07.14.11 - The Imagineering geniuses behind Walt Disney World knew perfectly well what they were doing when they included a Country Bear Jamboree among the attractions of the Magic Kingdom—theme park focal point of central Florida's Vacation Kingdom.
As any child can tell you (and Theodore Bear's adult admirers will agree), bears and good times just naturally go together.
At Walt Disney World, the good times revolve around a show of bearfoot music—the kind of country and western tunes that drove the west wild—presented by a troupe of 20 Country Bears. This latest phase of man's affair with the hear—an affectionate relationship that's just about as old as the history of organized entertainment—involves the use of Disney s sophisticated Audio-Animatronics® system.
In this case, the electronic approach that brought President Lincoln to "life" at Disneyland, and gives to all 36 American Presidents in the hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World, is used purely for entertainment purposes, with continuous shows daily at: Grizzly Hall, in the Frontierland area of the Magic Kingdom.
The result is a happy mix of America's favorite music and the best-loved friend of the young at heart. The fact is that Teddy, Dora, Theo, and Tad—not to mention Mr. Edward Sanders and the one-and-only Pooh—rule over an empire of the heart that knows no boundaries of language, background, age, or sex.
From the time that Theodore Roosevelt's name was adopted by the first stuffed Teddy, bears have adventured around the world. One even climbed the Matterhorn—with his Alpinist owner. Equally adventurous is Mr. Woppit; the fastest Teddy in the world, he broke all land and sea speed records in the company of his master, Donald Campbell.
Nor are bears at all shy about making friends in the highest places. A Teddy sits on the windowsill of John F. Kennedy's childhood nursery; President Johnson's Teddy remains in residence at his Texas ranch. Even Nashville—home of the Country Bear Jamboree sound—has its famous bear, living with his old friend, Elvis Presley.
There's even a library full of bear books—most notably, the histories of Winnie-the-Pooh. Some forty years old, he's younger than ever—and is even thriving in Latin and Russian (where the hero is called Vinni-Pukh). Graceful old age seems to be the furthest thing from Pooh's mind. British actor Peter Bull, official historian of the bear facts—his Teddy Bear Book is a current best-seller—reports that an original Pooh drawing was recently auctioned for some $3,000, which isn't bad for a bear with nothing more than a pot of honey to call his own.
At that, Teddy and Pooh—and their contemporary colleague, Smokey the Bear—are latecomers to the business of keeping people happy.
Way back when, the real article was the center of attention in all kinds of popular attractions. The Greek writer Plutarch tells of British bears transported to Rome for circus performances—and that was back in the first century. In the more recent past, trained bears traveled Europe, entertaining villagers by dancing, wrestling and boxing with their keepers.
Even today, the same Russian bears—the most adaptable and trustworthy of the species—play regular circus performances, executing remarkable feats of skill and daring. So far as the public is concerned, a Russian circus isn't worth its name without a troupe of bears roaring around the ring on motorcycles and driving through hoops of fire with uncannily human skill.
As a matter of fact, to some of us bears are human. Many American Indians look on the bear as a sort of supernatural brother. The Ainu tribesmen of Japan even have a bear cult—in which they bring up cubs with the care and affection normally given to a child.
As fascinating as real bears may be to man, the stuffed article, though, has the lead in the love department. And now the whole marvelous mystique is getting still another new dimension in the form of the down-home country bear.
What's more, Big Al, and Henry the emcee, glamorous Teddi Barra and Wendell of the grizzly bearitone... the whole 20-bear club making up the Country Bear Jamboree bids fair to rival Teddy and Pooh in popularity.
Even before their formal debut, there was a waiting list for country bear replicas. The Pepsi-Cola/Frito-Lay people, who are presenting the Country Bear Jamboree at Walt Disney World, report a mounting list of requests for traveling bearfoot musicians—the kind a visitor can take home and love.
Is the traditional Teddy worried about the competition?
Interviewed by an inquiring arctophilist (that's a friend of bears), the long-reigning boss-bear could only Pooh-Pooh the suggestion that rivalry was causing trouble.
"The bear fact," he is reported to have said, is that what's good for one bear is good for the entire Magic Kingdom."