The Complete History of the Country Bear Jamboree

Tom Corless

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Collage of Country Bear Jamboree posters

The Complete History of the Country Bear Jamboree

On Friday, January 26, 2024, Walt Disney World said goodbye to the most recent version of the Country Bear Jamboree. In the summer of 2024, the Country Bear Musical Jamboree will open. Tokyo Disneyland is now the only place guests can see the original attraction (albeit in Japanese). To honor the iconic show, we’ve compiled the full history of the Country Bear Jamboree.

Country Bear Jamboree Development

A page from Walt Disney Productions' 1965 Annual Report about the Mineral King ski resort.
A page from Walt Disney Productions’ 1965 Annual Report about the Mineral King ski resort

The story of the Country Bear Jamboree begins with the 1960 Winter Olympics held in Squaw Valley, California. Walt Disney had been selected as the Chairman of Pageantry and John Hench was chosen to design the Olympic Torch. Walt was struck by the area’s alpine beauty and felt that the creation of a family-oriented resort would be an asset to the public and help diversify his company. After the games, Walt began a search of existing and potential sites around the United States to achieve this goal.

In 1965, the U.S. Forest Service requested public bids for the development of Mineral King in the Sequoia National Forest in California. It was believed that this area had the potential to support year-round recreation. The Walt Disney Company entered public bidding against five other organizations. In December of that year, Disney won out and was awarded a three-year planning permit. The Company spent $750K in research and planning and in January 1969 received final approval of its developmental master plan.

Disney proposed spending $35M to create a self-contained village, ski-lifts, and overnight accommodations for year-round use. Walt knew that the resort would offer plenty of daytime activities with skiing during the winter and hiking and camping during the warmer months, but he felt some sort of Disney entertainment was needed after the sunset. He believed that a show featuring bears would fit the surroundings. He assigned the project to WED Enterprises’ Marc Davis who had been instrumental in developing characters for the Enchanted Tiki Room, Carousel of Progress, Pirates of the Caribbean, and many of the most well-known scenes from Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise.

Early concept art for what would eventually become the Country Bear Jamboree.

Working with Al Bertino, Marc came up with several concepts. One featured a bear marching band. Another, Dixieland bears. Even a bear mariachi band was considered. One day in late 1966, Walt walked into Marc’s office, took a look at some of his concept drawings, and laughed hysterically at what he saw. The show’s nickname of “Walt’s Last Laugh” is attributed to this moment. As Walt readied to leave the office, he uncharacteristically said “Goodbye” to Marc as he walked out the door. This was the last time Marc ever saw Walt alive. He died on December 15, 1966.

Concept art of the Country Bear Jamboree.

As plans progressed, it was decided to give the bears a country-western persona and feature them in the Mineral King Resort’s Bear Band Restaurant Show. The names of the ursine characters were slightly different in the beginning, with monikers such as Lil’ Lemonade Bear, Big Fred, Old Zeke, Cousin Ted, and Brother Zeb.

While the Mineral King Project was mired in legal red tape, Disney was also hard at work planning and building Walt Disney World in Florida. Sensing the inevitable outcome, the Imagineers shifted gears and took a new look at the singing bears and felt that Frontierland would be the perfect home for these stars, perhaps in protest of the fact that Roy Disney would allow very few original, new concepts to be built for the park.

Imagineer X Atencio and musical director George Bruns were brought on board to put together the score.

Walt Disney World Opens

A photo of the Country Bears walkaround characters in front of Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom.

The Country Bear Jamboree ended up being an opening day attraction at the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971, sponsored by Pepsi-Cola and Frito Lay. The presentation is housed in Grizzly Hall and the theater can hold approximately 350 guests. The first version of the show used to run just shy of 16 minutes. Watch our video of the original show:

Grizzly Hall, Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom

There are a few interesting details around the exterior of the theater. If you look closely at the pendulum on the clock near the entrance, you’ll see the letters “CBJ” engraved in the metal.

The Big Al's merchandise kiosk in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom.

Across the street from Grizzly Hall is Big Al’s cabin and former home. With the success of the show, Al decided to cash in on the tourist trade and his home now acts as a merchandise stall and sells frontier souvenirs.

Henry from the Country Bear Jamboree.

