Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Country Bears Covered In Pooh




Originally planned for the proposed Mineral King Resort that never made it thru funding, the elaborate, classy and character driven Audio Anima- tronics Extrava- ganza 'Bear Country Jamboree' debuted at Walt Disney World in 1971 where it's still delighting audiences. One year later Disneyland got its version of the show in a wilderness themed land all its own. In 2001 Disneyland's Country Bears were evicted and replaced by a Winnie the Pooh themed ride.

The tradition at Disneyland, inspired directly by Walt Disney, went like this: If you're going to replace an older attraction with a newer one make sure it's more elaborate, more sophisticated, more amazing than the one previous.

But with the new Winnie the Pooh attraction this wasn't going to be the case. As with most corporate culture decisions at Imagineering over the last decade, this addition to Disneyland was inspired by greed and built on the cheap; an attraction with no interest in entertainment and every interest in cashing in on Pooh Mania, the MBA Bean Counters deciding that the Pooh craze was hot-hot-hot and with an attraction like this they could move even MORE Pooh Plush.

The 'Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh' is little more than a cynical ride past several Disney Store shop windows geared entirely at showing the newest line of Pooh Merchandise. Forget sophisticated audio animatronics, forget a fully realized dimensional world, forget clear storytelling. If slogging past wobbly wooden flats while sitting inside a giant carved out turd is your idea of fun then you will be delighted.

It's time to clean the Pooh off the streets of Disneyland and bring the original Country Bears out of retirement. Whether they're back at Disneyland or fill a corner in the appropriate backwoods portion of California Adventure, they're sorely missed; a testament to when Imagineers created intelligent whimsy and didn't scrimp on quality or showmanship.

34 comments:

pariartspaul said...

I love this! I’m so glad Justinspace turned me on to this blog – I’m so amazed… finally after all these years people are GETTING IT! I was an Imagineer for 21 years and during that time I sadly saw so much of what I loved about Disneyland get destroyed by bad decisions. It started back in the 70’s with the destruction of Nature’s Wonderland, and then continued steadily through the 80’s and 90’s from the trashing of Captain Hook’s ship to the total devastation of Tomorrowland. I gave up all hope the day I attended the Imagineering preview of DCA. I couldn’t believe the extent of how low the powers of the day would go to bilk money out of the public, as if the whole place had been calculated to get the most they could for the least value – and actually it HAD! They had taken every business and design philosophy of Walt Disney’s and done the opposite.

Anyway, on to the subject at hand, the Country Bears. The decision to replace the Bear Band with Pooh was one of the most illogical decisions ever made. And the timing was so weird too – that stupid Bear Country movie was opening JUST as they were about to tear the theater down. With a little sprucing up and publicity, the Bear Band Theater could have had a renewed life. I talked it up to the powers of the day, and tried to point out what a mistake it all was – but of course the decision had already been made. I asked what they were going to do with the figures. They said they would be trashed, and any usable parts would be salvaged for use in the park. I was outraged! To just trash those machines that had entertained millions over the years for salvage was unthinkable to me. After several meetings I got arranged with the powerful ones, I managed to get them to agree to save the cast of one theater, the argument being that they might come in handy someday – either as museum pieces, or to be used in DCA possibly in the future. So… they did save the cast of one theater. I was at the loading dock at Tujunga the day they came up on the truck from Disneyland, on their way to deep storage – stripped of their fur suites and wrapped in plastic, they looked so forlorn, and sad and really tired. As if they knew nobody cared. Anyway, as far as I know, they are still sitting in a warehouse somewhere just waiting…

The whole experience was very sad, and made absolutely no sense to me. It was as if some vendetta was being carried out against Marc Davis and this was the final blow. What other reason could there be? Speaking of Marc, he was my idol. I worked with him a couple of times over the years and I respected him so much.

