As was announced at this year’s Destination D23 event, the original Country Bear Jamboree show at Magic Kingdom will be replaced with the new “Country Bear Musical Jamboree” next year. As you probably have heard, we here at WDWNT have an affinity for the ursine residents of The Vacation Kingdom of the World, and it may surprise you that we are actually in support of the revamped show, and here’s what, at least in concept, you should be too.
Country Bear Musical Jamboree
The new “Country Bear Musical Jamboree” will be inspired by the musical revues of Nashville and will see the bears reimagine classic Disney songs in “different genres of country music.” Disney shared the following video featuring a country-inspired reinterpretation of “The Bare Necessities” from “The Jungle Book”:
Though the content of the show will change, the beloved characters that have become synonymous with the Country Bear Jamboree will not — except for Liver Lips McGrowl, whose name is an offensive term and will be changed to Romeo McGrowl. Romeo’s appearance includes a pompadour hair-do, reminiscent of his Elvis impersonation during the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown overlay.
Former Walt Disney Imagineer Ethan Reed first pitched what would become “Country Bear Musical Jamboree” almost 20 years ago. Around 2018, he was developing the show for Tokyo Disneyland, but the Oriental Land Company changed their minds after seeing strong sales numbers for plush of the Country Bear characters. At the same time, a “Toy Story” Woody’s Roundup marionette show was in development to replace Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom, of course, while Bob Chapek led a Disney Parks division that seemed determined to erase original park attractions and replace them with properties guests already know. The Walt Disney Company still denies that this project ever existed and probably has to continue to do so since they very publicly denounced this website when they claimed the rumors were false. Regardless, this idea was scrapped, and instead, this Disney music show idea was resurrected. The show was in the planning stages when Disney canceled the Toy Story project, but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, delaying the project (really, it was Disney firing Imagineers in the midst of the pandemic that delayed it, but the former sounds nicer).
Tom’s Thoughts on The End of the Country Bear Jamboree
I’ve been messaged by dozens, if not hundreds, of people since this announcement was made. People very much know my opinion on the Country Bears, and WDWNT is intrinsically connected to them after our war with former CEO Bob Chapek and associates over the marionette show. I think people are expecting a rant from me — but you’re not getting it.
History is important to note in this situation. The Country Bear Jamboree was an opening day attraction at Frontierland in Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. It opened at Disneyland in 1972. In 1986 though, both versions were replaced with The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown. That remained at Disneyland until the attraction closed entirely in 2001. The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown remained in place at Magic Kingdom until only 1992.
During this time, Disney also introduced their first-ever seasonal overlay, the Country Bear Christmas Special, which ran in the winter. Seasonal versions of the Vacation Hoedown and Christmas Special ran in Tokyo Disneyland until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Country Bear queue in Tokyo Disneyland shows more of the backstory of the bears through tour posters, albums, photos, etc. The story is that they are a traveling group of musicians. Their home is Grizzly Hall, but they do perform at other venues. The bears have performed other shows, and, given their story, they can perform other songs.
So there have been three versions of the Country Bear shows already, and when I started going to Walt Disney World in 1988, the original Country Bear show didn’t even exist. If new versions of the show were OK, then why not now?
The show currently running at Walt Disney World also isn’t even the full original show. During a 2012 refurbishment, the songs “Pretty Little Devilish Mary” and “Fractured Folk Song” were cut, and some other songs were shortened. Some dialogue, including fat shaming aimed at Trixie, was removed.
I love the original show, and I will miss it dearly, but if we’re going to believe in the future of Disney Parks and that it is not a museum, we have to give current Imagineers the chance to continue the legacy. I firmly believe that it is possible that people could write and create a very entertaining modern Country Bear show.
Don’t get me wrong — this could debut and be terrible. But there have been three Country Bear shows over 50 years; let’s see another one. Let’s see if it can be done successfully again.
Some are lamenting the loss of the original voice talent, which I understand, but most of the original voices weren’t in the beloved Vacation Hoedown or Christmas Special either.
Also, there’s no doubt at this point that some elements of the show need to go. Liver Lips McGrowl is one example; “Mama, Don’t Whip Little Buford” is another. While the semi-offensive nature may amuse those of us who are accustomed to the show, it’s clear that a majority of newer guests have no idea what is going on at Grizzly Hall. You’ll inevitably see a confused family of tourists in every showing, and maybe rather than have them walk away confused, they should find a way to make them fall in love with Big Al and company the way we have.
A lot of the fabric of the original show can and should be transferred into the new one. Certainly, they should carry over certain lines of dialogue from the classic and at least leave “Come Again” as the exit music for the venue so that there is a good amount of connective tissue from the old to the new. “The Country Bear Musical Jamboree” can both make new guests happy and satisfy long-term fans. In this scenario, a show with famous Disney songs will bring in a new audience that would have never gone into Grizzly Hall, introducing a new generation to the Country Bears, while people who already love them will get to see something new with the characters they know.
What would be inevitable is that a new generation of Disney fans would be as curious as all of us who came before, scouring the internet to learn the history of the animatronic show they are enamored with. They’ll always be able to enjoy the original show through the magic of the internet, as will we. Or, we can all just jump on a plane and fly to Tokyo to see it, something I highly recommend.
The most exciting part for me is knowing the bears will finally get the love they deserve. The whole facility and all of the audio-animatronics will be repaired and upgraded. It’s a shame we don’t do regular maintenance at Walt Disney World the way we should, but at least the state of the theater will be addressed.
And if the Country Bear Musical Jamboree doesn’t work out, they can always try again. The bears will still be there, living an improbable new life, not ripped apart for some shoddy IP-based display. The show may change time and time again, but at this point, it’s safe to say Grizzly Hall will ALWAYS be home to Henry and friends thanks to the fandom and a Disney Company slowly being restored to what it was before.
The “Country Bear Musical Jamboree” could be bad, and I could eat my words, but I don’t want to live in a world where people can make the generalization that I and other fans simply hate anything new. It’s not true. I hate anything new that’s not a logical next step.
A “Toy Story” marionette show didn’t make sense. They built a Toy Story Land in 2018; if they wanted a “Toy Story” show, that’s where it belonged. Other than Orange Bird, the Country Bears are the only original characters created for Walt Disney World in 1971 that remain. They have to stay, but they don’t have to stay locked in a show that is a half-a-century-old. If The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean can be updated to keep with the times, so can the one and only original Country Bear Jamboree.
I’m cautiously optimistic. I think it’s a tasteful decision in that they aren’t going to change genres or put Big Al in a diaper (see the Christmas Special).
So, the pressure is on for the Imagineers on this project, but I believe in them. I believe creativity can continue to exist in this company with the proper management, namely the creativity I fell in love with so many years ago.
VIDEO: Tom’s Honest Review & RANT for Every Announcement at Destination D23
Hear more of Tom’s thoughts about the Destination D23 announcements in this video.