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Country Bear Jamboree: The Story Behind Disney's Historic Dinner Attraction

Screengrab from YouTube

While visitors to Walt Disney World love all of the memorable rides, many of which are inspired by some of their favorite classic Disney films, let's not forget some of the historic attractions like the Country Bear Jamboree. The dinner show has been a staple at the Magic Kingdom in Flordia since the '70s. 

Walt Disney first wanted the attraction to be a part of his Mineral King Ski Resort in California, which he was working on in the '60s. The idea was to have a band of bears which would entertain the guests during dinner. Imagineer Marc Davis was assigned the project which he worked on with animator Al Bertino. Unfortunately, Disney never got to see the completed project since he passed away in 1966, but the initial sketches entertained him. 

Plans for the Disney ski resort fell through, but the Imagineers kept working on the group of bears, decided to give them a little country twang, and put them in a restaurant in the Magic Kingdom in the Florida park for their grand opening in 1971. George Bruns, a longtime Disney composer who actually won an Academy Award for his work on Sleeping Beauty in 1959, composed the music for the bears. The singing group of electronic bears was ready to go when Disney World opened its doors on October 1, 1971. A replica at the Disneyland park in California opened on March 4, 1972, and due to popularity, was even expanded overseas to their Japanese Disney park, Tokyo Disneyland, in 1983.

The dinner theater show features a slew of bears that entertain you throughout the evening. Henry is the Master of Ceremonies who leads the show, clad in his top hat. Other characters in the show include Liver Lips McGrowl, Wendell, Teddi Berra, Ernest, Terrence, Trixie, Big Al, The Sun Bonnet Trio (Bunny, Bubbles, and Beulah), Gomer, Baby Oscar, and The Five Bear Rugs (Zeke, Zed, Fred, Ted, and Tennessee). Throughout the show, the audio-animatronic characters perform the original music. You even get some entertainment from the wall-mounted animal heads, Max, Buff and Melvin.

The attraction even features songs by country legends, such as Buck Owens.

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In 2002, Disney brought their bear band to the big screen in the musical film, The Country Bears. This was the second time that Disney created a movie based on one of their theme park attractions, following Tower of Terror in 1997. The Peter Hastings directed film focused on a few of the primary bear characters from the original attraction -- Henry, Ted, Zeb, Fred, Tennessee, Trixie and Big Al, voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson, Diedrich Bader, Stephen Root, Brad Garrett, Toby Huss, Candy Ford, and James Gammon, respectively. Haley Joel Osmont co-stars as "Beary Bearington," a major Country Bears fan who is also...a bear.     

The Disney attraction is located in the Frontierland section of the Magic Kingdom, which is centered around the theme of the "Old West," with homages to cowboys, pioneers, saloons, and even the American gold rush. Other longtime favorite attractions near the Country Bear Jamboree show are Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Mark Twain Riverboat. The area is known as "Westernland" in Tokyo. 

Unfortunately, the Disneyland California show was closed down in 2001 to make room for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride, so now the only American Disney park where you can see the bears is Orlando. The Country Bear Christmas Special and The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown were two special versions of the show that are shown in rotation, depending on the time of year. However, Tokyo is the only park that is currently running all three different versions of the show. If you ever find yourself in Orlando, the show is quite an experience and definitely fun for the entire family!

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Country Bear Jamboree: The Story Behind Disney's Historic Dinner Attraction