Celebrating the Country Bear Jamboree As It Closes this Month & Re-Opens this Summer
Disney has announced this week that the Country Bear Jamboree will be closing on January 27th of this year, with a promise of re-opening as the Country Bear Musical Jamboree “later this summer”. We talk about Disney’s news and the new upcoming show. And then we talk about why we love the Country Bears and their significance to the park and to the original heritage of Walt Disney World. Disney has also hinted and suggested that more announcements of things to come to Magic Kingdom are on their way. And by the way, did you know that most people would rather be an animatronic bear? We’ll share more in this podcast, so join us as we celebrate the Country Bear Jamboree.
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Get ready to knee slap and toe-tap to a little country twang this summer!
If you’ve been too busy trottin’ through the wild west and have missed the news, the Country Bears are getting ready to put on a new show that pays homage to the Opry-style shows of Nashville. While the Country Bear Musical Jamboree will include easter eggs from the beginning to the end including a familiar tune fans may remember, the bears will sing new, reinterpreted Disney tunes in different genres of country music – like bluegrass, pop-country, Americana, rockabilly and other styles.
To prepare for the show, Grizzly Hall will close temporarily beginning Jan. 27 and will reopen later this summer.
Why We Love the Country Bear Jamborees
If you’ve never seen The Country Bear Jamboree, it’s hard to explain why this modest attraction among massive experiences in Walt Disney World has such a beloved almost-cult following. If you’re one of the people who don’t get it, you’re not alone. There are others–even within Disney.
For instance, many Imagineers don’t get it. They went in with a knife and cut out over a fourth of the show a few years ago. They tried to make some of the bears more hip. It didn’t work. Still, the show is so good it survived despite it.
Certainly operations management doesn’t get it. Hours for the attraction begin an hour after opening and end earlier than park closing. And yet, prior to opening, you can find a crowd of people standing around, waiting to get in. And throughout the day, you can find lots of guests. It’s beloved. But why?
Here is my take on why this is such a beloved attraction.
1. Unique. The Country Bear Jamboree was the first attraction built in Florida that hadn’t been built in Disneyland. While originally designed for the Mineral King ski development, the show ended up in Florida when that project came to an end and when something was needed for Frontierland. Much of the promotional material during those early years played up on attractions unique to Walt Disney World such as the Hall of Presidents, the Mickey Mouse Revue, the resort nature of the property (in the iconic form of the monorail going through the Contemporary), and also the Country Bear Jamboree. Merchandise was created uniquely for the attraction to include plush, albums, and, I kid you not–paper dolls of the bears. In fact, I confess that as a kid, I created a stage with red curtains so I could showcase the bears. I would make my parents sit and watch while I changed out the bears, all the while listening to the album.
2. Top of the Ticket Book. Up until Big Thunder Mountain, the biggest ticket item was The Country Bear Jamboree. It started as a D-ticket in the ticket book, but there was no E-ticket attraction in Frontierland at the time. When Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island was finally built, Country Bears was promoted to being an E-Ticket attraction. It remained so until Big Thunder Mountain was built in 1980.
Remember that there were advantages to this. First of all, there were always more E and D tickets than C, B, and A’s. Consequently, there was much more demand to use such a ticket. There was also greater perceived value. E-tickets were about 90 cents. D-tickets 75 cents. C-tickets 50 cents. B-tickets 25 cents and A-tickets were 10 cents. As an uninformed guest given that information, you’re going to think to yourself, “Well if I’m going to get my money’s worth, I better use up the E and D-tickets before I’m through with the day.”
As a contrast to that, The Mickey Mouse Revue never had the same demand as The Country Bear Jamboree, even though it had a far bigger theater to hold guests and, consequently, less of a queue. It was never top of the ticket in Fantasyland because it had to compete with both it’s a small world and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Later it was pushed to a D-ticket instead of an E, sealing its fate as not as important to see.
3. Location, Location, Location. In the early days, the Country Bear Jamboree was at the center and the edge of the frontier. Remember that Pirates of the Caribbean was not yet open, so guests were coming up from the Jungle Cruise landing or Tropical Serenade (both E-tickets) and coming right into the Country Bear Jamboree. Other than the Davy Crockett’s Canoes and eventually the Railroad station in Frontierland (which did not open when the park first did), there was simply nothing else to go visit. No Splash Mountain. No Thunder Mountain. So visiting The Country Bear Jamboree seemed like the thing to do while you were in Frontierland.
