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  Country Bears, The Grizzly Men
Year: 2002
Director: Peter Hastings
Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Diedrich Bader, Candy Ford, James Gammon, Brad Garrett, Toby Huss, Kevin Michael Richardson, Stephen Root, Christopher Walken, Stephen Tobolowsky, Daryl Mitchell, M.C. Gainey, Alex Rocco, Meagan Fay, Eli Marienthal, Elton John
Genre: Musical, Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Back in 1991, one of the biggest country acts in the world split up, leaving their fans with some good memories but always wondering if they'd ever get back together. One of their youngest fans is Beary (voiced by Haley Joel Osment), a young cub who lives with the human family who have adopted him, but he is beginning to grow suspicious that this is not where he belongs, a notion only exacerbated by his mean big brother Dex (Eli Marienthal) who keeps on at him for being different. Their father (Stephen Tobolowsky) tells Beary that being different is no bad thing, but he decides he has to start out on his own...

In the early 2000s, the Walt Disney company settled on an idea to publicise their theme parks, and that was the seemingly so obvious you can't believe they never thought of it before mission to make their attractions in those parks into films. Pirates of the Caribbean was the biggest hit to emerge from that moneyspinning concept, but before those films came out there was an effort which was released to far less success, and that was The Country Bears, which even to those who saw it provoked some bafflement as to what on Earth it was they were watching.

Some enjoyed its glutinous sentimentality and exceedingly middle of the road new country that the bears ended up playing on the soundtrack, but with the title characters essayed by performers in specially designed costumes, the target audience appeared to be furry fandom, as furries, that is people who like to dress up in animal costumes for pleasure, would surely get more out of this movie than the average viewer. Funnily enough, another subculture warmed to this, and that was the dope-smokers for whom the sight of singing and talking bears were just the thing to spend ninety minutes with while high; it presumably made the comedy funnier, too.

But there's no getting away from it, The Country Bears is an incredibly stupid film. Its heart may be in the right place, complete with morals and self-improvement lessons about embracing your uniqueness and accepting the differences in others, yet you might well find yourself sympathising with Dex who sees right through how daft this all is. Until Beary (really thought hard about that name, didn't they?) runs away from home, and Dex suffers guilt pangs, anyway. Beary ends up at the Country Bear Hall where they would perform their most legendary concerts, but evil banker Christopher Walken is determined to tear the place down due to the six years worth of money he is owed on it.

Predictably, the band has to get back together to save their hall, and a road movie ensues where the leader of the group takes Beary along to use his powers of persuasion on the more reluctant other members. Funnily enough, the sight of bears interacting with people doesn't provoke mass panic, so there are many scenes where the excuses to present musical numbers are not allowed to go by. The best of these is where Brian Setzer duets with a violin-playing bear which may be ridiculous but his music sounds far more like country than anything the bears come up with; there are many famous faces appearing as if to lend credence to the animals' supposed talents, but as with the rest of the production seeing Elton John interacting with a man in a costume looks weird more than anything. Weird enough to be entertaining? Sort of, but perhaps not for a whole movie - let's see an episode of that cartoon they made. Music by Christopher Young.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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