Fuzzy `Country Bears' just drips with gooeyness

Who sweet-talked these singers into making this movie?

July 26, 2002|By Gene Seymour | Gene Seymour,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you've been to Disney World, you've probably discovered how useful that "Country Bear Jamboree" of singing automated bears can be when you're trying to cool down youngsters overstimulated by thrill rides. Still, no matter how cute those big, furry fellows are, they're at best an appetizer compared to the other attractions.

So why in Mickey's name would anyone make The Country Bears? Although it's a blatant rip-off of The Blues Brothers, the idea of making the beasts into a 1970s-style country-rock band broken up by too much time on the road isn't a bad one. The opening montage of faded concert footage, faux Billboard and Rolling Stone clips and sound bites from Willie Nelson is winsome and clever enough. The movie could have stopped there.

But it doesn't. The story really begins with an 11-year-old cub named Beary Barrington (voice by Haley Joel Osment), an adoptive child of human beings. Beary is obsessed with the defunct Country Bears and sets off to reunite them for a reunion concert that will save the music hall in which they started. The hall faces the wrecking ball of evil banker Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken in gleeful sputtering mode).

Along the way, Krystal, Brian Setzer, Queen Latifah, Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley show up to sing or watch or do both. (Raitt and Henley lend their singing voices to two bears.)

After a while, the only way to get through the too-honey-sweet Country Bears is to ponder how a whole segment of pop-music history has been allowed to get wet, fuzzy and sticky.

Gene Seymour is a movie critic for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newpaper.

The Country Bears

Voices Haley Joel Osment, Diedrich Bader, Brad Garrett, Toby Huss, Stephen Root

Starring Christopher Walken, Alex Rocco, Stephen Tobolowsky, Meagan Fay, Eli Marienthal

Directed by Peter Hastings

Released by Disney

Time 88 minutes

Rated G

Sun Score *

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