Finally, it’s happened: a movie based upon a theme park exhibit rather than the reverse. Extrapolated from Disney World’s lifeless but kid-friendly Country Bear Jamboree robot show, The Country Bears (Buena Vista, in general release) was explicitly conceived by a Disney exec as a steal from The Blues Brothers: Disbanded pop group reunites on a road trip to play one last show and save the concert-hall homestead. However prosaic narratively, this ingrown mutant is easily the most bizarre children’s film made in this country since 1982’s lab-rat apocalypse The Secret of NIMH. Huge, semi-caricatured, Hensontronic talking bears pepper the otherwise realistic Southern landscape, occupying mostly service-industry jobs—the prospect of a truly berserk, Apes-type race-relations metaphor looms but then collapses in a drawling muddle of cheap jokes. (Many of the film’s humans cannot distinguish bears from people, but everyone recognizes the celebrity beasts.)
The unaddressed incongruities are as stupefying as the music; certainly, the heavily fanged bears are convincing and threatening enough to make you hope for a royal When Animals Attack maiming, particularly during dance numbers featuring Disney Records contractees Krystal Harris and Jennifer Paige. It would have been just as bracing to see showboating villain Christopher Walken sink his incisors into the throat of the Haley Joel Osment-voiced subteen ursus, but the only catharsis offered is a visit to a skid-row “honey bar” and the sight of Walken wearing a bandolier of rainbow-tufted tranquilizer darts.