ORLANDO, Fla. – When touring a Disney theme park, the thrill rides, computerized 3-D effects and boat rides threaten to become monotonous.
The one and only, original, Country Bear Jamboree is unassuming on the outside, but an entirely different world inside. A vaudeville-style “sordid assortment of executioners of music and song”, if you will.
The surprise and charm of a completely different, quirky experience really shakes you out of the pace that can develop after adhering to the strict line to ride schedule.
Guests don’t really know what they’re in for to start and don’t really know what they’ve experienced after attending the jamboree. It’s an odd, Americana blurb in the day that is sure to make an impression.
The attraction inspired arguably one of the most well-done attractions to movie adaptations – “The County Bears”. The film’s original soundtrack alone warrants respect as a lasting piece of what possibilities can come from Walt’s original ideas -- but we’ll save this for another day.
First, a little history lesson.
The original idea of a bear-themed show came from Walt himself for his idea of a ski resort in Sequoia National Park.
Imagineer Marc Davis said of the Mineral King project, “Walt thought maybe we should have a show that had something to do with bears. Lots and lots of bears.” This grand idea developed into the show placed in Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando and was the last project Walt worked on before his death.
The County Bears moved into Grizzly Hall on October 1, 1971, and after 50 years of good ol’ country rhythm, the bears have become a must-see attraction. While plenty of shows and attractions from Disneyland have ended up in the Sunshine State, The Country Bears gained so much popularity in Florida that Imagineers duplicated the show on the west coast. Not only did Disneyland get the show, but the park also received an entire land inspired by the bears dubbed Bear Country.
But enough of the chit chat, yick yack and film flam.
We came up with our 5 favorite reasons for why the once e-ticket attraction should never be replaced. Given that we know the list could go on-and-on, we encourage you to share your reasons for loving the show as well.
Let’s get on with the show!
Let’s face it, it’s not very often we get a ride that solely relies on its audio-animatronics to entertain guests. The Country Bears offers us a glimpse into what Walt envisioned when he created the parks. Recently, we’ve seen a move towards digital tech (i.e. projections and simulators) to keep up with a generation raised on IPads. Barring the occasional animatronic cameo in a queue or snuck into a small section of a ride, today’s rides seem more focused on screens. However, the art of animatronics is a craft Disney excels at. The show doesn’t require pumped in aromas or 3-D glasses. The bears reflect the simple art of realism without spraying you in the face.
While the opening day attraction is nostalgic in itself, the room evokes sentimentality over the “simpler times” of yesteryear. Even though no one attending has actually experienced a long day on the prairie, park-goers can still feel the disconnect from the modern world.
We also experience the unfiltered storytelling of days past. The strange song lyrics are akin to listening to your grandparents tell a borderline inappropriate story at the dinner table. What’s not to love, it’s endearing.
In a “world” seemingly built for kids, it’s important that adults find the hidden nuances. The instruments and bears are essentially for the children but the lyrics? Those are a shout out to the grown-ups.
Notable (and dare we say relatable) lyrics include the following from the Sun Bonnet Trio’s “All the Guys That Turn Me On Turn Me Down":
Every time I meet a guy who gets me shook,
All I ever get from him’s a dirty look
It’s the same way everywhere,
I’ve found. All the guys that turn me on turn me down.
Another fan favorite is Big Al’s rendition of “Blood on the Saddle":
There was blood on the saddle,
And blood all around,
And a great big puddle
Of blood on the ground.
And who could forget “Ole Slew Foot"? The song has been sung by many a human, but when sung by a bear, it takes on a whole new, slightly darker, meaning.
Better get your rifles,
Before it’s too late.
Bear’s got a little big,
And he’s headed through the gate.
He’s big around the middle,
And he’s broad across the rump.
Running ninety miles an hour,
Making 30 feet a jump.
He’s never been cornered,
And he’s never been treed.
Some folks say he looks a lot like me.
When theme park fans crave jokes, the first option most people think of is, of course, The Jungle Cruise. But the popular boat ride is often plagued with long wait times and apparently sinking boats. The bears and their attendants offer up plenty of bear-y funny puns. While some of the show’s banter did see a cut during an overhaul in 2012, the overall humor remains intact. If you’re lucky, your preshow host will delight with plenty of un-bear-able one-liners. We’d love to quote more but we frown on spoilers.
A Brief Getaway
If the singing bears aren’t enough to capture your attention, surely the 15 minutes of air-conditioned bliss will. Some viewers will return for the twangy music and southern vibes. Others might just want a mini hibernation.
The show also serves as a quick remedy for bearish family members. During a typical afternoon in any theme park, it’s rare that a crowd can muster enough energy to cheer, or even laugh. The hot sun and heavy food warrant a bit of exhaustion and grumpiness in the audience. However, we have never experienced a showing where the bears were unable to get the crowd clapping. The sideshow style oddity creates a bonding experience shared by the members of the room, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
While opinions may vary, one thing’s for sure, the bears aren’t going anywhere -- they’re nailed to the floor.
Thanks for bearin’ with us to the bear end.