A little information on the characters in the show: Henry is the Master of Ceremonies for Country Bear Jamboree. He wears a dickey, a high-starched collar, a bow tie, and a top hat. This gives him a formal look appropriate for hosting such a “classy” to-do. The backstory for Henry indicates that he was a football player who found music and changed careers. Henry is voiced by Pete Renoudet (a name you will hear a lot more about).

Concept art for Melvin, Buff, and Max.

Hanging on the wall we have (from left to right) Melvin, Buff, and Max. Buff is a buffalo and the leader of the three talking heads. He’s voiced by Disney Legend Thurl Ravenscroft who co-founded the Mellomen with Max Smith. This group lent their talents to such Disney films as “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” and “Lady and the Tramp.” Max is a stag and is also voiced by Pete Renoudet. Melvin is a dimwitted moose and voiced by Bill Lee. Lee voiced many Disney characters including Roger’s singing voice in “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” and the Father in “Cinderella.” Lee was also a member of the Mellomen singing group.

Melvin, Buff, and Max as they are seen in Country Bear Jamboree.

Melvin has occasionally been portrayed as a full-bodied moose. A comic appearance in 1971 showed Melvin as merely peeking into the theater through a hole in the wall, while a full-bodied bipedal Melvin wearing a plaid bathrobe appeared in seasonal Christmas shows in the 1980s and 1990s such as Christmas Follies at Disneyland and Miss Minnie’s Country Christmas at the Magic Kingdom.

For whatever reason, in 1986, Melvin the Moose from the Country Bear Jamboree was chosen as a host for a character breakfast at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. The show and breakfast were staged at the home of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, Pioneer Hall, to make use of the space in the early morning hours. The puppet was used on the stage for various vignettes while guests dined and met Chip and Dale. This breakfast and show ran under various names until it was discontinued in 1991.

Art of Gomer from Country Bear Jamboree.

Gomer is the piano player of Country Bear Jamboree, but he didn’t always play country and Western music. His training was classical. He began pawing the ivories while a cub and practiced days and nights for many years. Finally, he went to New York, much to the relief of his neighbors. There he studied Bearlioz, and his favorite composition was “Night on Bear Mountain.” When he heard himself referred to as the “lard of Juilliard,” he quit the concert stage and went home to the hills. He is highly regarded by the other musicians because he can play in a key other than C.

The Five Bear Rugs from Country Bear Jamboree.

The Five Bear Rugs are a country-western band consisting of Zeke, Zeb, Ted, Fred, and Tennessee. 

Zeke is the leader of the group. He plays a banjo made out of an old frying pan and a chicken bone. With his left foot, he bangs on a dishpan to create “a real ol’ country beat.” Zeke is an old codger and wears a collar, hat, and spectacles. Dallas McKennon provided the voice for Zeke from October 1971 to July 1975. McKennon’s distinctive voice can also be heard on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and as Ben Franklin in The American Adventure. Randy Sparks took over the role of Zeke following McKennon. Zeb plays a homemade fiddle with a hickory bow. He wears a miner’s hat and a red polka-dot bandanna. 

Concept art of The Five Bear Rugs.

Ted is rather lanky for a bear. He wears a tall hat and a white shirt. He plays the corn jug and we’re told he also plays the washboard which can be seen near his feet. A close observer will notice “B flat” printed on the side of his corn jug. Two additional jugs can also be seen on the stage sporting “E flat” and “F sharp.” 

Tennessee and Zeke of The Five Bear Rugs.

Fred is a big boy who learned to play the mouth harp (harmonica) from his dad. He wears blue jeans held up by suspenders as well as a red and white striped tie. Tennessee Bear plays the “fife,” a homemade guitar-like instrument with only one string. It sits on a bathroom plunger, has cymbals attached to the side of the instrument, and a wooden bird and nest sit atop its neck. 

Country Bear Jamboree Five Bear Rugs in Tokyo Disneyland
Five Bear Rugs and Oscar at Tokyo Disneyland

Baby Oscar is not part of the Five Bear Rugs but is actually Zeb’s son. His constant companion is a teddy bear. Baby Oscar does not speak or sing but contributes double-squeaks three times during the performance when he squeezes his teddy bear. Unlike all of the other bears, Baby Oscar wears no clothing. Oscar accompanies his father on concert tours because Zeb’s wife works (she models fur coats — always the same one — at a nearby boutique).

