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The Country Bears

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
The Country Bears
from Film Forum, 08/01/02

The Country Bears is the first Disney movie to be made based on one of its theme park attractions. (Doesn't that seem a little backwards?) The Country Bears Jamboree exhibit at Disney parks has become less popular in recent years as visitors seek more thrills, but the Bears remain one of Disneyland's more memorably playful displays.

The Bears movies introduces Beary (Haley Joel Osment), a young bear who discovers from members of his human family that he is adopted. Dismayed, he runs off to find his birth family, only to end up traveling with a band of bear musicians.

Jim Henson's Creature Shop provides the expressive animatronic bears. A remarkable number of musical celebrities signed on for cameo appearances and vocals, including Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, Bryan Setzer, and Willie Nelson. But their help is not saving the movie from being ridiculed by mainstream critics. Many call this crass commercialism and blatant Disney propaganda. Most call its plot thin, its humor lacking, and what does work is stolen from other films.

Traci Pedone (Focus on the Family) pinpoints the movie from which Bears borrows the most material: "The lack of creativity and humor in this grade-school version of The Blues Brothers will be hard for parents to bear—and even the kids may want to leave early. The Country Bears should have been left to hibernate at Disney World where they belong."

Phil Boatwright says it has a "pint-sized plot" and it "lacks smart writing." He argues that he would rather see a film for youngsters "that contains clever dialogue, an involving storyline, or interesting characters. Everything in this film has an animatronic feel to it. While that may work in an amusement park, it disappoints in the movie theater."

For some, the music provides temporary relief from the tedium. The USCCB's critic calls it merely "passable entertainment … derivative of The Blues Brothers. The predictable plot is secondary to the energetic musical numbers which are upbeat and entertaining."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "The story which serves as the framework for the film is instantly forgettable. This entire experience might have been described in much the same way if it were not for the music of John Hiatt."

Some Christian critics were so happy to see a family movie that avoids foul language and bawdy humor, they receive it as a classic. Tom Snyder and Ted Baehr (Movieguide) goes so far as to give the film a higher rating than any other film in the Box Office Top Ten. Reviewers Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder call it "an entertaining concoction that will delight children of all ages, even perhaps some jaded teenagers." Mary Draughon (Preview) also calls it "fun for the whole family."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) compliments it as "a welcome substitute for kids wanting to see the Austin Powers movie and a nice way to spend some family time."