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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Country Bears (review)

Bear Idiocy

The horror, the horror.

It’s not like The Country Bears Jamboree is one of those attractions you race to at Disney World. No. It’s the one you duck into (hoping no one sees you enter) when the line at Space Mountain is two hours long and you’ve just got to get out of the heat and sit down for a few minutes. And then the sad spectacle of fake ursines belting out mediocre country music over tinny loudspeakers while jerking around animatronically chases you out soon enough, though the nightmares dog you for weeks.

Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s a ride to turn into a movie. Sure, it would be just as crass, but at least it has the potential, however slight, to be cool. But The Country Bears Jamboree? That’s just not right.

I guess it could have been worse. We could have been subjected to It’s a Small World: The Motion Picture.
The Country Bears is so relentlessly awful that it can’t even create a cohesive world to let the people in bear suits — frighteningly ridiculous bear suits — run around in. We’re supposed to believe that a “legendary” “rock ‘n’ roll” “band” called The Country Bears — whose members were all, yes, real bears — broke up a decade ago, after leaving their mark on the music world, the people-music world. They were huge, like Lynyrd Skynyrd or something, as the many would-be hilarious cameos from actually famous and actually cool musicians — Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, Brian Setzer, Willie Nelson, John Hiatt, etcetera — would have us believe. Bears — or, rather, people in frighteningly ridiculous bear suits — have clearly been accepted into polite society.

So why does human Dex Barrington (Eli Marienthal: The Iron Giant) think it’s so weird that his adopted brother, Beary, is, well, a bear (or, rather, a boy or a midget or an otherwise small person in a frighteningly ridiculous bear suit)? Why does he think it’s so weird that his parents (Stephen Tobolowsky: Memento, and Meagen Fay) love Beary as much as they love Dex? Why is one of Beary’s baby mementos an electronic tracking collar? Is there legal trafficking in Ursine-Americans even though they’re very obviously sentient and intelligent?

This terrifies me. Imagine Geena Davis’s Mrs. Little turning away from giving Stuart his lunch for school to put out a mousetrap to catch the pesky vermin hiding in the baseboards, and that’s how disturbing The Country Bears is. It’s wrong and evil. And this is supposed to be a children’s movie.

There are many other disquieting things to contemplate here. Why is Christopher Walken (The Affair of the Necklace) in this movie? What compelled the parents of Haley Joel Osment (A.I. Artificial Intelligence) to allow him to give voice to Beary? (They seem to have had such good instincts for their son’s career previous to this, but there is one saving grace, at least for Haley Joel: his voice is unrecognizable, for which I’m sure he’ll be grateful in twenty years’ time.) How did director Peter Hastings — who was a writer, story editor, and producer on the brilliant Pinky and the Brain — descend so low?

Somebody, please, hold me till I feel better.

Beary (*groan* Beary? Beary?) is supposedly a huge fan of The Country Bears, which seems unlikely, since their music isn’t very good, despite the fact that some of it was written by John Hiatt and Brian Setzer. So he runs away from home, as young, misunderstood outcasts like Beary are wont to do– No, wait. We’re told that Beary is a young, misunderstood outcast, but that doesn’t make much sense, because his parents adore him and even the moron cops who are called in to investigate his running-away think he looks like a nice kid in the photo of him they’re given. They, too, obviously see nothing strange about a human couple with a bear son, so what’s the problem with Dex again?

I want to make a lame joke that ends with Does a bear crap in the woods?, but all the bear crap is up on the screen.

If only someone had gotten mauled, like the Walken character is asking for. That would have been interesting, at least. Some people may not like mice, but at least they can’t hurt you, and even real mice are cute. Bears are not nice: they hurt people, if you’re mean to them, as Walken is, or even if you just get in their way. There’s not much respect for the power and majesty of bears here. Let’s just hope no real bears ever see it.


MPAA: rated G

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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