This Bear Band experience was so very much like the bastardization of America Sings in the 80’s. That was a technical marvel of a show that could never be duplicated today, and it showcased the very pinnacle of what could be achieved with animatronics. To have the show ripped out and the Carousel Theater gutted and remain empty, under the guise that they could use the figures in the new Splash Mountain at little cost was outrageous! So the figures remain there in Splash, like little trophies of some stupid theme park designer’s war – a testament to bad decisions.

Anyway, I could go on and on but I’ve said enough for today.

Don said...

This Pooh is definitely less lovable, somehow, than the WDW version - an attraction I do find charming. I do not, however, find Country Bears charming. I'm happy to leave the one in Frontierland in WDW, but let's do something imaginative. There's nothing inherently wrong with a Pooh ride, so why not fix what's there? Add some actual animatronics, clean up the storyline, and add some heart and charm to it, eh? I just don't agree that the C'Bears are "sorely missed." I'm living just fine without 'em.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I love this site! As for the Bears...it was my late brother-in-laws favorite attraction, and it was the first attraction I visited when I went to WDW as a kid. I could NOT believe it was ripped out of Disneyland and replaced by that...bear with very little brain. I realize Pooh is a moneymaker but the Bears were part of Walt's legacy. Ripping those out would be like tearing down the Haunted Mansion, and yet Eisner did it. I heard he was also going to rip out the Lincoln attraction and replace it with...ugh...the MUPPETS! And speaking of which...get rid of those old rags...Disney should be creating, not acquiring, and it certainly doesn't need a lot of ragged hand puppets in the age of CGI. Why would Disney want Kermit when it has the greatest character ever created - Mickey Mouse?

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that you guys are doing a fantastic job, and I agree %100 on everything you guys are saying and doing. Reading this blog puts a big smile on my face as I remember the great times I had as a child when at the Disney theme parks.

On the subject of bringing back the good ol' attractions to the park, I wanted to mention "Kitchen Cabaret". Oh, how i was disapointed to see that it was replaced by "Food Rocks" when I went back to Epcot.....

anyway, keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure this won't be popular opnion, but as a park goer, I don't really have any problem with the switch from Country Bears to Pooh. Kids today don't have much interest in an unknown set of characters like the Country Bears -- but most do know Pooh.

I do, however, agree that if you're going to replace an attraction with something else, it damn well better be better than what you got rid of.

I guess what I'm saying is, you don't neccessarily need to put the old back -- just make the new better. Get rid of the 'blah' and put in more magic.

The Q Mind said...

I agree that the Country Bears should be brought back, perhaps to DCA. However, the Pooh could work if Lassiter would revamp it to duplicate the one in Tokyo. By all accounts, that particular Pooh attraction is a real killer and extremely popular...

LB said...

The final day and the last performance of the Country Bears should have sent a clear signal that with a little re-imagineering, these bears could have kept going and continued to be very popular. The fact that so many fans showed up for that final show, that they had to change the plans and open both theaters, sync the time and run a "final" show in both theaters at the same time. And if you were there, you would know jus how loved they were. There is too much Pooh anyway.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with this article. That whole Country Bears/Pooh debacle was a travesty and a huge sign that Disneyland had indeed changed for the worse.

At the very least, move the Pooh ride to Fantasyland where it will fit in a little more theme wise.

I never understood why they dropped an attraction about British characters into a land obviously themed to support it's Southern/Western surroundings. Pooh just doesn't work on any level.

The Bears where great. Probably the most underrated attraction at DL. I truly miss that show.

mnmears@go.com said...