Wendell at Disney California Adventure
Wendell walkaround character at Disney California Adventure

Wendell plays the mandolin and wears a bowler hat and a blue bandanna. He has a bit of an overbite and a bit of an attitude. He is voiced by Bill Cole. Cole was part of the Mellomen singing group.

Art of Liver Lips McGrowl from the Country Bear Jamboree.
Liver Lips walkaround character at Magic Kingdom

Liver Lips McGrowl is a homebody who is never home. His career has spanned the entertainment world, and he is equally famous in radio, TV, nightclubs, and the circus. His throaty growl has captivated audiences everywhere, and he played return engagements in such famous towns as Paris (Kentucky), Rome (Tennessee), Berlin (Wisconsin), Athens (Georgia), Cairo (Illinois), and Stuttgart (Arkansas). But his heart is always at home, where the Miami Serenader can guzzle home cookin’ and catch up on his whittlin’. He has whittled a rain barrel, a bathtub, a pig trough, and a sump pump.

Art of Trixie from the Country Bear Jamboree.

Trixie is a little bit of ever-lovin’ cuddlesome fluff, as well as an old trouper, a veteran performer. There is nary a sourdough or grubstaker who doesn’t recall her singing and dancing in the rip-roaring music halls of the western frontier. She has been known variously as The Calgary Charmer, Alaska Allurer, Vancouver Vamp, Bewitcher of British Columbia, and Tacoma Temptress. As did so many folks with good sense, she visited Florida and decided to stay. She is now known as The Tampa Temptation. She spends her spare hours thumbing through the pages of her scrapbook and is planning to write a book, “I Bearly Remember.” Trixie only sings one song, “Tears Will Be the Chaser for My Wine,” and does not appear in the grand finale. She was originally voiced by Wanda Jackson but was rerecorded by Cheryl Poole.

Art of Terrence from the Country Bear Jamboree.

Terrence the Shaker is from the Ozarks. He is tall and wears a hat (sometimes with a vest or neckerchief). He plays the ukulele and is voiced by Van Stoneman. Currently, Terrence’s hat covers his brow. However, in years past, you could see his eyebrows do a “dance” at the end of his number. Terrence is better known as the “Vibrating Wreck from Nashville Tech.” His stay in Nashville was short — the roar of the greasepaint called to him, and he became an actor. He performed often with the Bearrymores. He was known throughout the Ozarks and as far north as Joplin for his tent-show rendition of “Cyrano de Beargerac” (he was one of the few actors who could play the role without a false nose). A fall from the balcony in “Romeo and Juliet” literally brought down the house. It ended his acting career (and the stage) and he turned in his tights for a guitar.

The Sun Bonnet Trio in Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom
(C) Matthew Cooper Photography – www.thetimethespace.com

The Sun Bonnet Trio hails from Florida and consists of Bunny, Bubbles, and Beulah. The triplets wear matching light blue dresses with sun bonnets and hold handkerchiefs in their right hands. Bunny, center stage, is voiced by Jackie Ward (a.k.a. Robin Ward). Ward is known as a “one-hit wonder” due to her 1963 million-selling smash “Wonderful Summer.” Bubbles stands to the audience’s left and is voiced by Loulie Jean Norman. Among Norman’s many accomplishments, she is the singer of the classic “Star Trek” theme as well as the soprano opera-singing ghost in The Haunted Mansion. Beulah stands to the audience’s right and is voiced by Peggy Clark.

They are the babies of the Country Bear Jamboree. They began singing in Public School 821 in Clint, Texas, in Miss Grizzly’s class. From there they appeared for five weeks running on Major Bear’s Amateur Hour and were booked into Walt Disney World. Backstage, they study their lessons (all the cast helps them with their homework, but they get good grades, anyway). In their spare time, they are all knitting a scarf for Big Albert, which they hope to have finished for Christmas — three years from now!

Eight illustrations of bears from the Country Bear Jamboree.

