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Peter Hastings
Haley Joel Osment, Diedrich Bader, Candy Ford, James Gammon, Brad Garrett, Toby Huss
Writing Credits:
Mark Perez

They're legends. Bearly.
Box Office:
Budget $20 million.
Opening weekend $5.309 million on 2553 screens.
Domestic gross $16.988
Rated G.

Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English, French

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 12/17/2002

• Audio Commentary with Director Peter Hastings and Special Guests Ted and Zeb
• “The Country Bears: Out of the Woods” Mockumentary
• “The Country Bears Concert for America” ABC Special
• Video Mix Master Jamboree
• Sing With the Movie Subtitle Track
• Krystal “The Kid In You” Music Video
• THX Optimizer
• Sneak Peeks

Music soundtrack

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The Country Bears (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 16, 2002)

Hello, corporate synergy! With 2002’s The Country Bears, we find a movie adapted from an unusual source: a theme park attraction. For years, folks happily checked out the animatronic wonders of “The Country Bears Jamboree” at Walt Disney World and at Disneyland. They can’t do that anymore, at least not in California; while the Bears continue to perform in Orlando, the Anaheim version shut down to make room for a new Winnie the Pooh attraction.

Apparently the masses didn’t really desire to see a big screen iteration of the clan, as 2002’s The Country Bears flopped at the box office. It earned a mere $16 million for its entire run. Disney currently plans two additional theme park adaptations, as apparently Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion will hit theaters in 2003. Those possess a little greater cache, since they feature brighter star power; Eddie Murphy stars in Mansion, while Johnny Depp leads Pirates. Bears, on the other hand, boasts Christopher Walken as its biggest name, and he only appears in a supporting role.

When the DVD of Bears arrived on my door, I initially planned not to watch it. The movie received generally weak reviews in addition to audience apathy, and frankly, it looked like a silly and asinine piece of work. To my immense surprise, however, Bears actually provided a reasonably amusing film that should offer something for both kids and adults.

Early in the movie, we learn the history of the Country Bears, a musical band that reaches the heights of success but breaks up in 1991 due to internal strife. We fast-forward to the present day and meet Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment), a 10-year-old cub obsessed with the Country Bears. He lives with a human family who never told him he was adopted, though his brother Dex (Eli Marienthal) taunts him and eventually tells him the truth. Feeling adrift, Beary decides to find himself, so he leaves home and heads toward the legendary Country Bear Hall.

However, that edifice may not last much longer. Nasty banker Reed Thimple (Walken) wants to raze it, and since former band manager Henry Dixon Taylor (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) owes six years of back rent, it looks like this will occur. However, Beary proposes that they reunite the Bears to raise the money. Caretaker Big Al (James Gammon) encourages this concept, so Henry, Beary and Roadie (M.C. Gainey) hit the road to collect the four members of the Bears.

This leads them to find bassist/harmonica player Fred Bedderhed (Brad Garrett) first, and they also recruit failing businessman Rip Holland (Alex Rocco) to promote the show. The crew then work on fiddle player Zeb Zoober (Stephen Root), “one-sting thang” player Tennessee O’Neal (Toby Huss), and singer/guitarist Ted Bedderhed (Diedrich Bader) in that order. In the meantime, Beary’s parents (Steven Tobolowsky and Meagan Fay) worry about the boy and get two police officers (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell and Bader) to find their son.

Essentially a remake of The Blues Brothers with some elements of The Muppet Movie tossed in for good measure, Bears doesn’t exactly offer an inspired story. In fact, the whole tale appears quite trite and predictable, and not a single moment of it inspires any form of excitement in that realm.

However, the execution of the plot seems amusing and clever much of the time. Bears suffers from two problematic elements. As was the case with Muppet Movie, it includes way too many cameos from semi-big names. I won’t reveal their identities, as it may be more fun to see them as they appear, but they get tiresome after a while. Though some of them add a little spark, the overall effect makes them fairly numbing, and they feel like gratuitous additions to substitute for greater creativity.

