Disney’s bluegrass-twangin’ Country Bear Jamboree is getting a makeover with the help of Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, John Hiatt and others who will contribute to “The Country Bears,” scheduled for summer 2002 release.
As with the recent releases “Shrek” and “Cats and Dogs,” the live-action film aims at both children and adults and was described by a Disney publicist as “‘Almost Famous,’ but with bears.” In fact, the tour bus used in the film is the same one seen in Cameron Crowe’s feature.
In the Bears movie, which is being shot with high-tech animatronics designed by the Jim Henson Company, the Country Bear Jamboree reunite after unsuccessful careers (wedding singer, marriage counselor, hockey mascot) to prevent the evil Reed Thimble (played by Christopher Walken) from destroying the legendary venue Country Hall. Obstacles arising along the way include management hassles and Zeb Zoober Bear’s honey addiction.
The bears no longer play in a hokey country band thanks largely to Hiatt, who penned four new country-rock songs for the fuzzy critters to sing. “Can Love Stand the Test” is a duet featuring Henley and Raitt, who command the singing voices of Don Tennessee O’Neal Bear and Trixie St. Claire Bear, respectively. Henley and Raitt also appear in the audience as themselves during the bar scene that includes their song. In addition, Willie Nelson appears as himself and Elton John plays a gardener.
Hiatt and E. G. Daily each sing versions of Hiatt’s “Where Nobody Knows My Name,” and Hiatt performs a cheesy lounge version of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.” Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell plays on the Hiatt song “Straight to the Heart of Love,” which features vocals by Henley, Raitt and Colin Hay.
Bela Fleck wrote an instrumental track for the film.
Disney plans to add other songs to the movie, according to the publicist, and may recruit several well-known rock performers to write. Glynn Johns, who has worked with stars such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton and the Eagles, will produce songs for the soundtrack album.
Actors appearing in the film include Charles S. Dutton, Haley Joel Osment, Brad Garrett, Stephen Root and Richard Kind.
To promote the movie, Disney plans to film a “Behind the Music”-style mockumentary called “Off the Record,” which will feature tribute sound bites by Wyclef Jean, Xzibit and others.