Walt Disney World has announced a new stage show coming to Grizzly Hall in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom that’ll reimagine Country Bear Jamboree. This post shares all of the details, concept art, and everything we know about the plan–plus comprehensive commentary and our conflicted feelings about the Bear Band doing a new act.
This news was announced during the “A Celebration of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” presentation at Destination D23 on September 8, 2023. Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro offered a sneak peek at concept art for the future in addition and teased what was to come in a few years.
This was one of many announcements and reveals at the 2023 Destination D23. Others include a new scene with Ahsoka in Star Tours, a first look at the Audio Animatronics in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, and a debut timeframe for Hatbox Ghost in Haunted Mansion. And that’s just what has been shared so far for Walt Disney World. We’ll have a recap of every announcement very soon.
During Destination D23, Imagineer Chris Beatty shared that he and his team love the Country Bears, which is why they’re bringing an all-new act to Grizzly Hall for the Bear Band to perform. The new show is coming in 2024, and will be called Country Bear Musical Jamboree.
When Country Bear Musical Jamboree debuts, the Bear Band will be reinterpreting favorite Disney songs in different genres of country music. Imagineers are envisioning the new experience as a homage to the classic musical revues in Nashville and they’re working with Nashville musicians to get the authentic country sound.
The Country Bear Jamboree will still have the fun and friendly tone fans enjoy with the same famous characters like the loveable Trixie, Big Al and others. Here’s a look at the concert-style poster art Imagineering created to promote the reimagined Country Bear Musical Jamboree:
Turning to commentary, this is a tough one. There’s almost certainly dramatically different reactions between the longtime and diehard Walt Disney World fans who were attending Destination D23 in-person versus more casual and newer fans.
For a lot of you, Country Bear Jamboree is nothing special, a relic of another time that has aged poorly and is long overdue for replacement. That describes a lot of people, and to them, this change will undoubtedly be embraced with enthusiasm and cautious optimism, at minimum. For others, not so much.
It’s no secret that we’re Country Bear superfans, frequently encouraging readers to make a bearline to Magic Kingdom’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Grizzly Hall. That’s where they can find Country Bear Jamboree, a show that is best appreciated by audiences with sophisticated senses of humor, good looks, and great taste in attractions and animals.
Joking (but not really) aside, we absolutely adore Country Bear Jamboree but also, we’ve expected it to be removed and replaced for years. We’ve been saying for over a decade that this is the type of attraction that would never be made today, and not just because it’s a stage show with a lot of Audio Animatronics. Country Bear Jamboree features a unique brand of irreverent humor, and some of the lyrics elicit audible reactions from the audience because they’re unexpected from a Disney attraction.
It’s going to take a while to gather my thoughts about this news, so for now, I’ll share what I wrote earlier this year in Reimaginings Inside the Park and ‘Beyond the Berm’ Expansion at Magic Kingdom:
As much as I hate to admit this, Country Bear Jamboree is on borrowed time. There are a number of reasons why Walt Disney World might want to do something with the beloved bear band. I love Country Bear Jamboree and will defend it until the end (if anything, I sincerely believe it has gained appreciation in the last few years, too!). But I’m also a realist.
Country Bear Jamboree is not going to exist in its current form forever. A decade from now, I’ll be satisfied if the Audio Animatronics bears simply still exist…but are singing different songs. That’s probably the best case and most realistic scenario, barring a catastrophe for the company, economy, or tourism tanking in a way that essentially causes the parks to freeze in time. (No damage inflicted, but also no development done–we call that the “Disneyland Paris Effect.”)
To be abundantly clear, this does not mean that I’m on board with reimagining Country Bear Jamboree. Again, this is a matter of (trying to) come to terms with reality, and the small miracle of the Country Bear Jamboree and those songs still being sung in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in the year 2023.
For me, this announcement mirrors finding out IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth was being replaced. I knew it was an inevitability for years, and more than anything else, was thankful that we got to see it so many times before it was retired. Like that, Country Bear Jamboree has had a great run. Also like that, I wish it would stick around Walt Disney World forever, but ‘get’ why that is unrealistic.
