I honestly wish I was making this up or was publishing this article about a far-off, distant rumor, but the Bob Chapek mandate that the Disney Parks be used to “leverage intellectual properties” will likely claim the existence of a beloved, original attraction that is the definition of a Magic Kingdom classic—and do it just before its 50th birthday in 2021.
According to sources, the closure of the Country Bear Jamboree in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom is imminent. As has many reported a number of times, Walt Disney World is expected to promise guests 50 new or special offerings for its 50th anniversary celebration in two years time and a whole new attraction will very likely come to Frontierland to replace the 1971 audio-animatronic spectacle. And no, it will not be the Vacation Jamboree or Christmas overlays that many thought would be introduced in honor of the five-decade milestone.
Strangely enough, the replacement is a Toy Story audio-animatronic marionette show. This would incorporate elements of the Woody’s Roundup television show featured heavily in Toy Story 2, a faux program that starred puppet versions of Woody, Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete the Prospector.
I try hard to report news and rumors without editorial asides, but why Walt Disney World would possibly need more Toy Story attractions is beyond me, especially ones located outside of the Toy Story Land that just opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios last year. Moreover, there is also already another Toy Story attraction in the Magic Kingdom: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland. Even if another western-themed Toy Story attraction was a franchise necessity, why the oft-lauded “blessing of size” that Walt Disney World has over the other Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide does not mean that a new attraction can be built without permanently removing a classic attraction is truly beyond my understanding. Besides that, how many more Toy Story attractions do we need and how much more of the same Toy Story merchandise do they think they can sell by making this change?
Why do I bring this rumor to the forefront now? Well, while the closure window for the Country Bear Jamboree is presently unannounced and unknown, the logic that Disney wants to open this Toy Story show open by October 1, 2021 means it might be sooner than you would expect. The 2019 D23 Expo is approaching fast, and let us not forget that the demise of both The Great Movie Ride and the Universe of Energy was confirmed at the 2017 edition, neither actually mentioned on stage by Mr. Chapek as he announced their replacements. Both attractions also closed less than 30 days after said announcement, not giving many fans a chance to say their goodbyes to either long-standing classic and certainly not giving the broader community of park goers the chance to make it clear that the closure might be a mistake. While such efforts have made little headway in the past, it has been a long time since the Walt Disney Company chose to close the last domestic version of an attraction so iconic as the Country Bear Jamboree.
By way of a historical aside, and with the storytelling narrative oft-repeated by Disney, the Country Bear Jamboree was originally intended by Walt to be placed at Disney’s Mineral King Ski Resort in California which he was trying to build in the 1960’s. Walt knew he wanted a show to provide entertainment to the guests at the resort, and the project was assigned to legendary Imagineer Marc Davis. Sometime in late 1966, Walt stopped by Imagineering and Marc showed the drawings he was working on for the Bear Band show. As Marc shared years later, Walt had a good laugh at many of the humorous characters and scenes in the show that would later become the Country Bear Jamboree. On Walt’s way out he turned to Marc and said good-bye, a phrase that Marc recalled Walt was known never to say. That was the last time Davis saw Disney, who died days later on December 15, 1966, and the Country Bear Jamboree came to be referred to as “Walt’s last laugh”.
While the Mineral King Ski Resort never made it off the drawing board, the Country Bear Jamboree was in place as an opening day attraction in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. The popularity of the show led to a version in Disneyland on March 4, 1972 (since removed) and a third version at Tokyo Disneyland on April, 15, 1983. The ubiquitous bears have become an oft-repeated reference in popular culture and have been featured in The Simpsons, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Critic, Futurama, A Goofy Movie, The Big Bang Theory, and Last Man Standing, to name just a few.
Disneyland closed the attraction in 2001, but it has been a sore point with many over the years. This is probably because it was replaced with a quickly devised, budget-conscious version of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride that occupied the same footprint as the Country Bear Playhouse – all in an effort to buoy Pooh merchandise sales. A similar scenario seems to be playing out now.
Funny enough, Country Bear merchandise is still even sold at Disneyland and enough so that it continues to be produced. Meanwhile, at Tokyo Disneyland, a plush line of the Bear characters has proven so popular that new versions are released on a regular basis almost every season.
We know that “rumors” of this sort are never popular, but I believe that our sources, our track record, and the nature of this not-yet-announced closure warrant that we share this information with our readers now. And to those detractors, our intent is not to gain publicity, financial gain, or some of the more ludicrous reasoning that could be attributed to our actions. More than anything, I love Walt Disney World and I hope you do too. WDWNT began as a passion project 12 years ago. That the site and its readership have grown does not alter our mission nor our passion—a passion I wouldn’t imagine throwing away by “making things up.” Rather, our goal is to inform and educate passionate fans. For years, we have provided frank, un-slanted, un-influenced information from sources that share the same love for Walt Disney World as a place, an idea, and an achievement. We believe our readership agrees with the basic premise that Walt Disney, Marc Davis, and the many Imagineers who created this three dimensional canvas are undoubtedly artists. While a great many things have come and gone, there are those things that transcend time and place to being far more than just rides, shows, or means of increasing guest counts. Attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and, yes, the Country Bear Jamboree are the very essence of Disney, are the things that inspired countless members of this generation at Walt Disney Imagineering, and are the things that are so essential to the Disney theme park experience that their enjoyment is passed down from generation to generation.
To say what will have undoubtedly become clear, I am disheartened by this news and by the trend of news that has gathered on the horizon. Disney Parks possess characters, environments, and experiences that are, themselves, unique. As much as Disney Parks are places where characters from film and television come to life, they are also places inhabited by grim-grinning ghosts, by plundering pirates, by Figments of imagination, by singing tiki birds, and by country bears. Removing classic attractions that are the essence of the Disney experience for the sake of cheaply and easily bringing something new is fundamentally misguided and frightening. And that is the path that Mr. Chapek has forged through recent actions, namely the decal-laden Pixar Pier or the shadeless Toy Story Land in the heat of Central Florida. Our mission and purpose is to share news and information that maintain the quality of customer service, experience, and legacy that guests have come to expect from Disney Parks. Fundamental to that is a belief that some attractions are so tethered to the identity of a Disney Park as to become essential. To the Magic Kingdom, the Country Bear Jamboree is just such an experience.
I am the first to admit that grass roots movements to influence the Walt Disney Company do not have a particular track record of success. Equally true, though, is that once something is gone, it is unlikely to return. And, as is clear above, I cannot help but have my feelings and beliefs come through in this posting. Our sources have been clear that this plan to close the Jamboree is very real, and the timeline for it doesn’t leave much time to wait. I assure you that the Walt Disney Company reads this website, and that they look at the comment section below, and on all forms of social media. You know the rumor, you have a good sense of my opinion, but I am not here to tell you your opinion about the Country Bear Jamboree. I am here to tell you that whatever your opinion is on this matter, it will be heard in these venues, so voice it.