The Country Bear Christmas Special was an annual holiday overlay to Country Bear Jamboree in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and Disneyland that has been retired. It currently runs as Jingle Bell Jamboree at Tokyo Disneyland. This tribute features photos from the Japan version. (Updated December 24, 2019.)
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, Country Bear Jamboree is a bunch of lovable bears singing.
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’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, done with integrity and humor in the spirit of the original.
Moreover, unlike a painting, theme park attractions have a certain fluidity to them as the parks change and evolve to cater to guests. Theme park attractions also usually lack a singular figure to whom ‘authorship’ is attributed. Nevertheless, 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 overlay still existing and running annually at Tokyo Disneyland, we’ve been able to experience it for each of the last several years. We’ve been visiting Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan during fall colors season almost every year since 2013, and are always sure to drop in to Tokyo Disney Resort for a “few” showings of Country Bear Christmas/Jingle Bell Jamboree.
At Tokyo Disneyland, Jingle Bell Jamboree is part of the park’s Christmas offerings, but it usually begins before the published date of everything else–right on or around November 1st. That’s because the park goes directly from Country Bear Vacation Hoedown to this overlay. (See our Country Bear Vacation Hoedown Tribute for more photos and info on that.)
One of my big goals is always to capture a lot of good, interesting photos of Country Bear Christmas. The overlay stopped running in both Magic Kingdom and Disneyland before camera technology became advanced-enough for good low light dark ride/attraction photos.
This means that the only good photos of it running in the United States are publicity shots by Disney, and there aren’t many of those that’ve been publicly released.
I now update this post annually to add some of my trophies from the latest hunt, so to speak. The photos here just barely scratch the surface of my Country Bear Christmas collection. 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.
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.
Oscar got a new teddy bear for Christmas.
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 the penguin plays a more significant role. This is probably because he’s an actual Audio Animatronics figure and 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.
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’ve 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.
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.
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? Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts on Jingle Bell Jamboree? Other thoughts about the Country Bears? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!