Unlike IllumiNations, this attraction will live on with the Country Bears sticking around, which is more than I honestly would’ve expected even a few years ago. Frankly, that is a colossal distinction between the two changes. If aspects of IllumiNations were modernized and reimagined to be incorporated into a more crowd-pleasing nighttime spectacular, I probably would’ve been personally sad but completely understanding. That’s the crossroads, of sorts, for me with this Country Bear news.
At some point, I’ll collect my thoughts and offer more comprehensive commentary about what makes Country Bear Jamboree so special. (Or perhaps not–I could never bring myself to do an IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth tribute post.) For now, here’s what I wrote several years back in My Top 10 Walt Disney World Attractions:
For so many people I’ve encountered, enjoyment of Country Bear Jamboree hinges upon whether they enjoy folk or country music. If they don’t, all of the bears in the world cannot save this attraction for them.
Bob Dylan’s forays into them aside, these musical genres are not my jam. The thing is, Country Bear Jamboree is not a simple country music concert performed by robotic bears. Instead, it’s simultaneously a love-letter to the genre, and a send-up of stereotypical Southern life. It borders on social satire, and in the process contains some of the best witty and irreverent humor ever showcased in a Disney theme park.
Most importantly, its irreverent humor is delivered in a playful and fun manner. Even as Country Bear Jamboree spoofs hillbilly culture, it does so in way that’s unlikely to offend. I grew up in rural Michigan and lived in Indiana for years, and rather than finding this humor offensive because it hits too close to home, I laugh at its astuteness.
Perhaps I just enjoy self-deprecating humor, but I think Country Bear Jamboree is a hoot, and one that makes me nod silently while laughing. When Big Al first appears, I think we all can relate. Who among us has not sat on our porch shirtless and shoeless, with jugs of empty moonshine scattered around our couch while watching the cars pass? (No? Just me. Okay then.)
Beyond Country Bear Jamboree’s catchy music and irreverent humor, the characters are excellent. Even though the runtime is fairly short (and shorter now than it used to be!), the character development is strong. By the end of the show, you have a good sense of each bear’s personality and their quirks.
When I think of the best theme park characters from Walt Disney World, Figment, Dreamfinder, Sonny Eclipse, and about 8 of the Country Bears come to mind. Talk about a strong ensemble! Country Bear Jamboree is like the Wet Hot American Summer of theme park attraction casts.
At the end of the day, none of this should really be necessary to persuade you that Country Bear Jamboree is among the best attractions at Walt Disney World. If you’re against singing, robotic bears, you are against America. It’s as simple as that.
Ultimately, the jury is still out on the Country Bear reimagining news for us. On some personal level, we will be sad to see the current Country Bear Jamboree go. That much is a given, as we love the irreverence and humor of the current selection of songs, and have endless nostalgia for the current show. It’ll be tough to say goodbye to Country Bear Jamboree in its present form.
However, how difficult that is really depends upon the execution of the replacement. If Imagineering is able to replace the current show while maintaining the Bear Band’s sense of humor, personality, and charm will go a long way for us. If Country Bear Jamboree’s successor manages to be the same ‘ole bears but performing different tunes, it’ll end up being pretty easy to accept this change.
That’s particularly true if the new show actually ends up being both good and popular, drawing larger crowds. Although we (selfishly) enjoy being able to easily grab a last-minute seat at Country Bear Jamboree and have plenty of space around us, there’s nothing we’d love more than the Country Bears playing to packed houses, having to wait in 15 minute long lines to see them, and have the Bear Band stick around for decades to come. If a new generation of Country Bear fans is forged in the process of this reimagining, that’s a big win in our book.
In other words, this is one of those rare things that’s potentially both a personal negative and bigger picture positive. There’s almost no world in which a replacement for Country Bear Jamboree improves upon the original for us. At the same time, we realize it’s a show of a different era, and overdue for a modernization to make it more appealing to modern audiences and new generations of Walt Disney World guests. If Imagineering is able to thread the needle and offer something that satisfies both the casual diehard and diehard demos, it’ll be a bittersweet success.
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What do you think of the reimagined of Country Bear Jamboree announced for Magic Kingdom at the 2023 Destination D23 event? Are you a disappointed diehard, cautiously optimism, or openly enthusiastic about this news? Or, are you in wait and see mode with this? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!