Ernest the Dude wears a derby, collar, and lilac polka dot bow tie. He plays the fiddle. Ernest was voiced by Van Stoneman until July 1975. He was rerecorded by Randy Sparks. Ernest only sings “If Ya Can’t Bite, Don’t Growl” and does not appear in the grand finale. Ernest the Dude is a modern Beau Brummell, the well-dressed bear-about-town. He carries his wardrobe with him wherever he goes, which is difficult (not many motorists will pick up a bear hitchhiker with 17 trunks of clothes). He has 30 coats and 40 slacks (some of which fit), 60 shirts, 47 shoes, 20 hats, and a pair and a half of underwear. Each year, when the Ten Best Dressed are announced, Ernest the Dude is there (wondering why he isn’t on the list).

Teddi Barra, shown swinging from the ceiling in the Country Bear Jamboree.

Teddi Barra hails from the Dakotas and is alluring to a number of the cast members as is evident by their catcalls and whistles. Teddi descends from the ceiling on a rose-covered swing. She wears a feathered hat and a feather boa and carries a parasol. Teddi does not play an instrument. She was originally voiced by country singer Jean Shepard but Patsy Stoneman now provides the vocal.

Teddi Barra was discovered sitting on a soda fountain stool in an ice cream parlor three miles from Gentry, Arkansas. From there, her rise in show biz was meteoric, and the ravishing beauty is known as The Jewel of the Dakotas. Though she has always wanted to perform serious drama, her fans have never let her forget her feather boa and her parasol, both of which have been promised to the Daughters of Benton County Western Museum when they wear out. In Grizzly Hall, she performs her famous “Heart, We Did All We Could” while descending from the ceiling on a swing. She has been called The Last of the Big Time Swingers.

Big Al outside Grizzly Hall
Big Al walkaround character

Big Al is perhaps the “biggest” star of the show. Even before his curtain opens, the off-tune strums of his guitar bring laughter from the audience. Al has a personalized guitar and wears a red vest and hat. Al is voiced by Tex Ritter. Ritter might be the best-known name of the voice actors in this show. He’s a Country Music Hall of Fame member, movie actor, and father to John Ritter of “Three’s Company” fame. Big Al only sings “Blood on the Saddle.” Even during the grand finale, he continues with this piece while everyone else sings “Old Slew Foot.”

Big Albert says, “I was born in a cave near the Princess Theater in Pocatello, Idaho.” There was music in his blood, and he’s been playing his guitar since he was a child. It’s become more difficult — Big Al has grown, and the guitar hasn’t. He loves to sit in front of his cave and sing. He was the first to practice ecology. He didn’t litter his cave with tin cans and paper cartons — he ate ‘em. He was the resident bard and balladeer in the swamp before Walt Disney World was built (and three badgers and an alligator have expressed great joy that he is now singing for people). This is Big Al’s 10th farewell appearance.

Henry and Sammy from the Country Bear Jamboree.

Sammy is Henry’s raccoon friend and is voiced by Bill Cole. It’s appropriate that Sammy should be resting on Henry’s head while he sings “Davy Crockett.” Walt’s 1950s television program “Disneyland” featured three “Davy Crockett” episodes starring Fess Parker — who wore a coonskin cap. The show was a huge hit and the hat became a tremendous fad among boys all over the United States. A variation of the cap was marketed to young girls as the Polly Crockett hat.

Country Bear Jamboree Original Song List

Country Bear Jamboree characters
  • “Pianjo” (Don Robertson ) – Gomer and Henry
  • “Bear Band Serenade” (Lyrics: Xavier Atencio, Music: George Bruns) – The Five Bear Rugs, Gomer, and Henry
  • “Fractured Folk Song” (Kenneth C. Burns & Henry D. Haynes) – Henry and Wendell
  • “My Woman Ain’t Pretty (But She Don’t Sware None)” (Frankie Starr & Paul E. Miller) – Liver Lips McGrowl
  • “Mama, Don’t Whip Little Buford” (Burns & Haynes) – Henry and Wendell
  • “Tears Will Be the Chaser For Your Wine” (Dale Davis & Leroy Goates) – Trixie
  • “Devilish Mary” (Bradley Kincaid) – The Five Bear Rugs
  • “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” (Buck Owens) – Terrence
  • “All the Guys That Turn Me On Turn Me Down” (Plot & Powell) – The Sun Bonnet Trio
  • “If Ya Can’t Bite, Don’t Growl” (Tommy Collins) – Ernest and the Five Bear Rugs
  • “Heart, We Did All We Could” (Ned Miller) – Teddi Barra
  • “Blood on the Saddle” (Everett Cheetham) – Big Al
  • “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” (Tom Blackburn and George Bruns) – Henry and Sammy
  • “Ole Slew Foot” (Howard Hausey) – Cast (minus Ernest and Trixie, who do not appear onstage, and Big Al, who reprises “Blood on the Saddle”)
  • “Come Again” (Tom Adair & George Bruns) – Henry, Sammy, Max, Buff, and Melvin