I love Marc Davis' work and it's a shame that his greatest legacies at Imagineering -- America Sings and Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland are gone. I'd like to see Country Bears revived in Anaheim if possible -- and it wouldn't bug me to see them at DCA. As for Pooh, you can't argue with his merchandising successes. BUT, what the powers-that-be at that time gave the public-at-large with the Anaheim attraction was crap. And, that's such a shame because Imagineering had developed a wonderful and beloved high-tech Pooh attraction for Tokyo Disneyland. So, the executives let the dollar rule the day and got far more negative buzz than they would had they chose to do NOTHING. Walt was right ... if you're going to take something away then replace it with something BETTER -- something you know in your heart is better. And don't wait years and years to do so (Disneyland's CoP, for example). That's the whole problem in a nutshell and if Walt had followed it, Pirates would be a wax museum walk-through ... or, actually, Disneyland would never have been built.

Anonymous said...

I hate the Pooh, but the Bears were evicted in 2001, not 1986.

Anonymous said...

I hope that Lasseter and his men put the Hundred Acre Wood out of its misery sooner than later. Better yet move it over to California Adventure and then bulldoze the whole lot. I’m still waiting for the announcement that Disney’s PIXARVILLE will rise from the ashes of DCA.

Karl Elvis said...

The Winnie the Pooh ride is some sort of Disney cancer; displacing Toad, one of Fantasyland's best rides, in WDW, and now blowing the Country Bears out of the park in Anaheim.

This Pooh disease needs a cure.

disneyjunkie said...

Pooh needs help and relocation, it has merrit that can be built upon. One of the endearing things about Country Bears is that it was pure Disney. Maybe they were "unknown" characters outside the parks but inside they were an icon and Disney specific , where else could you see the Country Bears ? Thats what its all about the unique park that has wonderful attractions that no one else can give its guest and that familys can enjoy together.

Michael Crawford said...

Just a shout-out, if anyone is listening, to mention the decrepit sound system at WDW's CBJ. Sometimes it sounds like the show is being played back off of Edison wax cylinders. Time for a rehab, maybe?

Scott Mumford said...

Mineral King just didn't "make it through funding", it was essentially shouted down by a popular uprising! To many, putting a resort like that in the pristine Mineral King area of the Sierra's was just a BAD idea--Uncle Walt's involvement or not.

As a long-time, and quite loyal fan of Walt's (both parents worked at the Studio for decades)--I must say I agreed with the environmentalists that were against the project.

Keep up the good work on this blog!! GREAT idea, guys...

Anonymous said...

Just a park goer turned onto the blog through BoingBoing. My family is nuts over Disney, and are regular park goers. But, as with others, we've become disenchanted with the whole experience as of late. I won't let my kids watch some movies just because they look so bad. I fear every time Disney announces an acquisition, and wonder how badly they're going to ruin The Muppets and Pixar. Granted, it's probably not the imagineers, nor is it anyone in facilities and maintenance, but the higher ups. Those that decided that Pirates wasn't politically correct. Those that decided that a boring Pooh Bear ride would be better than some wild singing country bears.

Having been going to DL for the last 25 years, I look forward to the old rides as much as I do the new ones (don't ever, EVER touch Peter Pan!). but if you guys can't get the freedom and are constrained by rediculous decisions and managers who are motivated first by money THEN by the experience, I'm going to take my family elsewhere. go back to the basics. Build good stuff. The people will come and so will the money. Build crap with long lines, and they'll leve.

Oh... the hotel elevator ride was perfect. Good mix of story, excitement, and thrill ride. The rest of the California Adventure was just another theme park.

Anonymous said...

I have spent countless hours explaining to my boys about my childhood WDW experiences, now gone; Among others, Toad, and my pet peeve: 20,000 Leagues. Now, both spaces more or less occupied by that smarmy Pooh. All they want to hear about is what it was like to "ride in a submarine", and "almost get hit by a train" on a wild car ride. -Sorry, guys. Uh, look! We're bouncing like Tigger! (wee).

Anonymous said...

Yesterday, I finally broke down and rode TMAoWtP at WDW's MK after promising myself I would never do so after the whole Toad debacle.

When I came off the attraction, a guest asked me for my opinion. My response: "This is a ride guaranteed to please only the most indiscriminate guest."

