physical comedy in the movie.

The two begin a manhunt while Beary helps to round up Fred Bedderhead (Brad Garrett) and his brother Ted (Diedrich Bader again), Tennessee O'Neal (Toby Huss) and his lady bear love Trixie St. Claire (Candy Ford), and Zeb Zoobler (Stephen Root). Can Beary bring the Country Bears back together and find a place to fit in before Reed Thimble smashes the hall into toothpicks?

Some background

This movie was directed by Peter Hastings, an experienced writer and producer best known for animated projects, and this film, while live action, seems almost cartoonish in its design, but at the same time, it feels very natural.

In case you don't know, this movie is based on a Disneyland ride, "The Country Bear Jamboree," which opened in 1971 and closed in 2001 (one year before this film). Versions of the ride apparently still exist in foreign markets (Tokyo Disneyland, for example). So, it's odd that they would send this to market with no tie-in existing.

It was nice to see Daryl "Chill" Mitchell again, who was always a terrific comedian and character actor. I thought to myself, "you never see him anymore -- I wonder why." Sadly, there's a reason for this: This film was his last appearance before a motorcycle accident made him paraplegic and unable to act.

There are a lot of musical cameos in this film, from industry giants like Elton John, Willie Nelson, Queen Latifah, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Bonnie Raitt, and Don Henley, to barely footnotes like Xzibit, Wyclef Jean, Don Was, Krystal Harris, and Jennifer Paige.

I don't know who "Krystal" is, but her Botox-frozen face and painted-on eyebrows was more unsettling than any of the animatronic bears.

The good

For people who can't stand CGI effects, you'll be happy to know that there aren't any here. Everything is practical, and the only computer-assisted effects in the movie are the animatronics, which for the most part are incredibly good, thanks to the technical know-how of the Jim Henson Creature Shop. The characters themselves bear little resemblance (see what I did there) to the amusement park characters, the animation aesthetic swapped for a more realistic one, but they still retain key features and wardrobe choices.

Zeb Zoobler is by far the most recognizable (it's the hat).

There were a few moments in the movie that made me laugh heartily, although they were more "WTF" moments than because of any of the planned scripted humor. Christopher Walken is a standout here, being delightfully weird with his ridiculous Walkenisms.
Need I say more?

The bad

Wow, there's a lot of bad to get through. The music that this movie revolves around is competently written and performed, and entirely forgettable. You're not going to be humming these tunes after seeing this movie. That's pretty bad for a film with at least five fully performed and realized musical numbers. This isn't a musical in the traditional sense, mind you: There are musical performances, but characters don't break out into song on a whim -- they're performed on stages and in night clubs.

The music remains on stage where it belongs. Lots of music, on lots of stages, unfortunately.

The bears' voice actors are rarely the ones singing the musical numbers, and it is painfully obvious when you hear Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley singing a duet from bears that absolutely do not sound like them the rest of the time.

The plot, if you didn't figure it out, is almost exactly the same as "The Blues Brothers." And "The Muppet Movie." And "The Muppets" movie. These are all much better films overall, although it took this movie to make me realize that "getting the band back together" is actually a tired and stale film genre at this point.

Ow, my feelings

Overall, I thought this film was fine. It's not the best of its kind, but it's also not a total wash. The cast is superior to what I was expecting, the animatronics were effective to watch for the most part, Christopher Walken was oddly entertaining, and there's just enough weird moments to make me laugh. I also liked that the jerk of a brother, Dex, realizes that he loves his "brother bear" by the end.

Safe for kids... probably.

There's no swearing, no drug use, no violence, but there is nudity as most of the main characters are full frontal bear.

Bear-naked ladies.

Yep: Another bear pun. Can you bear it? It's perfectly suitable for young children. There is one racist joke in the entire film, but as it involves Pandas I'm not sure how to feel about it.

Where can you find it?

"The Country Bears" is currently streaming on Disney+, as of this write-up.

Bear-ly approved.

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