Posted by Tom Bricker
on Dec 24, 2013 in Attractions
| 10 comments
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?! (more…)