Apparently brand expansion can work in all directions. Based on a Disneyworld show in which several semi-mobile plastic bears sing hillbilly songs, The Country Bears represents the first of several proposed adaptations that will bring popular Disney theme-park attractions to the big screen, Pirates Of The Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion among them. (Can Adventures In The Hall Of Presidents be far behind? One Night At The Enchanted Tiki Room?) Haley Joel Osment provides the voice for The Country Bears' hero, a furry young fellow with claws and a taste for raw fish; he lives with a family of humans who don't resemble him in the least, but he doesn't quite realize he's adopted. Obsessed with The Country Bears, a now-disbanded group of musical superstars introduced through footage that makes The Last Waltz look irreverent, Osment sets out to find Country Bear Hall, the group's fabled concert venue. All similarities to A.I. end there, but similarities to Almost Famous abound as Osment rides a tour bus through the treacherous wilds of rock stardom in his attempts to reunite The Country Bears for a benefit concert to save the now-neglected Country Bear Hall from evil banker Christopher Walken. Watching Walken, in full King Of New York mode, terrorize lovable bears almost makes the whole film worthwhile, but The Country Bears spends far more time simply scooting from one pallid musical number to another. At least it has the courage to feature musical stars universally loved by the kids of today, including such Total Request Live favorites as Brian Setzer, Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, and John Hiatt (who wrote the songs). Mark Perez's script has a few clever moments, as when the Bears sit around a hotel room watching and lamenting a terrible spin-off cartoon made during the height of their fame, but mostly the gags don't get any better than the bar that serves mugs of honey. If nothing else, The Country Bears deserves respect for adhering to tradition. In an era ruled by CGI perfection, it has the courage to feature some refreshingly lousy bear costumes, but the film seems likely to send most kids tugging at sleeves for the cinematic equivalent of Space Mountain.
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