||read the review
Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
Based on the unlikely source material of a Disney theme park attraction,
"The Country Bears" is a sweetheart of a movie. Part road picture,
part musical, and part moralistic family drama, the film is a dazzling
88-minute entertainment that features a stream of lovable characters
(both human and bear, courtesy of Jim Henson's Creature Shop) in a
nice little story about unconditional love and what being a family
really means. The original songs, written by John Hiatt, may be the
best use of melodic material written for the screen since Aimee Mann's
incendiary music for 1999's "Magnolia." Topping it all off is a G-rated,
live-action feature that adults can enjoy just as enormously as the
younger audience members.
Following a prologue showing the much-haralded country-rock band,
The Country Bears, at the prime of their careers in the early 1990s,
the action moves to the present day. Distraught over his older brother,
Dex's (Eli Marienthal), taunting about him not being a real family
member because he is a bear rather than a human, 11-year-old Beary
Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) decides to run away from
his generally happy home to find his birth parents. While on the road,
he happens across the Country Bear Concert Hall, which is going to
be demolished by snide banker Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken) unless
they can come up with $20,000. Soon, Beary has set out with his new
friends to gather up the old Country Bears bandmembers in order to
throw a reunion concert and raise the needed money to save the hall.
Meanwhile, Beary's loving and distraught human parents (Stephen Tobolowsky,
Meagen Fay) hire two bickering police officers (Diedrich Bader, Daryl
"Chill" Mitchell) to fi! nd Beary, whom they believe has been kidnapped.
Aided by a screenplay by Mark Perez, first-time director Peter Hastings
has crafted "The Country Bears" into a cheerful family movie with
the right measurements of light-hearted sweetness and rousing song-and-dance
numbers. The path Beary, understatedly voiced by Haley Joel Osment
(2001's "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence"), must take in order to find
his rightful place in the world is a universal theme that resonates
within this fantasy where human beings and talking bears co-exist in peace.
As Beary's unconditionally caring parents, Stephen Tobolowsky (1999's
"The Insider") and Meagen Fay (1999's "Magnolia") grasp an idealistic
tone that appropriately compliments the story, while Eli Marienthal
(2001's "American Pie 2") is charismatic as brother Dex. As the token
villain, Christopher Walken (2001's "Joe Dirt") avoids going over-the-top,
but it is still awkward seeing someone of his powerful caliber appearing here.
An impressive line-up of musicians make cameos, some of which perform.
A balladic duet between Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley (playing themselves,
as well as the singing voices of two of the bears) called "Straight
to the Heart of Love" is genuinely beautiful, while other musical
numbers involving Krystal Harris and Jennifer Paige also delight with
vitality and mirth. Credit lyricist and composer John Hiatt for creating
a soundtrack that is a must-buy for anyone into the country-rock and folk-rock genres.
Totally absent of bathroom humor, "The Country Bears" is a welcome
return to the more innocent days when the Muppets were the talk of
children everywhere. Teaching a valuable lesson about friends and
family is a tricky topic to pull off without preaching to the older
audience members, but director Peter Hastings has pulled it off. "Stuart
Little 2" and "Lilo & Stitch" were respectable motion pictures in
their own right, but "The Country Bears" is the most satisfying family film of the summer.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman