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10 Twangy Facts About Disney's Country Bear Jamboree

Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree hasn’t changed much in the past 44 years—and maybe that’s part of the charm. The animatronic stage show featuring a variety of ursine entertainers has been a Magic Kingdom staple since the Florida park opened on October 1, 1972. Even if you’re a bona fide Liver Lips McGrowl groupie, you may not know these 10 facts about the Country Bears.

1. THE ATTRACTION WAS ORIGINALLY SLATED FOR A DISNEY SKI RESORT.

Back in the mid '60s, Disney had big plans to build a ski resort in California’s Sequoia National Park. In addition to the ski slope, the resort would have included a five-story hotel with 1030 rooms, a movie theater, a general store, ice rinks, tennis courts—and a variety show featuring a band of bears that appeared to have wandered in from the surrounding forest. On September 19, 1966, Disney held a press conference to announce the project. On December 15, 1966, Walt died. Plans for the resort were eventually canceled, but the Imagineers didn’t forget about those animatronic performing bears. Catch a demo for the original idea here

2. IT WAS ONE OF THE LAST PROJECTS WALT WORKED ON.

Imagineer Marc Davis has said that Disney delighted in the preliminary sketches for the bear band concept. “Walt laughed when he saw [the sketches],” Marc remembered. “He looked awfully bad. He’d been in the hospital, and he’d lost a lung, and so on. Later he came back around ... and I stopped in my doorway ... and as he walked down the hall about 40 feet, he stopped and turned ... he said, ‘Good-bye Marc.’ And that was it. He died a couple of weeks later. And he never said good-bye, usually. He would say, ‘Let’s get together,’ or ‘How about next week?’ or something. I’m positive he had a feeling about it.”

3. IT WAS THE FIRST DISNEY WORLD ATTRACTION TO BE REPLICATED AT DISNEYLAND.

Plenty of attractions from Disneyland ended up in the Sunshine State, but the success of the Country Bears in Disney's Florida park made it the first attraction to be reproduced on the other coast. In fact, in 1972, Big Al and his pals inspired an $8 million Disneyland expansion called “Bear Country.”

4. THERE WAS A COUNTRY BEARS CHRISTMAS SHOW …

When the bears proved to be a roaring success, Disney added a twist to keep park-goers coming back. A kitschy Christmas version of the show, which included holiday songs and seasonal outfits for the bears, ran from 1984 until 2001 at Disneyland, and from 1984 until 2006 in Florida. Some of the props from the show live on in the Walt Disney Archives, including Liver Lips’ Christmas tree-shaped guitar and Teddi Berra’s skis.

5. … BUT LET'S NOT FORGET THE "COUNTRY BEAR VACATION HOEDOWN."

Christmas isn’t the only time Imagineers tinkered with the show. They also created the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown, a version that replaced the original country songs with tunes like “California Bears,” “Thank God I’m a Country Bear,” and “On the Road Again.” If you have fond memories of bears in bikinis and Hawaiian shirts, you need only to hop on a plane to satisfy your nostalgia: Vacation Jamboree is still playing at Tokyo Disneyland, with questionable updates (such as Trixie’s performance of “Achy Breaky Heart”).

6. DISNEYLAND'S WINNIE THE POOH RIDE CONTAINS A REFERENCE TO THE COUNTRY BEARS. 

By the ‘90s, enthusiasm for the Jamboree was waning on the West coast. In 2001, another bear was brought in to replace the show—Pooh Bear. Grizzly Hall was renovated to house The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but you can still catch a glimpse of its predecessor: The taxidermied heads of Max the deer, Melvin the Moose, and Buff the Buffalo can still be seen just before the entrance to the Hunny Heaven room (but you have to turn around in your car to spot them). 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

7. THE COUNTRY BEARS LIVE ON AT DISNEYLAND IN ANOTHER WAY AS WELL.

After the show closed in 2001, rumor has it that Big Al, the sad sack bear who plays guitar, was stripped down to his animatronic skeleton and given new life as Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas. He appears seasonally in the Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay.

8. BIG AL'S "BLOOD ON THE SADDLE" WAS PERFORMED BY TEX RITTER.

“Blood on the Saddle,” Big Al’s big solo in the show, is a real song originally performed by country singer Tex Ritter, father of actor John Ritter and grandfather of actors Jason and Tyler Ritter. Tex also provided Big Al's singing voice.

