In January 2011, Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management caught fire, leading to the removal of Iago from Aladdin and Zazu from The Lion King after a thirteen-year run in the former space of Tropical Serenade. In retrospect, the attraction was an absolute disaster. Adding intellectual property through Iago and Zazu wasn’t the problem. The classic music was replaced with a version of “Friend Like Me,” “Hot Hot Hot,” “In the Still of the Night,” and more. Years before “Conga” was part of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, it was a huge get for the late attraction along with “Get on Your Feet.”
The only redeeming quality of Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management was Uh-Oa, and that’s probably because Uh-Oah is a highlight of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. The point is that Under New Management is the perfect example of IP integration gone wrong. The show was looking for relevancy – like the awful rapping from the tiki totems. It didn’t find it, and it taught a valuable lesson.
At Destination D23 2023, Disney announced Country Bear Jamboree would be receiving new songs and performing a brand new act in 2024. Disney understands the importance of Country Bear Jamboree to Magic Kingdom as well as the importance of original characters to Disney Parks fans. After years of rumors and worrying about the fate of Country Bear Jamboree, the group is safe but with compromises.
The bears will be “reinterpreting favorite Disney songs in different genres of country music.” The example given at the D23 fan event was “The Bare Necessities,” and a small sample was played. It felt very familiar to the Country Bear Jamboree song, but it was distinctly different. That may have been due to the visual of seeing humans singing and playing, causing a disconnect. It’s not a bad change, but it is also necessary.
On a busy day at Magic Kingdom, Country Bear Jamboree still plays to a nearly full theater. On a slow day, you may find the theater only attracts single digits for each show. Regardless, the show being popular on a busy day isn’t a statement of its overall popularity. Country Bear Jamboree needs to be more relevant to cater to a new Disney Parks audience or the characters will become forgotten remnants of a different time.
The music of Country Bear Jamboree is part of what makes the attraction so great. “The Bear Band Serenade” is a high-energy start to the show. “Mama Don’t Whip Little Buford” and “Tears Will Be The Chaser For Your Wine” pack the humor with “All The Guys That Turn Me On Turn Me Down” bringing down the house with innuendo that you can’t believe exists in a Disney attraction in 2023. Big Al singing “Blood On The Saddle” is absolutely iconic.
The songs of Country Bear Jamboree feel like Disney originals, but beyond “The Bear Band Serenade” and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” the songs were mostly country ballads from the 1960s/1970s. “Blood on the Saddle” was sung by Tex Ritter, the voice of Big Al and father of John Ritter, in the 1940s. The bears brought the songs to life. Most of them have become synonymous with the attraction versus the original recording artists.
Disney now faces a tough choice. Intellectual property and movie integration are very important. Guests want to see the movies they know and love from theaters and Disney+ in the parks. However, fans also want original stories and creations like Country Bear Jamboree, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean to not only exist but define the future of new attractions. Expedition Everest has been cited as an example of original storytelling that works exceedingly well but may have never been built in the Disney Parks of today.
Back to Country Bear Jamboree… Disney has found a solution, apparently nineteen years old, to please fans while reaching a new audience. Incorporating familiar Disney songs into the attraction will at the very least keep guests engaged in the show. Whether they can handle the songs being sung by animatronic bears is another question, but it gives them a chance to find new fans. It is a fair compromise in a world where it increasingly feels like original storytelling doesn’t have a place in Disney Parks anymore.
The parks have to appeal to a new generation. There’s nothing to say they can’t fall in love with original Disney storytelling, but incorporating popular movies, songs, and characters gives them a fighting chance rather than losing relevancy. This formula didn’t work with Enchanted Tiki Room: Under New Management, but with care and attention to detail, it can work in this situation as it did for Pirates of the Caribbean (which didn’t need any help).
This solution can’t be applied across the board. If and when Figment has his attraction renaissance, Disney needs to recognize his IP can stand alone. Hatbox Ghost is a perfect example of this in recent years with his return to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion and his anticipated arrival to Magic Kingdom in November. County Bear Jamboree may have been able to do the same thing, but it goes back to the music. It is doubtful Disney could find recent, fun, well-known country music they could license on a budget that drives in crowds.
Long story short, County Bear Jamobree’s attraction update may not be a home run for everyone. There are probably people out there who would rather see it go than bring Disney into the mix. The important part of the story is original storytelling could still have a vibrant future at Disney Parks, but fans must also acknowledge when past favorites need new life. If it requires adding Disney into the mix, and it can be done successfully like Disneyland’s “it’s a small world”, then keep the changes coming and keep the greatest characters alive for a new generation.