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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Disney's Country Bears At Grizzly River Run In California Adventure

When I was a young kid, I was captivated by the advertisements for Grizzly River Rampage, a white water raft ride at the (closed) Opryland theme park in Nashville, Tennessee. Ads for the attraction featured a menacing Grizzly Bear trying to attack the boats. I finally got to visit the park and experience the ride when I was older, and discovered that the bear effect was not what I had imagined at all. It was a static figure in a tunnel. I don't think most people even knew it was there.

In October of 2008, I got to visit Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim. The park opened in 2001, and is located in what used to be Disneyland's massive parking lot. California Adventure's mascot (in the early days) was a Grizzly Bear. Items like this plush toy were available when the park first opened.

This appealing looking character tied in nicely with the park's logo, and Grizzly River Run, California Adventure's white water rapids ride.

Because of my childhood interest in Grizzly River Rampage at Opryland, I was eager to visit Grizzly River Run, even though it was kind of chilly during my October visit (ironically, my Opryland visit was in September of 1985, not the ideal time to go on a raft ride).

As theme park raft rides go, Grizzly River Run is among the nicest I've seen.

Grizzly River Run is lush, with a cool drop and a nice observation area. I also liked the Grizzly Bear statue at the entrance.

Grizzly River Run would have been even nicer if they had some bear figures near the flume. I know there were some animated bears seen on Walt Disney's old Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland at Disneyland, just as there are animated animals featured in that attraction's replacement, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Maybe they could have modeled the bears after the California Adventure merchandise.

In 2002, Walt Disney Pictures released a live action movie based on Disney's Country Bear Jamboree attraction. I have to admit that I've never seen this movie, which featured animated bear puppet costumes created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

The Disney Catalog had some great Country Bear movie plush toys that look similar to Disney's California Adventure Grizzly Bear merchandise.

Yes, these are the bears I used for my Country Bears version of Grizzly River Run. The Beary character was created for the movie. Here we see Trixie, too (she looks more like the show's Teddi Barra character here).

Disney's Country Bear Jamboree made its debut at Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971, in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom.

Many Walt Disney World (and Disneyland) visitors probably remember seeing Big Al plush toys. They stood out because they had plastic faces!

The Country Bear Jamboree proved to be popular in Florida, and was imported to Disneyland in California in 1972 (it also opened at Tokyo Disneyland when that park debuted in 1983).

The Country Bears got their own land in Disneyland called Bear Country.

In 1984, the Bears started performing "The Country Bear Christmas Special" during the holidays.

In 1986, the Bears got a new show with some new characters called "The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown."

When Splash Mountain debuted at Disneyland in 1989, the land was renamed Critter Country, since all sorts of animals could be found on the park's new water flume attraction.

Critter Country also featured the unique Teddi Barra's Swinging Arcade, which had Country Bear themed games. The Hungry Bear Restaurant is one of the most serene eating locations to be found at Disneyland.

Disneyland had some nice Country Bear Jamboree bean bags during the beanie craze of the late 1990s.

Henry is the Master of Ceremonies for the Country Bears. In the original show, a raccoon pops out of his hat. For the Vacation Hoedown, it is a skunk.

I think Zeke is my favorite of this set.

The costumes that Liverlips and Big Al are wearing appear to be from the Vacation Hoedown show.

In 2001, The Country Bears were evicted from Disneyland. Another bear, Winnie the Pooh, got his own dark ride in the former Country Bear Playhouse. Max (a stag head), Melvin (a moose head) and Buff (a buffalo head) from the Country Bear show make a cameo appearance in the Winnie the Pooh ride.

Since the Country Bears are no longer at Disneyland, I think it would be a nice homage to have them at Grizzly River Run in California Adventure. They could be simple, semi-realistic bears wearing clothes. They wouldn't have to talk or sing. They could be atmosphere characters (which would be great at the attraction's observation spots) like the animated figures on The Jungle Cruise or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

This Big Al Bobblehead from Walt Disney World nods in agreement with me.


  1. I agree too! I've always thought that the CBJ bears should be incorporated into DCA. I would love to see them recreate the original theater and show, but if Disney wasn't willing to do that, then a dark ride or a restaurant show (a la Chuck E. Cheese)....or SOMETHING! The Grizzly River Run would work for me! I wonder where all those A.A.s are today? Disneyland's CBJ had two theaters, so there were twice as many A.A.s They could just build a single theater like Florida has. Bring back the bears, I say!

  2. TokyoMagic!: It's interesting that the Disneyland Country Bear show closed when they knew a movie was in production. I also wonder what happened to California's two theaters full of animatronic characters. Maybe they are used for spare parts for the shows in Florida and Japan. I guess the location of the show in California, tucked in a far away corner at Disneyland (rather than in the middle of busy Frontierland like at Walt Disney World) did not help the attraction in the popularity department. It seems like it would be easy to put the Country Bear figures in Grizzly River Run, much like the America Sings characters were incorporated into Splash Mountain. If they can have a robotic furry goat outside on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, I bet they can find a way to have Big Al and Henry outside, too.