9. A FEW OF THE OTHER VOICES MIGHT SOUND FAMILIAR TOO.

If you’re a Disney fan, you’ve probably noticed that the company uses its favorite voice talents again and again. Country Bear Jamboree is no exception. Here’s where you’ve heard a few of those voices:

-The voice of Melvin the moose was provided by Bill Lee, who is also the singing voice of Roger in 101 Dalmatians and Cinderella’s father.
-Melvin’s buddy Buff is voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft, who can also be heard in the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Enchanted Tiki Room. (He’s also Tony the Tiger of Frosted Flakes fame.)
-Bubbles the bear is a member of the Sun Bonnet Trio, probably best known for the song, “All the Guys That Turn Me On Turn Me Down.” She gets her dulcet tones thanks to coloratura soprano Loulie Jean Norman, who can also be heard over at the Haunted Mansion as the opera-singing ghost in the graveyard. Norman definitely cemented her place in pop culture—she’s also the voice behind the Star Trek theme song and the high part in the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

10. THE ORIGINAL SHOW WAS SPONSORED BY PEPSI AND FRITO LAY.

Even though the sponsorship only lasted 10 years, the show script contained a reference to the Pepsi sponsorship until a 2012 refurbishment. Henry’s line at the beginning of the show, “Just refrain from hibernating, and we’ll all enjoy the show. Because we got a lot to give,” was a nod to Pepsi’s old slogan, “You’ve got a lot to live. Pepsi’s got a lot to give.”

If all of this talk has put you in the mood for some tunes from the all-bear Grand Ole Opry, you’re in luck. Here’s the complete Magic Kingdom show:

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The Princess Ride: Here's What a Princess Bride Theme Park Attraction Might Look Like
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Do you fight the urge to say “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” when introducing yourself? Have you spent the past 30 years mispronouncing the word “marriage”? If so, you may be a diehard fan of The Princess Bride. The cult film (and the book on which it’s based) has inspired board games, merchandise, and countless pop culture references. Now, two theme park designers from Universal have conceived the inconceivable. As Nerdist reports, Jon Plsek and Olivia West have designed the plans for a hypothetical attraction called “The Princess Ride.

Their idea follows the classic river boat ride structure and adds highlights from the movie around each corner. After watching Buttercup and Wesley’s love story unfold, riders are taken past the Cliffs of Insanity, through the Fire Swamp, and into the Pit of Despair. The climax unfolds at Prince Humperdinck’s castle and leads up to the two protagonists riding off into the sunset. The last thing the passengers see is Miracle Max and Valerie waving goodbye saying, “Hope ya had fun stormin’ the castle!”

The ride’s designers make a living turning stories into thrilling attractions. Plsek works as a concept artist for Universal Creative, the group behind Universal’s theme parks, and West works there as a concept writer. While The Princess Ride was just a fun side project for the pair, it isn’t hard to imagine their ride bringing Princess Bride fans to the parks in real life.

For more of Jon Plesk’s concept rides inspired by classics like Dr. Strangelove (1964) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), check out his website.

[h/t Nerdist]

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32 Things You Should Know About Epcot
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Happy Birthday to Epcot, the only place where you can drink in 11 countries without ever leaving Florida. In honor of its 35th birthday, we've rounded up some facts about Walt Disney’s vision for the future.

1. EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

2. Epcot turned out much differently than Walt had originally imagined it. Before Disney’s death in 1966, EPCOT was actually intended to be a real community where people would live, work, and play. See his intentions here:

3. To build the park, more than 54 million cubic feet of dirt had to be excavated.

4. With its two distinct halves—Future World and the World Showcase—it may seem like two different theme parks smushed together. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. When plans for the park changed after Walt’s death, some Imagineers wanted to go with a World’s Fair theme while others were pushing for a futuristic park. Two Imagineers put their models up against each other, and Epcot as we know it was born.

5. With 11.25 million visitors every year, Epcot is the world’s fifth most-popular theme park—right behind the Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland, and Tokyo DisneySea.