Her face lit up and she said, "Hear that, kids? He says it's really good!"

Sometimes, I hate people.

Anonymous said...

It would fit in the Golden Dreams theatre in DCA and it's close enough to the woods :)

DucktaleDave said...

When the planned removal of the Country Bears was announced, there was a rumor going around that they would take up residence in DCA, a theme park desperately in need of attractions.

I love Pooh and his friends as characters, but the attraction is very ho-hum. My 7-year-old enjoys it, but he won't remember it when he grows older. Disneyland is supposed to be in the business of creating memories.

I do cherish the memory of being taken behind the scenes at the Country Bear Playhouse and seeing the fabulous mechanism that controlled the bear AA's. What a shame that all that artistry and craftsmanship was destroyed. Why? Were the maintenance costs becoming too high as the attraction aged?

Anonymous said...

Country Bear Jamboree was always a favorite of mine. There was something nice about being able to go into a cool theater, away from the sun, and just rest while listening to some fun jug band music. A great break from the frenzy of D-Land.
And I love CG just as much as the next person, but the quirky animatronics were great as a kid. Don't forget that a lot of the rides that are now gone, Toad, 20 K Leagues, and Country Bears may seem funky to adults but to a kid, they were pure WD magic.
I have much fonder memories of those early rides as a kid than the adult memories of rides such as Indy.

Anonymous said...

I can understand where the DCA Bears rumor came from, since a sign for the movie was put up near Grizzly Peak when the movie first came out. My guess is that there were plans to open a movie-related relaunch in the area alongside the planned sequel(s?) A screenplay for CB2 was commissioned a year before the first even opened. In any case, the movie tanked, but the business plan was transferred to POTC.

OperationsGal said...

For those that aren't aware, up to it's last year of operation Bear Band was still pulling in hourly numbers that were higher than Pooh currently gets. People talk about Pirates, Small World and any Omnimover being people eater attractions, but Bear Band was right up there with them with an hourly capacity near 2,000 an hour.

With both theaters running we used to get 1,800 or 1,900 an hour through that attraction without breaking a sweat and with a few empty seats still left in each theater. And those numbers would come rolling in hour after hour, day after day when we had the Christmas show going from Thanksgiving through New Years. Bear Band chewed people up and spit em out the exit by the tens of thousands on a busy day. It acheived those huge numbers with just four Host/Hostesses running the entire facility and it was a thing of beauty for Operations.

Today, Pooh maxes out around 950 an hour during the busiest afternoon hours, and then quickly sinks below 500 an hour once the sun sets and the kiddies go back to the hotel room. The vehicles seat six instead of the standard dark ride three or four, but the demand just isn't there to fill those seats on anything below a 40K day.

If they had just updated the Bear Band show, perhaps more like Tokyo's current show, and swapped out for the Christmas version each year at the Holidays, then Bear Band could easily pull in numbers twice as big as Pooh currently gets.

barry said...

Amen! The Country Bears were a must-see experience each time I visited Disneyland. Imaginative, involving, and entertaining for all ages. Disneyland lost a major element of its variety when the Bears went into hibernation. Score one for merchandising. I hope they're selling lots of Pooh plush now. No big fan of Pooh, the only thing I can say about the new ride is that I'm thankful they didn't put it in Fantasyland.

Anonymous said...