And then there’s Tomorrowland. Much of what we know as Tomorrowland did not open until 1975. Attractions such as the Carousel of Progress, the WEDway PeopleMover, Star Jets, and especially Space Mountain were not there on opening day. Only a few attractions existed, and there was constantly a lot of fencing around everything else. Once those attractions all opened, people naturally turned to the right and headed into Tomorrowland. But up until then, they turned left and headed toward Adventureland and then Frontierland. So that part of the park played much more prominently in the agenda of guests visiting the park.
4. A Technically Great Attraction. In 1971, the concept of audio-animatronics had reached its first decade. The technology had progressed significantly from the tiki birds and gods of Tiki Room which opened ten years earlier. And ten years later they were still far more sophisticated than anything you could find in a Chuck E. Cheese. Christopher Finch’s The Art of Walt Disney summarized it well when it said:
“The Country Bear Jamboree is a more lighthearted affair [comparing it to the Hall of Presidents]. A dozen audio-animatronic bears put on a performance straight out of the Grand Ol’ Opry. The greatest success of the characters in the Bear Band (and this holds true of all audio-animatronic figures) is the skill with which their eyes have been programed. The audience’s attention is instinctively drawn to the eyes; if they were not convincingly naturalistic, the entire illusion would break down.”
This certainly plays out when you visit Tokyo Disneyland, the only other park that features this attraction. There they have two theaters offering a show that is both in English and Japanese. Check out this video of the Country Bear Vacation version. Note the quality of the animatronic movement.
5. Interactive. I didn’t grow up in Florida, but I saw the Country Bear Jamboree when it first opened at Disneyland in 1972. The memory of that experience came to me as I watched the show a couple of weeks ago at the Magic Kingdom. Guests were still clapping away as the Five Bear Rugs came forward with a musical number. I remembered how, as a child, I would try to get the audience to clap along. One person clapping can get the whole room clapping. Because I had the album, I sang along with the lyrics, though I found many doing the same when it came to Henry and Sammy’s rendition of the Ballad of Davy Crockett. The possibility of interacting with the show and the audience always made the show a “must do” for me.
Life is Better as an Animatronic Bear
In a satired look at the year in review back 2011, The Onion news source announced a playful statistic. Here’s the text which was accompanied by video of the Country Bear Jamboree:
“…and lastly, in the year’s most significant statistical study, researchers discovered this Spring that 96% of humans would rather be a singing, dancing animatronic bear. The study found that sitting on a plastic log, strumming a banjo, and singing songs on a stage with all your goofy bear friends is for the vast majority of the people on the planet far preferable to one’s current state of existence.
For many Disney fans, such data makes sense and can be easily assumed and taken as legitimate. But these are just the “bear” facts. Those who think critically may want to dig deeper and ask the following questions:
- Would those numbers be higher or lower if Disneyland still had the Country Bear Jamboree playing?
- If all the guys [girls] that turned me on, didn’t turn me down, would those numbers fluctuate?
- Was “running ninety miles an hour, making thirty feet a jump” the mean, medium, or mode?
- Is there a standard deviation between those who want to whip, pound or shoot little Buford?
- What statistical percentage of the blood all around was inclusive of what was on the saddle and what was on the ground?
- Were studies done on an individual’s preference toward being a grim grinning ghost or an enchanted tiki bird?
This of course “bearly” scratches the surface, but you get the idea.
But Wait! Is There More?
Disney went on to talk about new details on Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, but then shared the following:
But hold your horses, we’re not done yet. We have a lot of growth and investment planned for our theme parks in the coming years and look forward to sharing more announcements about Frontierland … so y’all come back now, ya hear?
It will be interesting to see what will come.
If you didn’t come to the Magic Kingdom in the 1970s, you might be confused as to why anyone would care about the Country Bear Jamboree. There are so many other things at the Magic Kingdom and throughout Walt Disney World that vie for your time. But this venerable attraction is important to the generations who have visited this park. And hopefully the changes ahead will keep this attraction timeless for years to come.
A Century of Powerful Disney Insights Book
You can order my newest book, “A Century of Powerful Disney Insights” on Amazon. It’s a great way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company. In over 100 years, The Walt Disney Company has emerged as one of the most successful entertainment entities across the globe. In this, the first of two volumes, we study the first 50 years of Disney, beginning with Walt and Roy. We look at major milestones and not only see the evolution of an organization begun in a garage, but how it truly became so beloved to millions around the world. From Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse through Snow White and Cinderella, from the Mouseketeers to Mary Poppins, and from Disneyland to Walt Disney World, we share stories and insights from 1923 to 1973. We hope you’ll be inspired with ideas and how you can apply these stories to your own life and work.
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