If you've been to Disney World more than once, you've probably appreciated how useful that "Country Bear Jamboree" of singing automated bears can be when you're trying to cool down young 'uns who have been overstimulated by thrill rides.
Still, no matter how cute those big, furry fellows can be, one must acknowledge that they make up, at best, an appetizer or side dish when compared with the other attractions.
So why in Mickey's name would anyone make "The Country Bears"? Because somebody found a story there somewhere. Although it's a blatant rip-off of "The Blues Brothers," the idea of making the beasts into a prototypical 1970s-style country-rock band that, as with many of its real-life counterparts, broke up from being on the road too long isn't a bad one. The opening montage of faded concert footage, faux Billboard and Rolling Stone clips and sound bites from Willie Nelson is winsome and clever enough as a self-contained entity. The movie could have stopped there.
But it doesn't. The story really begins with an 11-year-old cub named Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) whose obsession with the long-defunct Country Bears makes him oblivious to the fact that he is, in fact, an adoptive child of human beings.
Only his older "brother" Dex (Eric Marienthal) seems to notice how peculiar it is that bears walk and talk among us.
And because he does, so does Beary, who sets off to seek his own kind and, in the process, reunite the C-Bears for a reunion concert that will save the ramshackle music hall in which they started. The hall lies beneath the wrecking ball of one Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken in gleeful sputtering mode), an evil banker with his own agenda.
Only the very wee ones may be enthralled by the chase scenes, most of which seem like outtakes from the old "Banana Splits Adventure Hour."
(There as here, other actors give voices to actors dressed in funny costumes.)
There are also musical numbers in which Krystal, Brian Setzer, Queen Latifah, Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley show up to sing or watch or do both. (You see, Raitt and Henley lend their singing voices to two of the bears. You see.)
After a while, the only way for a reasonably intelligent person to get through "The Country Bears" is to ponder how a whole segment of pop-music history has been allowed to get wet, fuzzy and sticky.
Gene Seymour is a film critic for Newsday, a Tribune company.
MPAA rating: G, suitable for all audiences.
'The Country Bears'
Christopher Walken...Reed Thimple
Stephen Tobolowsky...Norbert Barrington
Daryl "Chill" Mitchell...Officer Hamm
Alex Rocco...Rip Holland
A Walt Disney Pictures presentation, released by Buena Vista Pictures. Director Peter Hastings. Producers Andrew Gunn, Jeffrey Chernov. Screenplay by Mark Perez, based on Walt Disney's Country Bear Jamboree. Cinematographer C. Mitchell Amundsen. Editors George Bowers, Seth Flaum. Costume designer Genevieve Tyrrell. Music Christopher Young. Production designer Dan Bishop. Art director Maria Baker. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
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