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Disney From The Twenty-Something: “Country Bear Jamboree”

Caitlin CorselloWhile visiting Walt Disney World®, there is only one place to attend a swinging hoedown featuring bear and all kinds of other critters. Country Bear Jamboree in the Magic Kingdom® Park’s Frontierland® mixes rocking country tunes, corny jokes, and a one of a kind cast sure to leave guests humming long after the show is over.

Country Bear Jamboree originally was conceptualized by Walt Disney to be featured at a proposed Mineral King Ski Resort. Like many things Disney has created, when the resort never came to be, the bears were simply shifted to be an attraction in the parks. The attraction is actually one of the last that Walt Disney worked on personally, approving sketches from Imagineer, Marc Davis, only several days before his death in December 1966. After Walt’s passing, the bears continued to be developed finally opening with the Magic Kingdom as an E-Ticket attraction on October 1, 1971. A few months later on March 4, 1972, it opened in Disneyland®’s Critter Country making it the first attraction to appear in both parks that debuted in Walt Disney World® first. Years later, another version of the attraction opened on April 15, 1983, in Tokyo Disneyland®. However, on September 9, 2001, Country Bear Jamboree closed in Disneyland® to make way for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which debuted April 11, 2003. A lasting tribute remains honoring the attraction in Winnie the Pooh’s Hunny Heaven Room – after entering the room, turn around to find Buff, Max, and Melvin still hanging out over the doorway.

In addition to the swinging performance, the bears have also put on special Summer Vacation and Christmas versions of the show each featuring their own unique soundtrack, costumes, and props. The Christmas version ran seasonally from 1984 through 2006 and the Summer Vacations special ran from 1986 through 2001. Finally, in 2012, the attraction was edited to be shortened several minutes ultimately leading to the sixteen minute show guests enjoy today.

When approaching the attraction via the walkway along the Rivers of America in Frontierland®, Grizzly Hall gives off a rustic and homey feel blending perfectly with the theme of the land. Before entering into the lobby, look around you for a crate that was added in 2010 advertising “Davis Tabasco.” This was placed to honor Imagineer, Marc Davis’, extensive work developing the concept of the show and many of its characters. Upon entering into the lobby, you’ll find portraits of the show’s performers as well as lots of claw marks left behind from excited bears that have seen the show before you. Once you are situated in the main theater, look above the center stage for a tribute to the founder and creator of the show Ursus J. Bear (1848-1928). Also check out the various advertisements on the backdrop as there are some pretty corny puns to be found.

As the bears begin their performance, take a moment to appreciate the complexity of the Audio-Animatronics. While they are clearly bears, they were designed to have relatable human qualities which they utilize throughout the show as they entertain you, and don’t just think there are only bears here! While there are eighteen bears to entertain you, there is also a raccoon, buffalo, stag, moose, and skunk – so keep your eyes peeled to see them all.

Caitlin CorselloFirst introduced are Buff (voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft – who also voiced Fritz in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and a Grim Grinning Ghost in the Haunted Mansion®), Max (Peter Renaday), and Melvin (Bill Lee). They’ll be hanging around (groan!) through the whole performance, so don’t forget to look over every once and a while to find them bopping along to the beats. We then are introduced to our MC, Henry, also voiced by Peter Renaday, a famous voice performer who also leant his voice to Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the announcer on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and President Lincoln in The Hall of Presidents.

The festivities are kicked off right away and soon The Five Bear Rugs band featuring Zeke, Zeb, Ted, Fred, and Tennessee are rocking out with “Bear Band Serenade” which was written by Imagineers, X. Atencio and George Burns. Liver Lips McGrowl serenades (?) his lady with the classic “My Woman Ain’t Pretty (But She Don’t Swear None) and Henry and Wendell sing the cheeky favorite “Mama Don’t Whip Little Buford.” One of the most memorable bears is Trixie straight from Tampa to sing a tearful rendition of “Tears Will Be The Chaser For Your Wine” complete with her handkerchief and wine glass.

However, there are three acts which steal the show every time. The first is The Sun Bonnet Trio: Bunny, Bubbles, and Beulah voiced by Loulie Jean Norman, Peggy Clark, and Jackie Ward. The trio sings “All The Guys Who Turn Me On Turn Me Down” accompanied by a hilarious slide show demonstrating their bad luck in dating. The second show-stopper is Teddi Barra who is decked out in her finest hat and feather boa as she drops down from the ceiling to croon “Heart, We Did All That We Could.” She swings gracefully above the audience as some of the others bears proved to be enamored by her – including Henry who mentions that he’s going to find a ladder to climb up and visit her.

While those two acts are some of the most beloved, hands down the signature character and performance of the attraction comes in the form of Big Al. A rather huge and sad looking bear in teeny tiny clothing, Big Al, is a caricature of Al Bertino, a Show Writer and Lead Writer for Disney. Big Al plucks at his guitar in a pretty distinct way and belts out “Blood On The Saddle” which was recorded by country legend Tex Ritter for the attraction. Unfortunately, Big Al’s performance is cut off by Henry for the finale, but that doesn’t bother Al – he just keeps on playing his own song straight to the end of the show!

Caitlin CorselloMeanwhile, all of the other bears return for a show stopping finale of “Ole Slew Foot” and this marks the only time throughout the performance that guests can snap flash photography pictures, so if you are looking to capture a photo of the bears, the finale is your chance! As Henry wraps up the show, listen for a whole slew of corny bear, and I guarantee that you will have a song stuck in your head by the time you exit into Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café. Before you head out of the quick-service dining location, take a minute to look back at the doorway you just exited through – Buff, Max, and Melvin used to actually hang out (sorry – can’t help it!) there entertaining guests as they dined.

A fun thing to listen for throughout the show is Henry saying “we’ve got a lot to give.” This is actually from the original version of the show which was sponsored by Pepsi® who used that phrase as a slogan. I love little details like this that showcase the history of an attraction.

After leaving Grizzly Hall and the Country Bear Jamboree, you are guaranteed to be in a great mood and humming along in your head for the rest of your time in Frontierland®. So, ya’ll come back now ya hear?!

What is your favorite part of Country Bear Jamboree? Do you have a favorite bear or character? How about a favorite song? Let me know by leaving a comment below, I would love to hear from you!

(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)

Caitlin Corsello was born and raised in New York. She graduated from Adelphi University with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling in 2012. Her love for Disney started as an infant and has continued to grow with family vacations to Disney parks almost every year since. She holds a particular interest in WDW’s parks and attractions, never passing up an opportunity to visit. She looks forward to continuing to explore and learn about all things Disney and to share that passion with readers.