A little Armchair Imagineering here but I've actually thought of an idea of how to improve Pooh and bring back the bears: Have the Country Bears tell the story. The load and queue could be rearranged with an indoor load where we first find Henry ready to tell a story to that little cub that sat with the Bear Rugs. As he begins, he has Gomer start playing Winnie the Pooh on his piano and we go out into an outdoor area(hearing the various Country Bears singing the song, including Big Al) where we go by some of the former queue elements and into the show building, with the facade now more forested as you enter the 100 Acre Wood. From here, Henry narrates the story and occasionally, the bears can be spotted(though not interacting with Pooh and friends) singing the songs as we go through. The Pooh characters themselves are now much more animated with the sets being much more three dimensional. The present doors would be replaced with Henry concluding his story while Buff, Max and Melvin comment and as we exit the building and back to the load, we go by Big Al still singing the Winnie the Pooh song. I know it seems kind of a cheap fix, but it's not THAT bad of an idea is it? I believe all of the bears from Disneyland are in storage or something, so it wouldn't be too hard to do something like this or just bring the bears back in a new theater in Critter Country and turn Pooh into Honey Hunt, which argueably would be a better idea.

Sheryl said...

I'm sure I'm in the minority here, but I just wasn't that exercised about the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown departing the stage.

I've always missed the Country Bear Jamoboree. I loved the Blood on Big Al's Saddle.

Pooh? IS JUST POO. I don't much care WHAT goes in there, just the the poo away from the guests, please!

Anonymous said...

With this much beloved attraction, why not return the act to DCA that desperately needs some quality entertainment in a park that lacks charm and "Disney Magic". AP's visit the Golden Dreams theatre once and never go back, and the only reason Day Trippers go in is that they just need to get out of the sun during the summer heat. Please dust them off, dress them and bring them home.

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robsv said...

I'll never forgive the corporate greed-heads that killed Toad to put in Pooh.

Anonymous said...

This is off topic, but I would like to respond to the anti-Muppet post.

You may not personally like the Muppets, but if you look at Jim Henson and the work he did, he was just as much an innovative visionary as Walt. The only difference is that he pretty much stuck to one medium. But the stories of how he ran his workshop strongly resemble stories of how Disney worked with his animators and imagineers.

And if you look at the work the Henson company is doing now, it's incorporated a lot of CGI. In fact, when Jim died that was the direction he was heading, he just didn't live long enough for us to see what he could do in the newly developing medium.

Sorry, but when I was growing up there were not a lot of new Disney animated films to be excited about. You start dissin' the Frog and I get a little upset.

exhumite said...

The first Pooh ride i saw was in Florida, the one that replaced Mr Toad if i'm not mistaken, and that one, despite my anger at the loss of Toad, wass actualy quite impressive. I adore the Bear Country Jamboree, expecialy the times when i accidently went into the winter show mid summer, and the Pooh which lives in its hollowed out carcass is flat, dull and utterly bemusing. To echo a few of your sentiments, more or less.

All that aside, the phrase "Pooh Plush" makes me giggle like an idiot. Que sera.

As ana side, i followed a link to this blog and have been dualy delighted and saddened. I've been going to Disneyland since before i turned one, and my father went once every two years starting from when they opened. Between us we've seen a hell of a lot change. I expound rather endlessly, given the opportunity, on the downfall of Disney and i'm glad to see here that i'm not the only one who finds this subject worthy of dissection.

Keep fightin the good fight.

.j

Anonymous said...

The Country Bears are sorely needed at a time that we also need the magic and imagination of Walt Disney.

Maybe Lassetter can bring some of that magic back. Don't let the Disney Magic slowly fade away.

Little by little it is disappearing and the new management is only appearing to make things look better.

If people want to work for the Disney Company then they should do things the way Walt would have done them. Walt was unique and different and didn't follow the crowd.

That's why Walt's Magic stood above the rest and has stood the test of time for people who still believe in that magic.

Walter said...

As someone who has been attending Disneyland my whole life (all 36 years of it) I never had much use for the Bear Country show. I always thought the bears were kind of cheesy.

Now that I have children of my own, I can report that they love the Pooh ride. They always insist on riding it twice in a row. Sure, I agree that it's a bit low-rent, but they don't seem to mind one bit.

Anonymous said...

I think that the Pooh ride is a nice fun little ride and that it isn't terrible, but I agree to the fact that it is worse than the Country Bears was and replacing the Bears was a mistake.