Haley Joel Osment, Diedrich Bader, Stephen Root, Brad Garrett
The filmgoing experience defies logic. Even the best critic gets swept up into the emotions of the experience...sometimes, a film comes along that simply makes you laugh or cry or reminisce or feel a feeling that had been locked inside for a long time. Sometimes, despite the most profound critical thoughts one cannot help but praise loudly a film based entirely on personal experience. It is not about the construction of the film...or the cinematography or the acting or any technical aspect of the film. It is about the experience of the film. In my eyes, a truly great film is a film that changes my life in some way...it changes my thoughts, my feelings, my experiences...it reshapes my entire being.
"The Country Bears" is not the best Disney film...by a long, long stretch. It largely failed at the box office, and was fairly widely panned by critics. Yet, it is among my favorite Disney films. I sit here at my computer in tears..."The Country Bears" speaks to so many of my "life" issues...the struggle with being physically different than others...the struggle with defining family...the struggle and celebration of friendship. "The Country Bears" is simpler than other Disney films...it lacks much of the advanced technology and sparkling animation that is often featured in kid's films anymore...yet what it does...and it does it better than most kid's films these days...is it brings back the innocence, the simple lessons of life. It does so in a simple, musical and completely illogical way. If I were to only look at the script...I'd say "what fluff." If I were to only look at the technology...I would laugh. If I were to only look at the performances...Well, I'd be less than impressed. Yet, what I look at with "The Country Bears" is the moviegoing experience. In the adult world, seldom are we allowed to go places like this anymore...places of simple fun and innocence. Instead, we are forcefed technology and busyness that distracts us...yet, how often does it truly entertain us?
"The Country Bears" features a soundtrack largely written and performed by vastly underrated musician John Hiatt...admittedly, he is my favorite musician and I am in heaven listening to his music. Most critics and viewers agreed that the music was the highlight of this film...and, in many ways, I'd also agree. Yet, the music accompanied the message beautifully. These are songs about friendship and going for it and getting "straight to the heart of love." As always, Hiatt writes beautiful lyrics and powerful, emotional music.
The film features a combination of voiced "bears" and live action performers. The "Bears" are voiced by the likes of Haley Joel Osment, Stephen Root ("Office Space"), Toby Huss and Brad Garrett. They do a marvelous job of giving life to "Bears" that sort of bring back the early days of "Chuck E. Cheese" live shows.
Live action performances are offered by Christopher Walken (cartoonish, but effective), Diedrich Bader (typically goofy) and Daryl Mitchell. Kudos to Stephen Tobolowsky and Meagen Fay as the parents of the young Beary. Eli Marienthal plays the typical jealous sibling, but does so effectively. The film also features some incredible cameos, though only a couple exhibit creativity. Nearly all of the musicians on the soundtrack show up in the film, including Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Queen Latifah, Elton John (probably the best cameo), Krystal, Don Was, Wyclef Jean, Brian Setzer (great concert segment), Jennifer Paige, Willie Nelson, Xzibit, E.G. Daily, John Hiatt and Colin Hay.
My guess is that young children will enjoy this film, especially those raised around country music. Yet, I believe this Disney film is an underrated, wonderful view for the entire family. It is funny...as I was reading this film's IMDB page, it stated in its recommendations that if you like this film you might also like "A Mighty Wind."
"The Country Bears" made me laugh...made me cry...made me sing along...in other words, it entertained me and changed me in a very small way. That, for me, is what going to movies is all about.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic