The Country Bear Christmas Special was an annual holiday overlay to Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney World and Disneyland that has been retired, with a great deal of speculation as to the reason why it ended in the Magic Kingdom. I’ve long been a fan of this Christmas overlay, having first seen it in the late 1980s and listening to its soundtrack each Christmas season since finding it on the Musical History of Disneyland. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my childhood visits to the show and the Magic Kingdom stopped doing the overlay before we started visiting as adults, so I didn’t have any firsthand memory of actually seeing the show…until this year.
To say I was excited to finally see it would be an understatement. I love Christmas and Country Bear Jamboree. To me, Country Bear Jamboree represents Disney at its best: a mix of quirkiness, wry humor, charming characters, and even edginess. It’s an attraction that works on multiple levels. Superficially, it’s a bunch of lovable bears singing. Upon closer examination, it’s an intelligent tribute to country music and southern culture, with a bit of a satirical twist. As a fan of Disney history, I appreciate its historical significance, too. (This series of articles is a good in-depth examination of Country Bear Jamboree, and a rewarding read for anyone who is interested in the topic.) I’ve said numerous times that I view whether someone likes Country Bear Jamboree as a good barometer of how well I’ll get along with them. (I treat Calvin & Hobbes and Sports Night the same way.)
Country Bear Christmas has garnered a mixed reaction from fans, and even Marc Davis supposedly thought that Disney should have left the original alone. With all due respect to Mr. Davis, I disagree. I think Country Bear Christmas is a fun and well-executed overlay in keeping with the spirit and direction of the regular show. It is fairly involved as far as an overlay goes, with significant differences from the normal show. It’s not just Country Bear Jamboree with Santa hats and different songs, it’s an entirely new show performed by the same characters. It’s their Christmas musical revue. Theme park attractions are works of art, but unlike a painting or film (well, perhaps the latter is a bad example) they have a certain fluidity to them as the parks change and evolve to cater to guests and give them a reason to return for something “new.” Unlike other forms of art, theme park attractions also usually lack a singular figure to whom ‘authorship’ is attributed. Still, it’s understandable that the artist who put so much creative energy into bringing the bears to life would be a bit protective of them and apprehensive towards what others would do to change them.
But I digress. This article isn’t meant as an examination of theme parks as art. Instead, it’s meant as a fun look at the Country Bear Christmas Special along with some tidbits about the shows. Thanks to the magic of flying to Tokyo, we were able to experience the Country Bear Christmas overlay this year during our Christmas-time visit to Tokyo Disneyland (the show is known as Jingle Bell Jamboree there), and we savored the opportunity. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to the Country Bears, and we saw the show…let’s just say “a few” times…during our trip. One of my big goals was to capture a lot of good, interesting photos of Country Bear Christmas. The overlay stopped running in the Magic Kingdom in 2005, which was a couple of years before camera technology became advanced-enough for good low light dark ride/attraction photos, so the only good photos of it are publicity shots by Disney, and there aren’t many of those. Suffice to say, I’m now fairly confident that I have one of the world’s largest private collections of Country Bear Christmas photos. If that isn’t prime braggin’ rights, I don’t know what is!
Hope you enjoy. Merry Christmas to you and your families from Sarah and me! What better of a ‘gift’ can we give you then a few Country Bear Christmas photos from my files?!
Signs outside advertise the Jingle Bell Jamboree Christmas show.
Regardless of the season, the lobby of Country Bear Theater in Tokyo Disneyland features significantly more to set the stage than the Magic Kingdom. There are clippings from the Country Bears’ tours, awards, photos, and art. For Christmas, new pieces of art are added, plus this Christmas tree and a few other details.
In Tokyo Disneyland, like the normal show, Jingle Bell Jamboree jumps back and forth between Japanese and English, with some songs in each language.
Melvin starts out the show by singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (in Japanese), until Max objects, as it’s his song. Henry then interjects and starts the show.
Costumes and details are well-done for Jingle Bell Jamboree. Gomer has his stocking hung from his piano, plus a nice winter coat and a Christmas tree on his piano. I used a star filter for this photo, which was inspired by a similar shot from Disneyland: Inside Story.
