The Country Bears (2002)
Directed by Peter Hastings
Written by Mark Perez & Paul Rugg

I am an ardent fan of fake authenticity – an artform which, when done properly (Zelig, Spinal Tap, Andy Kaufmann's whole career) lets both participant and audience dance knowingly together, with everyone enjoying themselves all the more when there's less smirking and more sincerity.

Essentially just modern folklore, fake authenticity needs a foundation and it's own set of internal rules which, if not carefully planned in advanced, is the equivalent of going to a D&D gathering with no appointed dungeonmaster and a blank sheet of graph paper. Hmm, have I firmly established my dork cred yet? Not bad for a father of three and Southeast account manager for a Big 6 firm, eh?

With all this in mind, The Country Bears movie very well could have come to being like so: Struggling Gen X-er screenwriter thinks of quick cash-in script idea, takes mental trip back to childhood Disneyland memory bank, cranks out vague "what if" script in a weekend, and pays off college loan and buys new Celica with the windfall. Hey, believe me, I'm all for cash-in, but it better be good cash-in.

The Country Bears takes it seed from the original Disneyland (or is it Disney World? I can't be bothered to do 10 seconds of Internet research) exhibit with animatronic bears singing faux-bluegrass and acting goofy (that's lower-case 'g' goofy). Only now it's 2002 and Country Bear Hall is in danger of being foreclosed, eagerly pursued by evil banker Christopher Walken who is owed 20 G's or so.

From the best that I can tell, Country Bear Hall is suffering because the Country Bears (the band) unexpectedly broke up back in '91, and uh, even though they didn't own the place … and, uhhh … Hmm, see, this is just one place where the logic wasn't laid out well enough … at one point, the bear proprietor of Bear Hall is talking about all the great bands that played there in the past (Vanilla Fudge? There's one for your 8-year old audience), so it was just a general place to play, and not dependent on the Bears' own career.

So anyway, it's up to Beary (*groan*), a precocious 8-year talking bear whose run away from his human family 'cause he's different and has to find his destiny or something and decides to spearhead "putting the band back together. By the way, thank you Dan Aykroyd for unintentionally making this idiocy part of the American venacular.

So everyone jumps on the old tour bus complete with dimwitted human roadie as we race across the country picking up all four band members, all the while being gently chased by a couple of clueless state cops who somehow believe Beary has been kidnapped. It's one of a number of lazy pieces of plot contrivance strewn about.

Therein lies my main beef with this movie. If Disney was solely just going for the 9-and-under crowd on this one, I suppose it would be ok, but there's a vague sense of aiming at the parents as well. Fine, that's cool, but do it like the Henson team would do it—by actually trying and succeeding on all levels.

You can keep things cute by having big talking bears for the kids, but actually throw some thought into the stuff for the adults. Maybe I'm being a "fact nerd" here, but by claiming the group started in '77, then cutting back to black-and-white footage of the band singing a faux-doo wop song, complete with bear-wearing cardigans? OK, MAYBE if they had their own sort-of Statler Brothers-esque TV show in the early 80's, but no reference to this was ever made.

Have most American parents today just hit a point in their lives that they don't care what the hell they see anymore, just as long as the kids are quiet for 80 minutes? I say ,sit the kids in your lap and read the encyclopedia together, you Chilis™-eatin' breeders.

OK, ok, very negative-energy review, but what can I say to a DVD I continually wanted to fast-forward through, but was worried about bad "Hot Potato" karma coming back to bite me in the ass?

Some positive aspects to the film: the talking bears were fairly well done, though it wasn't too hard to picture a team of NASA scientists off-screen controlling each eyeball. Walken had the sole laugh-out-loud moment for me when he starting doing a "Musical Mike" armpit solo.

I did enjoy the old fake Hanna-Barbera "Country Bears" cartoon shown at one point, as well as the fake album covers, even though I could argue the "fake authencity" factor of those, too. Also, as much as I could completely care less about John Hiatt, I do respect someone who's hung around the biz as much as he had—the music he wrote for the film was inoffensive and did its intended job. And as for cameos, Bonnie Raitt makes sense as a singing bear … Don Henley much less so.

Fans of the film (uh, stand up and be counted if you're out there) might say "Geez, Milton, lighten up on the fake authenticity bullshit." Fine, I say, so I'll take a step back from the mess, completely ignoring that aspect.

I can still say this movie was a ramshackle, inarticulate, autopilot pile, and Disney is welcome to say the same about my review of it.

Review by Bradley A. Milton