The Country Bears Arrive at Disneyland

Walt Disney World was extremely pleased with the popularity of the show. East Coast guests loved the wacky bears and would eagerly stomp their feet and clap their hands when instructed to do so. They also often waited in a lengthy, mostly outdoor extended queue to see the show.

The entrance to the Country Bear Playhouse at Disneyland Park.

Disneyland had already greenlit a version of the show, and in fact, was building two theaters to handle the expected guest demand. A long hallway in the middle of the two theaters would be used as the waiting area. Based on what was happening at the Florida show, it seemed as if the investment had paid off.

The cover of the press kit for Bear Country at Disneyland Park.

Less than six months after Country Bear Jamboree premiered at the Magic Kingdom, an entirely new land opened at Disneyland. On March 24, 1972, Bear Country debuted, replacing the Indian Village located in the far northwest corner of the park. 

The Country Bear Jamboree.

However, the West Coast reaction to the show never approached that of Magic Kingdom. Bear Country was often deserted after sunset. Even the addition of Splash Mountain in 1989 did little to boost the attendance at the Country Bear Jamboree.

The poster for the Country Bear Jamboree.

There was only one other difference between the two versions of Country Bear Jamboree: Melvin and Max swapped places.

Sponsor Switch

Wonder Bread replaced Pepsi-Cola as the sponsor in 1975. Strangely, Henry continued to reference Pepsi-Cola’s 1969 – 1973 slogan, “You’ve got a lot to live, Pepsi’s got a lot to give!” Henry announced, “Just refrain from hibernatin’… and we’ll all enjoy the show, ’cause we got a lot to give!”

Tokyo Disneyland

The exterior of the Country Bear Theatre at Tokyo Disneyland.

Tokyo Disneyland would be a park comprising the “best of” both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. Rumor has it that Oriental Land Company executives simply went to both parks and picked out what they wanted to replicate. One of those things was the Country Bear Jamboree and it was an opening day attraction on April 15, 1983.

A pamphlet for the Country Bear Jamboree at Tokyo Disneyland.

Like Disneyland, this park has two theaters. Unlike Disneyland, it would play to large audiences throughout the day. It’s interesting to note, the spoken dialogue is in Japanese, but several of the songs are sung in English. Another subtle difference in the Tokyo version of this show is that the curtains behind the bears are black rather than red.

Country Bear Christmas Special

Country Bear Christmas Special at Tokyo Disneyland
Country Bear Christmas Special at Tokyo Disneyland

On December 19, 1984, Disney introduced the Country Bear Christmas Special at both the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. Directed and animated by Dave Feiten and Mike Sprout, this show featured holiday songs, new outfits, and the replacement of Shaker with a lookalike polar bear. The show was presented each year from mid-November through early January. Country Bear Christmas Special was the first “interchangeable” Disney attraction. This paved the way for more modern attractions to have interchangeable seasonal overlays.

Watch The Country Bear Christmas Special at Magic Kingdom:

Country Bear Christmas Song List:

The poster for the Jingle Bell Jamboree holiday overlay.
  • “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”- Melvin
  • “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”- Henry and Gomer
  • “Tracks in the Snow”- The 5 Bear Rugs and Henry
  • “12 Days of Christmas (Oh What a Christmas)”- Wendell
  • “The Hibernating Blues”- Trixie
  • “Deck the Halls”- The 5 Bear Rugs
  • “Rock and Roll Santa”- Liver Lips McGrowl and Gomer
  • “Blue Christmas”- Terrence (with his penguin)
  • “Sleigh Ride”- The Sun Bonnets
  • “Hungry as a Bear”- Ernest and The 5 Bear Rugs
  • “The Christmas Song”- Henry and Teddi Barra
  • “Another New Year”- Big Al
  • “Let It Snow/ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/ Winter Wonderland”- Cast (except Ernest & Trixie as she is on the opposite side of the stage from Henry and Ernest is opposite Big Al’s stage)

Tokyo received a version of the Christmas show known as the Jingle Bell Jamboree in 1988.

