Welcome to Grizzly Hall. While the bears are “paying tribute to our musical heritage of the past”, we are paying tribute to them and our Disney entertainment heritage which we are lucky enough to still experience today!
The Country Bear Jamboree opened in Walt Disney World in Florida in 1971, but the idea was not originally meant for Disney World.
In the mid 1960s, Walt Disney had plans to open a ski resort in Sequoia National Park, California. One of the plans the imagineers were working on was a show based on animatronic musical bears. They had several ideas including a bear marching band, mariachi bears, and dixieland bears. In the end, a hoedown style show paying homage to “Americana and our musical heritage of the past” won out and plans began.
According to imagineer Marc Davis, Walt enjoyed the beginning scripts, drawings, and ideas for the show. Shortly after conceptualization began, in 1966, Walt would pass away, leaving The Bears as one of the last attractions overseen by Walt personally.
Mineral King Resort did not end up a reality, but Walt Disney World in Florida did and the bears found a forever home.
The show takes place in the Frontierland section of the Magic Kingdom. As guests approach Grizzly Hall, the rustic lodge-type venue, a welcoming sign with a picture of the bears reads “Country Bear Jamboree” with the phrases “singin' & stompin” and “clappin' & growlin'” emblazoned on each side. Their slogan is revealed underneath: “A Wild and Wooly Good Time” (This is a reference to the song “The Wild and Wooly West” from the Dean Martin Movie “Hollywood or Bust”).
Grizzly Hall is the bear answer to Grand Ole Opry. The queue for the ride is a large, rustic, wooden lobby with paintings of the stars of the show. The paintings are said to be created by Disney Legend Marc Davis, although they are unsigned and we have not been able to verify this fact. As guests explore the lobby, they become familiar and curious about the stars with growling
growing excitement and expectation of seeing them in person- or, in this case, in bear!
On with the show!
The line leads into the main theater of Grizzly Hall. The theater is typical late 1800s-early 1900s Music Hall style with velvet red curtains, a main stage and smaller side stages.
Center stage has a backdrop with comical advertisements which are based on jokes relating to bears, such as:
“Caves for rent, Beehive retailers”
“Corsets- Cinch Like a Bear Hug”
Atop the stage, surrounded by gilded flourishes and angel bears, is a Victorian style portrait of our shows founder Ursus H. Bear. This is a little joke for the adults who get it- Ursus is latin for bear! From the dates on his portrait, we know Ursus lived from 1848-1928 and opened Grizzly Hall at the age of 50. Although we never meet Ursus, his image incites our imaginations for each guest to decide what the real Ursus was like.
To complete the rustic lodge theme, three heads adorn the wall to the right of the audience. While we’re waiting for the bears to enter, we’re met by our fellow audience members, Melvin the Moose
, Buff the Buffalo
, and Max the Deer
. As they bicker amongst themselves and complain about the wait, even though they’re “kinda hung up here”, as Mel puts it, they provide some occasional comical commentary throughout the show and and assist in singing the audience out the door at the end.
They set the ambiance of a hoedown, honky-tonk type show. They’re essentially a more rustic, animal version of The Muppet Show's Statler and Waldorf.
The original version of the show is very traditional in its country roots. Many of the bears are voiced by country and folk singers, rather than Disney voice artists as they are in the later versions. Most of the songs are authentic country and folk songs. Kids love the cartoony, caricature versions of the bears while adults pick up on the subtle humor in most of the lyrics. Favorites that usually get a laugh are “My Woman Ain’t Pretty (but she don’t swear none)” and “If You Can’t Bite, Don’t Growl”. Kids and adults alike “clap their hands and stomp their feet” along with the catchy tunes.
The show ends with an exciting entire-cast finale of the song “Ole Slew Foot”, followed by something that sounds like a crash or explosion which is never fully explained. Henry bids the audience goodbye, accompanied by the heads on the wall (Buff, Melvin and Max), singing “Come Again”, a song filled with bear puns and warm wishes to the audience, reminding them to “gather your belongings and your husbands too”.
The show in the Magic Kingdom was so successful, that the Disneyland version of the attraction, identical to the MK version, opened on March 4, 1972.
Due to the success of the show, Disney created a seasonal overlay for the holiday season which debuted at Disneyland at the and at Magic Kingdom in the winter of 1984. The seasonal overlay consisted of holiday lights, a Christmas tree, and Henry in Dickens style garb. Creating a holiday themed show with classic holiday tunes, new voice actors and more banter between the characters. This version opens with Melvin goofily singing along to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, when Max the deer interrupts him, insisting that he is the Deer so he should be singing the song. True to character, Henry eases the tensions between “the boys” and invites Gomer to the stage. One by one, the bears perform holiday songs, leading to a grand finale with the entire cast. Disney stopped adding the overlay after the 2005 Christmas season. It is rumored this was due to lack of attendance, and copyright issues with certain songs.
The final alternate version of the show was the Vacation Hoedown. Guests who visited Disneyland between February 1986 and its closing in 2001, will remember this version of the show, as it completely replaced the original!
This version opens with the Buff, Melvin and Max ready for vacation, with Buff and Max wearing a cap and fishing hat, and Melvin wearing various hats on his antlers like a hat rack. A slight but noticeable difference in the opening scene is that rather than Henry introducing the show, the curtains open to the Five Bear Rugs calling for someone named “Rufus”. We hear Rufus grunting a few times, but never actually meet him. It is implied that he is the bears stage manager. The Five Bear Rugs then break into “The Great Outdoors”, joined by Henry wearing his old camp T-Shirt which reads “Camp Grizzly”. The bears all perform summer or vacation themed songs. This version contains more popular mainstream songs than the others including “(I wish they all could be) California Bears” and “On the Road Again”. It contains two more traditional country songs “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “Rocky Top”. The show ends with a full-cast finale of “Thank God I’m a Country Bear”.
This version of the show appeared in Disney World in May of 1986 until 1992, when the original show took its place.
From 1992 until today, the original version of the show continues to delight children and adults, new guests and veteran guests alike. There are many die-hard bear fans out there who look forward to visiting their favorite bears year after year, singing along to some of their favorite songs, and experiencing that classic music, banter and style that is lost in much of modern entertainment.
In many ways, the Country Bear Jamboree is a real trip back in time. Not only is it based on historical style entertainment, it looks and sounds almost the same way as it did in 1971 on opening day in the Magic Kingdom. The show has been shortened with some of the banter and songs being removed over the years, but overall, guests can share the experience that have been bringing Disney Fans back to the attraction long enough that the bears will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary in 2021. They hope you “bearrel
” around to see them then!