March 11, 2011

Disneyland Attraction Posters: The Critter Country Collection

With the smallest of Disney lands, comes one of the fewest number of attraction posters. The story of Critter Country aka Bear Country aka the Indian Village truly speaks to one of the constants of Disneyland's evolution: the park will always be changing, influenced by both the history of the Walt Disney Company and the future of it.

The grand opening of Walt Disney World and the Magic Kingdom in 1971 had a significant impact on Disneyland in California. Following several years of very impressive attractions and explosive growth in guest numbers, the focus shifted to Florida. With New Orleans Square, the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and the New Tomorrowland, the risk-taking Imagineers amassed an incredible string of stunning successes. The public was quick to respond with increased attendance and increased spending in shops and eateries. It was now time to focus on Florida where the company was opening an entire resort and not just an individual theme park.


Certainly, Florida's Magic Kingdom used Disneyland's primary attraction roster and general layout as its blueprint with several attractions being slightly tweaked due to placement in a new land compared to the west coast park (The Haunted Mansion) or adjusted for Central Florida's less hospitable weather (It's A Small World). There were a few new attractions for the Magic Kingdom, and one of these quickly made its way to California: the Country Bear Jamboree.


The show itself began life as an entertainment concept for Disney's proposed Mineral King development, but when those plans fell apart, the very corny but clever Audio-Animatronic theater show was placed into the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland. It's blend of country music and hillbilly bears made it an instant hit.


Back in the day when a few years between new attractions was unheard of, the Disney suits decided to clone this Florida gem back to the California park, adding one additional theater to handle the expected crowds. The Indian Village closed, and the bears moved in, bringing a north woods feel to this quiet corner of the park. Along with Teddi Berra's Swinging Arcade, the seemingly Mile Long Bar, and the Golden Bear (now Hungry Bear) Restaurant, the new show created a brand new land that drew in guests- for a season. Interestingly, it was the first time that guests could be in the park and walk beyond the boundaries created by the tracks of the Disneyland Railroad.


When Michael Eisner took over the reins at the Walt Disney Company, he was wise enough to see the parks needed an injection of attractions that would compete with the thrills found at other amusement parks in the area. The fading popularity of the old Tomorrowland show, America Sings, provided the perfect opportunity to further expand Bear Country.



Imagineer Tony Baxter and his team executed an idea for a log flume based attraction themed to Song of the South, an old Disney film filled with charm and controversy. With its deep storytelling, catchy music, repurposed animated characters, and a thrilling flume drop, Splash Mountain was destined to be another hit. The poster above celebrated its grand opening on July 17, 1989. The attraction continues to draw some of the longest lines at Disneyland regardless of the season.


Country Bear Jamboree was quickly losing an audience as guests from the west coast grew bored with the show's hillbilly flavor. The Imagineers tried to reuse the bears by creating a new thriiling attraction of a different flavor (go here), but the budget minded management- the same leadership involved with the creation of the disaster of California Adventure 1.0- vetoed the plan in favor of bringing another Florida attraction to California.


It was a silly old bear that created more change for this little corner of Disneyland. Winnie the Pooh remains a popular, beloved character in children's literature and in film. The Walt Disney Company opened a dark ride attraction in Florida which replaced Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in the Magic Kingdom.


Four years later in 2003, another version of Pooh's attraction appeared in Disneyland, replacing the Country Bear Jamboree, which had run its course of popularity. Had the suits and the Imagineers planned better, Country Bear Jamboree could have stayed open if reduced to one theater, and Winnie the Pooh could have still been designed using the available space more creatively. This would have resulted in two attractions for children and families who chose not to ride or couldn't meet Splash Mountain's height restrictions. Bear Country became Critter Country to better reflect the home of its newest inhabitants. The new attraction's poster, however, did not appear until many years later, when Disneyland management continued to build a fan base for this less than wonderful dark ride.



Editor's note, July 2014: Above the 25th anniversary poster of Splash Mountain!

As you can see, changing tastes affect the popularity of the park's attractions, and this in turn changes what ends up in the parks. What will come next to this area of Disneyland? Who knows, but my bet is the Imagineers still have some new tricks up their sleeves.


Next stop on our grand circle attraction poster tour- the Old and Wild West!


(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

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