Country Bear Vacation Hoedown

A photo of the exterior of Grizzly Hall during the Vacation Hoedown overlay.
Source: RetroWDW.com

Due to the popularity of the Country Bear Jamboree, it was decided that a new show should be developed for the attraction’s 15th anniversary. In February 1986, the Vacation Hoedown show debuted at Disneyland. In May 1986, it debuted at Walt Disney World. At this time, all sponsorships were removed. This variation on the original production featured the bears enjoying nature and the joys of summer travel.

Most of the cast was given a new outfit and/or prop that in some way represented outdoor activities. Many of the voices in the show sound different from the original, even though Pete Ronoudet and Thurl Ravenscroft returned. The one variation to the cast was the elimination of Sammy, Henry’s raccoon pal, to be replaced by Randy the skunk. This show didn’t arrive at Tokyo Disneyland until July 15, 1994, under the name of Vacation Jamboree.

A photo of The Five Bear Rugs during the Vacation Hoedown overlay.
Source: Yesterland

Its opening is different from the other shows because Max, Buff, and Melvin do not talk at the beginning. Instead, the Five Bear Rugs can be heard tuning up their instruments. Zeke calls for Rufus to turn on the lights, and then the show begins with “The Great Outdoors.”

Disneyland & Disney World Vacation Jamboree Song List:

  • “The Great Outdoors” – The 5 Bear Rugs and Henry
  • “Life’s No Picnic Without You” – Trixie
  • “On the Road Again” – Wendell
  • “We Can Make It To the Top” – Liver Lips McGrowl
  • “California Bears” – The Sun Bonnets, Gomer, Max, Buff, and Melvin
  • “Two Different Worlds” – Terrence the Shaker (with Dolores the octopus)
  • “Rocky Top” – The 5 Bear Rugs
  • “Nature” – Ernest the Dude
  • “Singin’ In the Rain” – Teddi Barra and Henry
  • “Ghost Riders In the Sky” – The 5 Bear Rugs
  • “On My Way To Your Heart” – Big Al
  • “Thank God I’m a Country Bear” – Cast

Tokyo Disneyland Vacation Jamboree Song List:

The poster for the Vacation Jamboree overlay at Tokyo Disneyland.
  • “The Great Outdoors” – The 5 Bear Rugs and Henry (sung in Japanese)
  • “On the Road Again” – Wendell (sung in Japanese)
  • “Achy Breaky Heart” – Trixie (Verses 1 &3 in Japanese and verse 2 in English)
  • “Over My Head Over You” – Terrence (with Dolores the octopus)(sung in Japanese) Note: This song was originally going to be used in the US version, before “Two Different Worlds” was decided upon.
  • “California Bears” – The Sun Bonnets, Gomer, Max, Buff, and Melvin (sung in English but abbreviated from the U.S. version)
  • “We Can Make It To the Top” – Liver Lips McGrowl and The Sun Bonnets (sung in English)
  • “Singin’ In the Rain” – Teddi Barra and Henry (sung in English)
  • “Mountain Music” – Ernest the Dude, Henry and The 5 Bear Rugs (sung in Japanese)
  • “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” – Big Al (sung in Japanese)
  • “Camptown Races / She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain / V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N” – Cast (sung in Japanese)

While the Country Bears receive little to no theme park merchandise today, they had an entire line of plush when this show debuted. Most of the characters were produced complete with their special outfits, most notably Big Al in his miner outfit. Country Bear plush and bean bags were available until the early 2000s, around the time the show closed at Disneyland. The other reason Country Bear merchandise appeared around this time was that Walt Disney World opened a store called “Bearly Country” on June 6, 1985, which filled the former interior extended queue. The store closed on February 25, 1991, and became Prairie Outpost & Supply, which operated until the COVID-19 pandemic closure.

Marc Davis hated the idea of Christmas and summer versions of Country Bear Jamboree, according to his wife Alice Davis. She said, “He never understood why they didn’t just leave these things alone. They just make them worse when they mess with them.”

“Comin’ Back Again” – Return of the Original

The exterior of Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom.

