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Wednesday, July 31, 2002

The Country Bears

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Beary feels out of place. He can’t quite put his paw on it. But his “human” brother, Dex, knows exactly what it is and shows him his baby picture — a ranger holding Beary up by a paw. And there aren’t any baby booties from his childhood, only a tracking collar. He runs away to find himself by following his musical heroes, the Country Bears, and the movie turns into “I got it! We’ll put on a show and save the ranch for Pops.” Only this time it’s Country Bear Hall that’s 20 grand in debt, and it’s not Pops but a couple of kind-hearted old bears — real Muppet-like, slow-moving ones, not those newfangled computerized thingamabobs.

A former writer for “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain,” director Peter Hastings makes this his feature-film debut and gives Country Bears that same wacky sensibility, only not in so much of a hurry. John Hiatt wrote the original music and provides Ted Bedderhead’s singing voice. Don Henley sings for Tennessee O’Neal, and a slew of other musical notables join the fun, from Queen Latifa to Elton John.

There’s gotta be a bad guy, and Christopher Walken is absolutely precious as demolition-hungry banker Reed Thimple. His harsh, intense demeanor against all that fun-loving fur is ludicrous, twisted and surprisingly comical. (Watch for his office scene — I couldn’t get enough of those silk boxers and bunny slippers.)

I can easily see this becoming a cult classic, with young adults huddling around the glowing images as Brian Setzer’s guitar battles it out with Tennessee’s rough-around-the-edges fiddlin’.

I have to admit, when in Disneyworld’s Frontierland, I never chose to visit the attraction this film is based on, The Country Bear Jamboree, a milder animatronics show the equivalent of a battery-operated Flatt and Scruggs meets Yogi and Boo Boo. But I’m more than glad I went to the movie. Very young ones will gurgle over the cute walking, singing bears, and us older adults can reminisce with all the familiar voices and faces. However, preteens will most likely mirror Dex’s “has the world gone mad?” feelings. But even Dex turns around after he lets himself sink into that warm, fuzzy country drawl.

The Country Bears is both hokey and super-cool, and definitely not in a hurry, so sit back, relax and have a few laughs while the little ones get a fuzzy treat.

Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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