Disney has taken the most corn-pone of all theater cliches — “We gotta put on a show!” — and turned it into a foot-stomping, crowd-pleasing, heartwarming G-rated romp with the animals in “The Country Bears.”
More than 75 million people have seen The Country Bears Jamboree, one of the most popular attractions for decades at Disney parks. Disney has now expanded the old franchise by creating a film that parents can take their littlest ones to and not fight off seat-rot or mind-numbing boredom.
Three aspects of “The Country Bears” make the movie: a catchy soundtrack with at least three show-stopping musical routines, a scattering of comic touches aimed straight at parents, and goofy, slapstick humor that appeals to audiences age 2 and up.
Christopher Walken is screamingly arch as the villainous banker who wants to tear down Country Bear Hall.
Daryl “Chill” Mitchell and Diedrich Bader are two modern-day Keystone Cops, guaranteed never to get their man, even if he is an 11-year-old boy bear. Their car-wash chase scene rates with the classics of comedy, so simple and yet so stupid. You don’t really want to laugh, but you must.
Haley Joel Osment is sufficiently earnest as Beary, the young bear who realizes he must leave his human family to reunite “The Country Bears” rock group and save the hall they made so famous. So much for the plot.
Jennifer S. Paige, as a winsome waitress, and singers Krystal Marie Harris and Brian Setzer engagingly belt out the big songs — seven of them written by John Hiatt — that keep everyone awake in a dark theater.
Older kids (we are talking 7- to 8-year-olds) can identify with Beary’s human brother Dex (Eli Marienthal), who is amazed that his parents will not just admit that his younger brother is a bear.
While the bears specialize in slow-motion, pun-filled humor, screenwriter Mark Perez did not forget the adults who drove his audience to the movie.
“They are great. They were always great!” Bonnie Raitt says to Hiatt, as they sit at a bar admiring the bears who are singing with their voices.
“Better than the Eagles,” Hiatt adds.
The bus sign reads “Hiber Nation Tour,” a dissolute rocker bear has a “sticky honey” problem, a former lover “took off with a panda” and Beary innocently asks his human parents “Am I adopted?”
The audience screeches out “Yes!”
Tremendous effort went into making and operating such realistic bear costumes, and costume designer Genevieve Tyrrell added some eye-catching fashions, my favorite being the “wedding singer bear” outfit.
“Beary, beary good!” one father chortled as he herded his crew home.
“The Country Bears” is released by Disney. It runs 88 minutes and is rated G. Three and a half stars for the G crowd.