6. In 1991, Disney announced plans to build WestCot in Disneyland’s parking lot in Anaheim. Michael Eisner put a halt to those plans when Disneyland Paris flopped. California Adventure later opened on that spot instead.

FUTURE WORLD

7. Spaceship Earth, a.k.a. the giant golf ball, weighs 16 million pounds, is 165 feet in diameter and takes up 2.2 million cubic feet of space. The geodesic sphere is made from 11,324 aluminum and plastic-alloy triangles.

8. The term “Spaceship Earth” was coined by famous futurist and theorist Buckminster Fuller, who wrote a book called Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth in 1968.

9. Ray Bradbury conceived the original storyline and penned the original script for the Spaceship Earth ride.

10. The 5.7 million-gallon body of water at The Seas with Nemo & Friends is home to more than 3000 fish and other sea creatures. The sheer size makes it one of the largest man-made ocean environments in the world.

11. Captain EO cost an estimated $30 million to make. At just 17 minutes, that makes the film $1.76 million per minute.

12. The “Living with the Land” attraction is home to a Guinness World Record—the most tomatoes harvested from a single plant in one year (1151.84 pounds).

13. The food grown in Epcot greenhouses is actually used in the restaurants there, including the Garden Grill.

14. The Sea has a panel of experts that they use for consulting purposes. The panel has included Robert Ballard, most famous for discovering the wreck of the Titanic; Sylvia Earle, the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Gilbert Grosvenor, a former president and chief executive of the National Geographic Society.

15. Two people have died after riding Mission: SPACE. One was a four-year-old with an undiagnosed heart condition, and the other was a woman who suffered a stroke due to high blood pressure.

16. Leonard Nimoy directed the popular Body Wars movie at the Wonders of Life pavilion.

17. The score for Soarin’ Over California was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who said that he loved the project so much, he would have done it for free. Goldsmith’s many noteworthy scores include The Omen, Planet of the Apes, Alien, Poltergeist, Patton, and Rudy.

18. The Wonders of Life pavilion once contained a film where Martin Short explained how babies were made. Really.

THE WORLD SHOWCASE

19. The World Showcase promenade is 1.2 miles long.

20. The World Showcase lagoon spans 40 acres.

21. The Rose and Crown pub in the U.K. has a special machine that can cool your Guinness to exactly 55 degrees, the temperature recommended by the company.

22. Russia, Switzerland, Spain, Venezuela, United Arab Emirates, and Israel have all been mentioned as additions to the World Showcase side of Epcot at one point or another.

23. There were once plans for a boat ride called The Rhine River Cruise in the Germany pavilion. The show building was partially constructed, but the rest of the ride was trashed shortly after Epcot opened.

24. Contrary to popular belief, for the most part, the countries in the World Showcase are not funded by that country’s government. There’s one exception: Morocco.

25. Morocco’s King Hassan II reviewed a detailed scale model of the Morocco Pavilion for "authenticity and artistic effect." 

26. Imagineers have long considered a roller coaster inside of the Japan pavilion. It would be similar to the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, but would instead revolve around Mount Fuji.

27. The American pavilion is built at a slightly higher elevation than all of the other countries'. This is to show that it's a host country to all of the other pavilions, and also to help it stand out as the centerpiece.

28. For 17 years, Epcot’s Japan pavilion was home to Miyuki, the world’s only female amezaiku artist. She learned the art of creating small, edible animal sculptures out of brown rice toffee from her grandfather. Miyuki retired in November 2013.

SPECIAL EVENTS

29. More than 30 million blooms fill the park during the Flower and Garden Festival every spring.

30. The Food and Wine Festival in the fall represents 25 nations with 1.5 million food samplings, 300,000 wine pours, 360,000 beer servings, and 100,000 dessert portions.

PARADES AND FIREWORKS

31. The puppets for the now-defunct “Tapestry of Nations” parade were designed by Michael Curry, the same man who designed the puppets for the Broadway production of The Lion King. He has also worked on five Cirque du Soleil shows and multiple opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics.

32. Jim Cummings is the man who provides the voiceover at the beginning of “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth.” You may know him better as the voice of Darkwing Duck. He’s currently the voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Pete. Listen to the first 30 seconds of this video—you can probably hear a little bit of each of those characters.

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