Henry and Gomer do “Jingle Bells” to begin the main show.
This is the first difference in the show between the American and Japanese versions, as the retired US versions featured the duo singing a quick version of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” here.
The Five Bear Rugs appear for my favorite song in the show, “Tracks in the Snow.” Even in Japanese, this is a foot-tapper.
Tennessee on the Christmas ‘thing.’
Oscar got a new teddy bear for Christmas. He looks…happy?
Next, Wendell comes out with his squirrel gun and sings the “12 Days of Christmas” before shooting out the lights. This is the same in both versions.
Here is what I’d consider the first interesting difference. Trixie sings “Hibernating Blues” in the US version, which is a song about her love not being around for the holidays, and her wanting spring to come soon.
In the Japanese version, Trixie sings an angry version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with lines about her having caught her lover sharing honey with someone else, among other things. If Trixie’s song for Tokyo Disneyland was going to be in English, why not just use “Hibernating Blues”? I can’t imagine that it’s a matter of the audience, as both songs are similar in nature, although the Japanese version has a much harsher tone. Interesting, nonetheless.
In both versions, the Five Bear Rugs follow with “Deck the Halls.”
Liver Lips McGrowl sing Elvis’ “Rock and Roll Santa” in English next (another song that’s the same in both versions).
Henry also provides some vocals on this.
This is followed by Shaker, with a white coat of fur and looking a bit like a polar bear, and his penguin singing “Blue Christmas.” Tokyo Disneyland’s version is in Japanese, and I swear the penguin plays a more significant role, probably because he isn’t stuck in ice in the Tokyo Disneyland version. He interjects normal dialogue between verses, but I have no idea what he’s saying. Anyone know?
The Sun Bonnets then sing “Sleigh Ride” in English, same in both versions. This is accompanied by a cute little on-screen sleigh ride slide show.
“Hungry as a Bear” follows in both versions, in Japanese at Tokyo Disneyland. This is performed by Ernest and the Five Bear Rugs. It’s another favorite of mine, and another song that sounds good even in Japanese.
Next is “The Christmas Song” by Teddi Barra and Henry, sung in English in both versions. In a show that’s otherwise grounded in humor, this scene romanticizes Christmas, with moody lighting a snowfall during the slow-paced song. We found the reaction of the Japanese audience somewhat funny, as there is sometimes a bit of an audible reaction to Teddi Barra’s slightly risque dialogue. There’s the same type of reaction to Captain EO the first time Michael Jackson does a hip thrust. (Seriously.)
Big Al’s performance is next. Both versions feature Big Al in English; in the US he sings “Another New Year,” and in Japan it’s “Auld Lang Syne.” The idea of Big Al being bitter towards his wife is the driving force behind both songs. Like Trixie, he’s more negative in the Japanese version. Again, I’m not sure why this change was made. Both of these versions have less to do with the new year, and more to do with Big Al problems (#BigAlProblems should totally be a thing on Twitter). Fun fact: the bottles of champagne scattered around Big Al are labeled “Bear Mountain Bubbly.”
The full cast (minus Ernest and Trixie who share the stage with other performers) finale concludes the show. In the US, this was a “Let It Snow/Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Winter Wonderland” medley. In Tokyo Disneyland, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” replaces “Let It Snow” in the medley. It’s in both English and Japanese.
Hope you enjoyed this photo tribute to Country Bear Christmas! I think it truly is a great show that gives the greatly under-appreciated Country Bear Jamboree a nice bump for the holidays, and I’d love to see it return to Walt Disney World. Sadly, I don’t ever see that happening, but you never know.
If you have any facts, info, or anecdotes about Country Bear Christmas to share, I’d love to hear them. Despite this showing lasting into the 2000s, it seems that not a whole lot is known about beyond superficial stuff, and urban legends about why it ended.
If you want to learn more about Tokyo Disney Resort, make sure to check out our Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Report. It contains hundreds of photos, tips for visiting, and thoughts on Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.
Did you ever see Country Bear Christmas in Walt Disney World or Disneyland? Does it still playing in Tokyo Disneyland make you want to take a Christmas trip there? Any other thoughts about the Country Bears? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!