Less story than product placement, “The Country Bears” may go down in history as the first movie ever based on a theme park attraction. I hope it goes down as the last. Much as I enjoy the ride, I don’t want to see “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Movie”* or “The Tiki Room Birds on Broadway.”
Disney World’s robot bear performances may just have a better plot than this movie, which is basically “The Blues Brothers” with fur. Yes, it’s the old story about getting the band back together.
The movie begins with some wit and style – a wood-burning credit sequence and “Behind the Music”-style clips about the beloved band’s rise and fall. Their last series of concerts was called the “Hiber-Nation” tour.
But then it disintegrates into a dumb story about a bear adopted by humans (voice of Haley Joel Osment as “Beary”) who runs away from home because he feels different. The Country Bears Hall is about to be torn down by wicked Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken). Beary decides that the only way to raise the money to keep it standing is to get the band back together. That sets up the rest of the movie as we meet up with a series of indistinguishable bears and watch Beary remind them of what they used to mean to each other.
Some surprising guest appearances by Elton John, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, and Queen Latifah (Raitt and Henley contribute singing voices) and some lively musical numbers by Disney label artists provide bright spots. But the in-between doses of silliness and syrup just dragged. The kids in the audience loved the scene with the policemen caught in the car wash, though.
Parents should know that although the movie is rated G and has none of the usual parental concerns, they should be sensitive to some of the issues in the movie that may trouble children. Beary runs away, and his parents are frantic about his safety, but he does not let them know where he is and does not seem to miss them for most of the movie. Beary’s human parents don’t tell him the truth about his adoption. He is told about his origins very cruelly by his jealous brother. Some parents will regret having their children see a character “play” music on his armpit if it sparks some attempts at imitation.
Families who see this movie should talk about how everyone feels different from the rest of the world at times, and how we make connections with those who are and who are not like us.
*I was kidding when I wrote this, but it turns out that a Pirates of the Caribbean movie did happen and, as you may know, it was terrific..