The Country Bears

on July 26, 2002 by Paul Clinton
   "The Country Bears" functions more as a product than a movie. Taken from the Country Bear Jamboree, a corny yet laughably fun animatronics show built at Disneyland in 1971, the movie fails to capitalize on the camp of the theme park attraction. Instead, we're given a string of straight-from-the-heart showbiz moments.

   The bears, as told in an opening flashback montage, were a wildly popular country-western band that toured to sold-out shows until in-fighting and mismanagement broke them up. Wanting to hear one last performance of his heroes, cub Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) sets out to reunite them. In this sense, the movie plays like "The Blues Brothers," which the filmmakers have acknowledged was a model.

   As Beary rounds up the band, first-time director Peter Hastings tosses in a few splashy musical numbers, including Jennifer Paige's infectious "Kick It Into Gear." But the few moments of genuine whimsy get swamped in that creepy, Disney-style manufactured sentiment.

   Along the trail, we get a parade of celebrity cameos--Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, former Stray Cat Brian Setzer, Willie Nelson, teen singer Krystal and Queen Latifah. Let's hope Henley collected a sizable check for his one idiotic line: "They're better than the Eagles," he says of the bears.

   Walken, in his role as a banker who's trying to take away the bears' performance hall, plays a fairly routine villain but, as with anything he appears in, he finds that one weird, funny 'Walken moment.'

   Osment is seemingly the star here, but his voice isn't really that recognizable. Disney turns him in to just another cloying child.

   Many of the songs succinctly sum up the carefully packaged, family-oriented corn--"Straight to the Heart of Love," " Can Love Stand the Test" and "I'm Only In It For the Honey." That last one, mostly. Voiced by Haley Joel Osment. Starring Christopher Walken, Stephen Tobolowski and Eli Marienthal. Directed by Peter Hastings. Written by Mark Perez. Produced by Jeffrey Chernov and Andrew Gunn. A Buena Vista release. Family/Comedy. Rated G. Running time: 88 min

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