Although the hoedown show was well received, it failed to maintain the numbers of its predecessor at the Magic Kingdom. So on October 1, 1991, Vacation Hoedown was retired after just five years and the original Country Bear Jamboree returned, just in time for the attraction’s and the Magic Kingdom’s 20th anniversary.

“The Bear End” at Disneyland

At Disneyland, Vacation Hoedown played on until the Country Bear Jamboree closed permanently. The Country Bear Playhouse closed forever at Disneyland on September 9, 2001, to make room for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

“The Country Bears” Movie (2002) – “If ya’ can’t say somethin’ nice…”

The poster for Disney's The Country Bears live-action film.

Beary Barrington (Haley Joel Osment, singing voice by Elizabeth Daily), a young bear raised by a human family in a world where humans and talking bears coexist, attempts to trace his roots. He meets up with the Country Bears, a long-since broken-up band and a parody of bands like the Eagles. Beary helps the Country Bears reunite for one final concert while searching for who he truly is.

Thanks to Beary, the Country Bears realize how wrong they were to break up, which they did due to various petty arguments that escalated, and Beary returns home to his family who he realizes truly do care about him, even his brother who somewhat bullies him. The Bears, after reading an essay Beary wrote about them, decide to do the concert to save Country Bear Hall (Grizzly Hall), the place at which they used to perform, but refuse to do so without Beary who brought them back together.

They go to get him and his family, but while Ted Betterhead, the band leader who was the most reluctant to reunite is apologizing to Beary and explaining everything to him, Thimble (Christopher Walken), the villain who wants to destroy Country Bear Hall, kidnaps the rest of the Bears.

Thanks to an idea from Dex, Beary’s older brother Ted, Beary and Beary’s family are able to track down and rescue the Bears and head to the concert together. Unfortunately, the guy they hired to promote it was paid off by Thimble not to so it looks like they aren’t going to be able to save the Hall after all. But then Big Al, the caretaker of the hall reveals that everyone was just out back, and when he opens the door, a massive amount of people rush in. The money from the concert is revealed to be enough to save the Hall and the Bears perform the concert with Beary as a member of the band.

The film was a flop. Budgeted at US$35 million, it grossed only $16,990,825 in the US and an additional $1,021,272 overseas. The film was released on DVD and VHS on December 17, 2002. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film only received a 26% positive rating. Film critic Roger Ebert said, “The formidable technical skills in ‘The Country Bears’ must not be allowed to distract from the film’s terminal inanity.” Critic Sean O’Connell said of the film, “Bears is bad. Not ‘terrible filmmaking’ bad, but more like, ‘I once had a nightmare like this, and it’s now coming true’ bad.” It had a few positive reviews but most criticized it for lacking entertaining acting or an enjoyable storyline.

Despite all the celebrities on hand, this spin-off from a theme park attraction still feels tired and hokey.

Rotten Tomatoes

Christopher Walken was nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor for his performance in the film.

That entire production was an enormous embarrassment for The Walt Disney Company, and Disney was soundly ridiculed by its Hollywood rivals for daring to try and turn one of its theme park attractions into a major motion picture.

Disney released “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” the next year.

Critter Country 500

Critter Country 500 poster

There were attempts by those at Walt Disney Imagineering to keep the Country Bear characters in Disneyland, even if their show wasn’t a big draw. Pitches included the one and only, original, Country Bear Jamboree dark ride, the Critter Country 500. Concept art for this attraction was released by Kirk Hanson.

This ride would have replaced the Country Bear Jamboree instead of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Henry and Sammy in Critter Country 500 concept art

Henry and Sammy the raccoon look like they would be your broadcasters for the race.

Gomer in concept art for the Critter Country 500 attraction.

Gomer the beloved piano player would be in charge of steering a contraption for the race instead of tickling the ivories.

Ted in concept art for the Critter Country 500 attraction.

Ted swapped his corn jug to help power his vehicle which slightly resembles an outhouse.

What else would we expect from what we know of the Country Bears though? Some serious “Wacky Races” vibes.

Country Bear Christmas Special, “It’s Been Good To Have Ya”

A black and white photo of the Country Bears Christmas Special.

The Bears’ holiday show would enjoy seasonal runs at Walt Disney World through 2005. Disney never made any official acknowledgment as to why this show did not return in 2006, but budget cuts were probably the culprit as holiday decoration money went into the new Cinderella Castle Dreamlights. The lights have since been retired and replaced with projections, but the Country Bear Christmas Special remains extinct.

