The Country Bears
An 11-year-old bear cub finally figures out he has been adopted by his human family (no kidding) and sets out to find himself, searching for his heroes--a defunct '60s country-rock band called The Country Bears.
One thing The Country Bears has in its favor is that the film keeps the plot simple. A convoluted storyline in which bears and humans interact would only make this even more painful to watch. Set in a music-video-type format, where the bears and the humans sing and dance and have a grand old time, the movie focuses on 11-year-old Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment), a young lad growing up with a very loving--and very human--family. Yet, something doesn't feel right to Beary. Maybe it's because his jealous older brother Dex (Eli Marienthal) keeps telling him he has been adopted. Or maybe it's because he is a bear. Whatever the reason, Beary feels connected only when he is playing his guitar and worshipping a hugely successful '60s rock band called The Country Bears--a quartet of big, hairy fellows with names like Tennessee O'Neal, Ted and Fred Bedderhead and Zeb Zoober, who broke up over ''creative differences'' many moons ago. Beary decides to head out into the wild beyond to look for his true heroes--and find his place in the world. What he discovers is that the old Country Bear Hall, where those wily bears used to perform, is going to be torn down by the evil Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken. Yes, we just said Christopher Walken.) Beary can't let this happen, so he comes up with the plan to find the ex-Bears, get them back together for a benefit concert and save the venue. Yee-haw.
Everyone associated with this film (from the actors to the long string of cameos by real-life musicians) surely believed they were making a fun-filled romp for the kiddies. You know, ''something to take the whole family to see,'' but they may not have realized how incredibly inane it would turn out to be. Or maybe Disney called in a lot of favors. Walken could have just lost a bet. The point is this--the human cast simply serves a purpose as the framework for the bears. Megan Fay and Stephen Tobolowsky are Beary's sugary-sweet mom and dad. Diedrich Bader and Daryl Mitchell play bumbling police officers looking for the hairy little fellow. Only Marienthal's Dex recognizes the absurdity of the situation--Beary is a bear, and Marienthal gets to say probably all three of the best lines in the film. Cameos by artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley and Elton John are fun but don't add much to the fray. Meanwhile, the vocal talents are notable only when real-life singers like Raitt and Henley (who ''sing'' a duet as Tennessee and lady bear Trixie) and country singer John Hiatt (also as Tennessee) get to perform. Haley Joel Osment, as the voice of Beary, is more animated than the young actor has ever had the chance to be onscreen, but there may be a reason for that--Osment is annoying as a chipper guy.
Most of us know about Disney theme parks and their most popular attractions--the Haunted House, the Pirates of the Caribbean and, of course, the Country Bear Jamboree. Now Disney has gotten the bright idea to turn these attractions into movies--cashing in on the familiarity--and those singing, dancing bears are the first guinea pigs. In other words, Disney is grasping at straws. Granted, the film is intended for children, but let's not insult their intelligence as well. Besides a bad script, so-so puppetry and sappy original songs, the most bothersome thing about The Country Bears is that the bears walk and talk like their human counterparts, have jobs, eat in restaurants and play in rock-and-roll bands, but there are only about six of them altogether. There aren't any other bears around. Or any other animals, for that reason. At least in a Muppet movie, the Muppets are everywhere, and so it's understood they simply co-exist with humans. If you were to meet one of these Country Bears on the street, you'd be very afraid.
Even for singing bears, good old-fashioned rock and roll and family entertainment, The Country Bears still ranks pretty low on the scale.