The Country Bears

Release Date: July 26, 2002

Where are my Chuck E. Cheese tokens?

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An orphan learns that a building significant to him is to be torn down unless money can be raised to save it. So he reunites the band for one last gig to raise the money. No, it's not the Blues Brothers.

Wait, let's try this one. An animal is raised by humans, never realizing he's different from his "family." Soon, he returns to his natural environs, to interact with his own kind. A reversal of Tarzan? Nope.

How about this? A family adopts a "boy" who isn't human. Soon, the non-human adoptee, played by Haley Joel Osment, leaves home, searching for where he belongs. AI, right?

Wrong, it's actually the 2002 Disney summer kids' movie, The Country Bears.

You read that right: The Country Bears. You know, the animatronic bears that "perform" the jamboree in Country Bear Hall at Disney World and Disneyland.

The plot of the movie is basically summarized above. A ten-year-old bear, who has been raised as human by a nice family, is told by his jealous brother that he's adopted. And a bear (Yup, he never realized he was not human). The bear, voiced by Osment, leaves home and heads to Tennessee, only to find that Country Bear Hall is set to be razed by an evil banker, played by Christopher Walken. Osment's bear decides to get The Country Bears, the original bear band that played at the Hall, together for one last concert to raise the money to save the Hall. It has been reported in the trade papers that Disney is so happy with the way this film is progressing that it has already contracted with the screenwriter to work on a sequel.

The bears are being designed by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, so they are sure to look good. The music for the movie is being penned by John Hiatt, of all people.

Along with Osment and Walker, the cast reads like a bad episode of The Love Boat, with B-grade television stars Diedrich Bader from The Drew Carey Show, Darryl Mitchell from Veronica's Closet, Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond, and Stephen Root from NewsRadio. And Walken, in a kids' movie? It's happened before. He was one of the voices in Antz ($17.2 million in its debut weekend) and had a part in Mouse Hunt ($6.06 million in its opening weekend). But I guess the cast is beside the point.

The last two Muppet movies failed to break $10 million in their opening weekends. Muppets from Space, released in July of 1999, took in $4.83 million in its first weekend. Muppet Treasure Island, starring Tim Curry as the evil human villain terrorizing the Muppets, made $7.91 million over a President's Day weekend. How much do you want to bet that Curry was the second choice behind Walken to play the evil banker? I imagine Curry is always the second choice behind Walken for such characters. Then after Curry, maybe Alan Cummings...ah, but I digress. Of course, these movies did not have the muscle and money of Disney behind their marketing. Recent Disney releases such as Atlantis ($20.34 million as a summer 2001 release) have fared much better at the box office. Other children's films that bowed during the summer have done well also. Shrek took in an awesome $42.35 million in its first weekend, while Chicken Run made $17.11 million in its debut in the summer of 2000. But just because a children's film is released during the summer does not guarantee a great box-office return. Thomas and the Magic Railroad, released the same weekend in 1999 that The Country Bears is set to be released in 2002, only took in $4.15 million in its opening weekend.

Perhaps the most comparable film to The Country Bears is 101 Dalmatians. It's a Disney film based upon a Disney product known to children. It combined human actors with animals, albeit real animals rather than animatronic ones. An evil villain's plans must be thwarted by said animals by the end of the movie. 101 Dalmatians made $45.07 million in its opening weekend.

The key to the success of this movie will be marketing and, to a lesser extent, its summer competition. As the time gets closer, it will be important to see if Disney can make children and adults with children aware of its movie and sell it as a tie-in to the Disney attraction for which many have a fondness. If it can, this could be another Disney winner. (Calvin Trager/BOP)

Vital statistics for The Country Bears
Main Cast Haley Joel Osment, Elizabeth Daily, Eli Marienthal, Diedrich Bader, Brad Garrett, Stephen Root, Christopher Walken
Supporting Cast Don Henley, John Hiatt, Elton John, Krystal, Queen Latifah, Willie Nelson
Director Peter Hastings
Screenwriter Mark Perez
Distributor Walt Disney Pictures
Trailer Click Here for Trailer
Official Site
Rating G
Running Time 88 minutes
Screen Count 2,553
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture

Comparison films for The Country Bears
Adjusted Opening
Total BO
Adjusted Total
Shrek 5/18/0142.35 45.20 3587 11805.00 12118.4 267.65 285.66 6.32
Atlantis: The Lost Empire 6/15/0120.34 21.70 3011 6756.00 6935.4 84.04 89.69 4.13
Antz 10/2/9817.20 22.11 2449 7023.00 8685.2 90.71 116.62 5.27
Chicken Run 6/23/0017.11 19.14 2491 6869.00 7391.5 106.79 119.46 6.24
Parent Trap, The (1998) 7/31/9811.15 14.33 2247 4962.00 6136.4 66.30 85.24 5.49
Hearts in Atlantis 9/28/019.53 10.17 1751 5440.00 5584.4 24.19 25.81 2.54
Muppet Treasure Island * 2/16/967.91 10.79 2070 3821.00 5014.0 34.30 46.79 4.34
Mouse Hunt 12/19/976.06 7.96 2674 2266.00 2863.4 61.84 81.23 10.20
Muppet Christmas Carol 12/11/925.01 7.27 2075 2414.00 3373.8 27.28 39.63 5.45
Muppets From Space 7/16/994.83 5.75 2265 2132.00 2434.2 16.25 19.36 2.98
Thomas and the Magic Railroad 7/28/004.15 4.64 2106 1971.00 2120.9 15.88 17.76 3.25



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