Thursday, January 11, 2024

Requiem for Country Bear Jamboree


Disney recently announced an official closing date for the Country Bear Jamboree at Magic Kingdom.   There really isn't anything groundbreaking in this announcement, as we knew this was coming back at Destination D23 in September.  But we can talk about what other little substance there was to this announcement, though most of all, I wanted to expand a bit on what I said in that longer D23 post, now that the end is actually (almost) here.


Disney often likes to say things like "coming in 2024", and this was just one of the many things that were talked about with a vague time frame.  I had foolishly hoped that I would have one more opportunity to see this show in all of its kitschy, animatronic glory when we visited in April.  But alas, Disney is going to get to work on the new show starting on January 27, and it won't reopen in its new (improved?) form until "summer" (another vague timeline that surely comes after our April trip).

The official Disney blog post says that the new show (titled Country Bear Musical Jamboree) will have plenty of "easter eggs" that nod to the current/closing version, and that it will include "a familiar tune fans may remember."  I don't have a particular guess as to what that is right now, though I will give Disney credit for at least not trying to bury the past Country Bear legacy.  And seeing the same Bears perform Disney songs in country music styles is objectively better than simply replacing this show with another cookie cutter Disney intellectual property (IP) show or attraction.

That being said, I'm going to miss this show.  A while back, I talked about the various show attractions at Magic Kingdom.  All of these are low key, sparsely attended ways to get off your feet and into some nice air conditioning.  But beyond that, they are also some of the only remaining links to Walt Disney's legacy in the parks.  Losing this one makes me wonder whether we're going to lose the Tiki Room or the Carousel of Progress as well (the Tiki Room in particular underwent a transformation years ago to include Iago and Zazu.  I don't know if it was particularly well loved, but I do know that there was a fire to that building and when they rebuilt and reopened the attraction, it went back to the familiar show we have today.  True story!)


It's not just Big Al singing "Blood on the Saddle."  It's not just Trixie's heartrending rendition of "Tears Will Be The Chaser For Your Wine."  It's not just "as soon as I find a ladder I'll be riiiiight up".  It's not just the cast finale of "Ole Slew Foot" (including Big Al reprising the above song and being told, "you've had your turn.").  It's all of these things and more.  

The Country Bear Jamboree truly reminds me of Walt, as this was an attraction he had wanted for years, going back to the ski resort in Mineral King, California that was never built.  There are/were versions of the show at Magic Kingdom, Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland, as well as a Christmas and "vacation hoedown" overlay throughout the years.  What I'm saying is that we're losing a piece of Disney history here.

I don't want to be too dramatic about this type of thing.  Change is a constant at the Disney parks, and as much as nostalgia plays a large role in how guests feel about their visits, usually what comes next is better than what came before.  Think about how much better the current iteration of Tomorrowland is than the opening day version at Disneyland, to name one.  

So I don't expect the parks to stay stuck in time, never replacing or improving anything.  And when it comes to the four Florida parks, I expect it in all of them, but less so in Magic Kingdom.  That park is the closest thing the east coast has to Disneyland, which in itself was the only park that Walt ever stepped foot in.  There are plenty of exciting, technologically advanced attractions there. But if any park was going to keep an older, quieter, gentler legacy of how things used to be, it would be that one.

Besides the shows I mentioned above, attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion are Disney staples.  Those two have both undergone changes over the years, but the core of the attractions remain as they were when they were built.  This is what I hoped for when it came to the Country Bear Jamboree - a reminder of a simpler time, a show that I enjoyed as a kid that I can get my own kids excited about and that hopefully one day they would get their own kids to enjoy.

I mentioned earlier that this attraction is usually sparsely attended.  I have to assume that this is at least in part why Disney wants to make this change now.  Obviously they want to maximize every inch of space they have.  But shouldn't there be attractions that aren't as popular as others?  Not everything has to be stressed over, or organized and planned in advance just to get a chance to ride or watch.  And I don't know that the new version would be anyway, once the "new attraction smell" wears off.  But I tend to think that we're losing something important here, and it's going out without much fanfare.

Obviously the bigger change to Frontierland in recent times was the refurbishment of Splash Mountain into Tiana's Bayou Adventure.  That was a lightning rod of a change, as plenty of people pushed back against it.  I don't love the reasoning behind it, but the fact remains that the ride will be largely the same, just with new theming (and without the classic soundtrack, though I suspect that the new songs will be pretty great).  

This recent announcement about the Country Bears also hinted that more changes could be coming to Frontierland.  Could that be the "beyond Big Thunder" that's been hinted at?  I think eventually yes, though that will probably be its own land and not just Frontierland renovation.  Frontierland is supposed to be a reminder of the early days of America, and I hope that whatever changes take place honor that tradition.

I don't really have much more to say about the Country Bear Jamboree, other than that I'll miss it in its current form.  It's dated, surely, but I like that I get to sit down and enjoy a show that was cutting edge for its time, and marvel in the ways the animatronics move on and off stage.  If you get the chance to visit in the next few weeks, stop by and say goodbye for me.  Good thing we'll always have YouTube.

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