In addition, Bears provides way too many musical numbers. Sure, in a story about a band, we expect some songs, but this one includes scads of montages, and we also get full-blown musical style performances from guests like Krystal and Jennifer Paige. These come across like nothing more than padding and they slow the movie badly.

Despite these definite weaknesses, Bears enjoys a lively spirit and mocking tone that make it enjoyable. Clearly a lot of work went into the creation of the Bears’ backstory materials, and these add a nice sense of reality and believability to the film. Of course, one must suspend disbelief to accept a flick that includes anthropomorphic bears, but the terrific detail lent to the album covers, songs and other pieces allows those elements to succeed, and they contribute to the charm and humor of the piece.

The cast – both live-action and vocal – also offer solid work. Bader and Mitchell seem especially amusing as the bumbling cops, and Walken provides a quirky presence. One definitely doesn’t expect to find an oddball like Walken in this sort of family fare, and that fact makes the movie more memorable. Walken totally submits to the spirit of the piece and lets his cartoon character become amusing. Marienthal – best known as Stifler’s little brother in American Pie - also makes Dex winningly obnoxious.

Essentially three seconds of plot spread out to 88 minutes, The Country Bears often feels like the corporate product it is. However, the filmmakers imbue a lot of humor to the flick, as it packs scads of throwaway gags that enliven it. Not much about Bears stands out from the pack, but it seems consistently entertaining and watchable.

Footnote: Bears offers some extended cameos during its closing credits. However, don’t switch off the disc when these finish. If you continue to the very end of the movie, you’ll find one more bonus that merits a look.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio C+ / Bonus B

The Country Bears appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Unfortunately, Disney decided that the folks who want to see Bears would prefer to watch it in an altered aspect ratio, not its original 1.85:1 dimensions. This means that fans are stuck with this edition; I’ve heard no plans for a DVD release with the correct ratio.

In addition to the lack of the original theatrical dimensions, Bears showed a mix of other problems, though it generally presented a decent image. For the most part, the picture remained crisp and well defined. Some wide shots displayed modest softness, but those concerns appeared infrequently. Most of the film displayed distinct and accurate images. I noticed no issues related to jagged edges or moiré effects, but some noticeable edge enhancement showed up at times. In regard to print flaws, the picture seemed consistently clean and fresh, with no signs of defects.

During most of the film, I found the colors to look nicely bold and vibrant. The movie exhibited a nicely broad but natural palette, and the DVD usually displayed vivid hues. Skin tones looked a bit ruddy at times and a few shots came across as a little thick, but overall, the colors worked well. Colored lighting at concerts seemed quite solid. Black levels appeared deep and rich, while shadow detail looked appropriately dense but not excessively heavy. Low-light shots such as those at the Bee Hive nightclub seemed clean and distinct. Ultimately, The Country Bears presented a good image, but even when I disregarded the annoying absence of the original aspect ratio, it seemed attractive but unspectacular.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Country Bears provided a fairly mediocre listening experience, mainly due to the film’s restricted soundfield. The film maintained a heavy emphasis on the forward channels. The concert scenes offered the movie’s most active sequences, as those featured good stereo spread and a decent sense of atmosphere. Overall, the surrounds offered little material. Even during vehicle chase scenes, the audio remained oriented in the front. The elements moved decently in those speakers, but they didn’t blend to the rears with the expected level of vividness.

Audio quality seemed fine. Speech came across as natural and crisp, and I noticed no signs of intelligibility or edginess. Music didn’t display terribly strong low-end response and could appear somewhat thick at times, but the songs appeared clear and bright and didn’t show any noticeable flaws. Effects were clean and distinct, and though they didn’t provide much bass impact, they sounded accurate and reasonably rich. Overall, the soundtrack for The Country Bears seemed perfectly serviceable for the film, but its lack of ambition and general sonic drabness meant it didn’t merit a grade over “C+”.

For this DVD release of The Country Bears, we find a mix of supplements. These start with an audio commentary from director Peter Hastings and special guests Ted and Zeb. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. If you want to learn lots about the making of Bears, you’ll need to look elsewhere, as this track includes almost no concrete facts about the production. If you want to experience a light and lively piece of comedy, you’ll probably get a kick from this track. The participants tell anecdotes from the point of view that the movie depicts real events and uses real bears, and it seems surprisingly entertaining. I didn’t expect to enjoy this commentary, but it actually provides some clever and amusing bits. Anyone who hopes to get the low-down on the production won’t like it, but fans of the movie should have fun with this witty discussion.

After this we find two featurettes. The Country Bears: Out of the Woods lasts 14 minutes and 18 seconds and mixes movie clips, faux archival materials, and interviews with musicians Xzibit, Brian Setzer, Queen Latifah, Krystal, Jennifer Paige, Wyclef Jean, and Willie Nelson, director Peter Hastings, film producer Andrew Gunn, actors Steven Tobolowsky and Meagan Fay, and Diedrich Bader, and movie characters Tennessee O’Neal, Zeb Zoober, Ted Bedderhead, Fred Bedderhed, and Trixie St. Clair, Roadie, Rip Holland, Trixie St. Clair, founding manager Henry Dixon Taylor, and Beary Barrington.

As you can probably tell from the roster of participants, “Woods” presents the movie characters as real-life personalities and pretends that Bears provides a documentary examination its subject. Despite the preciousness of that concept, “Woods” adopts a “Behind the Music” style show that offers a lot of fun. The look at the fake Bears artifacts seems particularly endearing, and the program generally offers a cute and amusing little piece. You won’t actually learn anything about the movie itself, but you’ll probably enjoy it nonetheless.

The second program, The Country Bears Concert for America, lasts 22 minutes and 27 seconds and gives us a somewhat different experience. Hosted by former MTV annoyance “Downtown” Julie Brown, this one’s supposed to take place at the Bears’ reunion show. We get cameo comments from Don Was, Willie Nelson, and Wyclef Jean as well as some statements from the Bears and their manager Henry Taylor. Some of this echoes material seen in “Woods”, but most of the program displays the concert itself. We watch the Bears as they muzzle-synch a few numbers. “Concert” offers a cute show but it seems less memorable and entertaining than “Woods”.

An editing segment, the Video Mix Master Jamboree comes hosted by Ted Bedderhed. You can select five clips from live performances and assemble them how you’d like to make one running music video. Basically this just creates an awkward collection of movie clips. When the DVD shifts between segments, it noticeably pauses, which ruins the flow. The idea seems fun, but the execution appears faulty and lackluster.

Sing with the Movie gives us a subtitle track. It provides song lyrics as the tunes appear in the film. This does little for me and doesn’t really expand on normal subtitles, but somebody might enjoy it.

We next find a music video for “The Kid In You” by Krystal Marie Harris. It lasts three minutes, 28 seconds and basically features the same kind of lip-synch footage seen in the movie. It simply omits the bears; otherwise, you’ll experience some déjŕ vu if you’ve watched the film. Krystal seems like little more than a weak Mariah Carey wannabe, and this video comes across as pretty flat.

Also included was the THX Optimizer program. It purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.

As the DVD starts, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, Beauty and the Beast: Belle’s Magical World, The Jungle Book 2, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, and Inspector Gadget 2. In addition, you’ll see these clips in the DVD’s Sneak Peeks domain plus promos for Atlantis II: Milo’s Return, The Country Bears soundtrack, and American Country Countdown. The trailer for Bears itself appears nowhere here, but if you own any Disney DVDs from the last few months, you’ll probably find it on one of those.

When I greeted The Country Bears, I feared the worst. Happily, I feared wrong. Despite more than a few cheesy elements, the movie actually provided a fairly clever and endearing presentation that amused me more than I’d like to admit. The DVD’s picture looked generally solid despite the lack of original aspect ratio, whereas the audio seemed pretty bland. The package included a surprisingly funny and likable audio commentary with a few other decent extras. If you can get past the modified dimensions of the picture, you might want to give The Country Bears a look, as it seems like something that families can enjoy together.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6 Stars Number of Votes: 35
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