The Christmas and Vacation Hoedown versions of Country Bear Jamboree have not returned to Tokyo Disneyland since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2008 Refurbishment

The Country Bear Jamboree had a large refurbishment between September 28 and October 31, 2008. All of the speakers in Grizzly Hall were replaced and the “bear skins” and clothes were refreshed, giving most of the bears longer, more realistic hair. The sound system still was a source of guest complaints though.

2012 Refurbishment

On August 21, 2012, the Walt Disney World version of the Country Bear Jamboree closed for a nearly two-month-long refurbishment. All the characters in the show received new skin, fur, and costumes. The songs “Pretty Little Devilish Mary” and “Fractured Folk Song” and some of the dialogue were removed, while other songs were shortened. The show is now four to five minutes shorter than it was before. The shorter version of the show opened on October 17, 2012.

Many suspected that “Mama, Don’t Whup Little Buford” was going to be removed at this time, but it somehow survived. However, the “fat shaming” of Trixie by Buff was removed. Funny enough, you can still see Buff, Malvin, and Max mouth these lines during Trixie’s number, there’s just no audio playing of them speaking.

#SaveTheJamboree

A two-photo collage with the Country Bear Jamboree on the left, and a still from "Toy Story 2" on the right.

On June 17, 2019, WDWNT published a rumor that the Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom would be closed and replaced with a “Toy Story” audio-animatronic marionette show themed to Woody’s Roundup. The story made national news, and Disney remained quiet for weeks in anger about the leak. Disney management was bombarded with social media posts, comments on articles, and physical letters during that time.

Once WDWNT also shared plans for a “Moana” retheme of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Disney decided to simply nix both projects and publicly deny that there were any plans to remove either show. This was the only time The Walt Disney Company ever publicly responded to a fan site on their official media channels.

The Country Bear Musical Jamboree

Concept art for a show featuring the Country Bears performing Disney music.

A show featuring the Country Bears performing Disney music was originally planned for Tokyo Disneyland in the 2010s but was never implemented. After Country Bear Musical Jamboree was announced, former Walt Disney Imagineer Ethan Reed shared a post about first pitching the Disney songs version almost 20 years ago.

When the “Toy Story” marionette show was canned in August 2019, the Disney music show was greenlit for Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The attraction was in the planning stages when Walt Disney World closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, delaying the project.

Country Bear Musical Jamboree 2024 poster

Disney finally announced the Country Bear Musical Jamboree on September 9, 2023, at Destination D23. The new show will pull inspiration from the musical revues of Nashville, as the bears reinterpret Disney songs “in different genres of country music, including bluegrass, pop-country, Americana, rockabilly,” and more. Disney has teased that the new show will be full of references to the original show, but also that a beloved song may remain in the show.

Behind-the-scenes videos about the development of the Country Bear Musical Jamboree include “The Bare Necessities” from “The Jungle Book.” No other songs have been confirmed for the show yet.

Disney Parks Blog stated the “same famous characters” will remain in the show. Disney released a poster for Country Bear Musical Jamboree featuring many of the original characters. Liver Lips McGrowl is the only bear with a new name: Romeo Mcgrowl. The name change is because “liver lips” is a derogatory term. McGrowl has not been referred to as Liver Lips internally for several years. His new look with a pompadour hair-do seems to draw inspiration from his Elvis impression during the Country Bear Christmas Special.

The original Country Bear Jamboree closed on January 26, 2024, after a 53-year run at the Magic Kingdom (albeit interrupted for five years by Vacation Hoedown, seasonally for many years for the Christmas Special, and with a few changes in 2012). The Country Bear Musical Jamboree is scheduled to open in the summer of 2024. The original version of Country Bear Jamboree (with Japanese dialogue) remains open at Tokyo Disneyland.

Watch our full history video below.

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Author

  • Tom Corless

    Tom has been regularly visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort from the time he was 4 months old. While he has made countless visits in the last 28 years, he did not become a truly active member in the Disney fan community until the summer of 2007, when he decided to launch the WDW News Today website and podcast. Tom has since become an Orlando-local and is a published author on Walt Disney World. Contact Tom at tom@wdwnt.com.

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