At approximately 8:30 p.m. in Kissimmee, Florida, the Country Bear Jamboree died peacefully at home in the Frontierland section of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, surrounded by loved ones. It died doing what it loved: singing old-as-dirt cowboy songs for an audience of theme-park-goers looking for a nice, air-conditioned place to rest their weary legs. In true rusty-old-jalopy fashion, the animatronic-heavy show broke down before its intended final performance right around park closing, leaving the hundreds of guests lined up for the very last performance disappointed. It was 52.
The Country Bear Jamboree was a living piece of theme-park history: an opening-day attraction, and one of the final attractions that Walt Disney personally oversaw the development of in its early creative stages. A stage show made up of singing, joke-telling robotic bears playing instruments was originally conceived by Walt as an attraction for his failed Mineral King Ski Resort, an effort vanquished by some dang hippies. So he migrated it over to his Florida Project, where it would run on a continuous loop for more than 50 years, becoming the direct influence for Chuck E. Cheese, ShowBiz Pizza’s Rock-afire Explosion, and countless other janky audio-animatronic-animal bands the world over. Essentially, we wouldn’t have Five Nights at Freddy’s without it.
What set the Jamboree apart from other Disney theme-park attractions was its shagginess: not just because it was old, but because it was weird. The Country Bear Jamboree had a very oddball vaudevillian energy, its songs brimming with violence and raunch, all of it played for hyuks. There was a song about hitting your child called “Mama, Don’t Whup Little Buford,” the punch line being “I think you should shoot him instead.” Another, sung by the massive, droopy-faced Big Al went, with zero context or buildup, “There was blood on the saddle, and blood all around, and a great big puddle of blood on the ground.”
Stranger still were the oddly horned-up songs from the girl-bear-robots, including three little bears in sun bonnets singing, “All the guys that turn me on turn me down,” and a corpulent bear with come-hither eyes descending on a swing from the ceiling and singing breakup songs before delivering a Mae West-ian “Y’all come up and see me some time, ya hear?” At the end of the show, as audience members filed out, talking big-game heads on the wall reminded them to gather up their belongings — “and your husband too!” Was the talking moose head implying that Disney dads were going to leave their families because they were too horny for the singing she-bear?
It’s those sorts of genuinely bizarre notes that made the Country Bears feel like the work of actual, flawed, chain-smoking, midcentury human beings, rather than the overthought, overwrought, focus-grouped brand tie-ins we see now. The IP fatigue plaguing movies is worse, tenfold, at theme parks, Disney’s most of all, because it’s always been a walk-through brand exercise. But now the trend is coming for my precious bears, because the attraction isn’t being closed down entirely for good. Instead, it’s getting a complete re-Imagineering, and the new version will find the bears singing country-western covers of Disney songs.
This sort of narrowing down of what counts as Disney IP is a case of Mickey Devouring His Son. If we go down this road, pretty soon there will be no more Disney movies left to live-action-ize. They’ll be making live-action remakes of the live-action remakes. I get that a Disney-music overhaul of the Country Bears will make it way more appealing to a wider majority of basic parkgoers and their normie toddlers, but picturing these bears zombified, their reanimated corpses forced to sing “Hakuna Matata,” is too much to … bear. Why couldn’t they make an inferior attraction like the Hall of Presidents sing Disney songs instead? I want to see Bill Clinton do “Under the Sea!”
Alas, it is with a heavy heart that I tip my hat with a raccoon sticking out of it and bid a fond adieu to Freddy Fazbear’s forebears. That’ll do, Liver Lips McGrowl. That’ll do.