The history of the Country Bear Jamboree starts back in the mid 1960s when Walt was attempting to open Disney’s Mineral King Ski Resort. Walt knew that there needed to be some kind of entertainment for guests that wanted a break from skiing. So he came up with the idea of a show staring a bunch of singing bears.
That’s as far as he got when he handed it off to Imagineer Marc Davis. Davis and fellow imaginer, Al Bertino, created several concepts for the show. some of the ideas they had were a mariachi bear band, Dixieland bear band and a marching bear band. One day, Davis was drawing some characters for his latest idea…a “country” bear band. Walt came in and asked Davis what he was working on and looked over his shoulder (as Walt often did). Walt laughed and said he liked the bears. As he left, Walt turned to Marc Davis and said goodbye…a phrase Disney was known to never say. Walt died a few days later on December 15th, 1966.
Marc Davis carried on with the country bears idea after Walt’s death. I imagine because it was what Walt said he liked. The plans for the ski resort however, did not carry on. Rather than throw away the work that had been done, it was decided that the attraction would be added to the soon to be opened Magic Kingdom at the new Walt Disney World
On October 1st, 1971, opening day at the Magic Kingdom, the Country Bear Jamboree opened with 24 audio animatronic characters, most of them bears. Some of the other animals included a raccoon, a buck, a bison and a moose. The show was designed with a hydraulic center stage that raised and lowered some of the acts and turntable side stages that would turn around behind a curtain to expose the next act. This allowed for emergency maintenance on the animatronics during the show if necessary.
The attraction was so popular at WDW, that it was quickly decided that it needed to be added to Disneyland. But where do you put a show of animatronic country bears? The answer was simple. Create a new land. And so was born Critter Country.
On March 24th, 1972, the Disneyland version of the Country Bear Jamboree opened in Anaheim with one major difference from the original show. Disney imagineers realized that the show was so popular and drew such large crowds that capacity had to be increased. But how do you increase capacity without losing the intimate and small theater? You build two identical theaters of course and duplicate the show in its entirety. So about every 10 minutes, halfway through the show in the other theater, the show started in the duplicate theater, doubling capacity.
In 1984, the Country Bear Jamboree became the first Disney attraction to change during the year for a special holiday version when they debuted the Country Bear Christmas Special. In 1986, the Country Bears debuted their third show, Vacation Hoedown.
On September 9th, 2001, the Country Bear Jamboree audio-animatronics took their final bow in their final performance. The show closed to make room for another bear resident…The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. While the Pooh ride is a good one, there are times that I miss the Country Bears. I got to see the show one time in my life back in 1987 and I liked it. It wasn’t my favorite attraction but it was good.
Now, if you were a big fan of the Country Bear Jamboree and can’t make it to the Magic Kingdom or Tokyo Disney to see it, you can still see a piece of it’s history that has survived the times. In the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, just after you leave the Heffalump dream sequence room, turn around in your bee hive and look up. Above the doorway, hidden in the dark, you will see Melvin, Buff and Max, the mounted moose, bison and buck from the original show.