How Animatronic Bears Gave Elton John a Cocaine Flashback
Elton John’s cameo appearance in the 2002 movie The Country Bears gave him a cocaine flashback, its director said.
Peter Hastings landed his first Disney commission with the story based on one of the rides at Disneyland. It follows a group of anthropomorphic bears who reunite their band to help save a performance hall that is at risk of destruction by the evil banker Reed Thimble. The movie was a complete flop, despite starring Christopher Walken – who loved bear costumes and told Hastings it was the second-best script he’d worked with after The Deer Hunter.
“It was so complicated, it was ridiculous,” Hastings told Screencrush. “I’d say, ‘OK, you’re gonna come into the room and then walk over to the table and then grab that ketchup bottle.’ That would take like 20 minutes to figure out all that blocking because the guy can’t see. So he’s literally counting steps, and meanwhile, he’s working in partnership with the puppeteer who is doing the face, while this other person is walking around and moving. Then I’m on the headset talking to them and the puppeteer is also doing the voice for it. It was kind of like directing sailboats.”
A particularly challenging moment came when the bears visit a Hollywood mansion belonging to John, as seen below. Believing it to be the home of one of their former members, they assume he’s a gardener, and this mix-up fires the comedy. “We’re standing there on the street and the bears are there, the whole setup is there. Elton is standing there, and the tour bus comes by,” Hastings said. “Can you imagine? You’re on the tour bus and it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, there’s a bunch of mechanical bears and Elton John in the driveway!’”
Next, the control cables that allowed puppeteers to control the bears’ faces got mixed up. “They accidentally plugged one puppeteer’s rig into the wrong bear,” Hastings said. “So when they plugged it into this the wrong bear, his jaw just exposed all his teeth and his face got all crooked. And Elton John said to me, ‘That looks like me after I did too much coke back in the day.’”
Watch Elton John’s Cameo in ‘The Country Bears’
Inspired by The Blues Brothers, Hastings invited several big-name artists to make cameos alongside John, including Don Henley, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and Don Was. The director said no one refused him – except Aerosmith, who told him they “didn’t want to be associated with ’70s rock” anymore.
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