Case Number 17164: Small Claims Court

THE BERENSTAIN BEARS: HALLOWEEN TREATS

Sony // 1986 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski (Retired) // September 2nd, 2009

The Charge

"We are the Berenstain Bears. Mama! Papa! Sister! Brother! We appreciate each other."

berenstain bears halloween

The Case

The Berenstain Bears sure do appreciate each other, but it's questionable how much you or your children will appreciate them in The Berenstain Bears: Halloween Treats, despite the appeal of the Berenstain Bears books. This single-disc DVD release gathers vaguely Halloween-themed stories from the mid '80s cartoon, which of course is based on the long-running children's book series. The disc includes the following seven adventures, which each run about 12 minutes:

* "The Giant Bat Cave"
Troublemaking con-bear Raffish Ralph has a plan to turn Bear Country's bat cave (no, it's not the awesome superhero kind -- just a cave full of bats) into an amusement park. Brother and Sister Bear have to figure out how to scare him away from the project.

* "The Spookiest Pumpkin"
Papa Bear gets carried away trying to win a spookiest pumpkin contest at a local fair and obsesses about pumpkin security, becoming one of those paranoid gun-owner types...without the gun ownership.

* "The Wicked Weasel Spell"
The gang of weasels has a new plan to take over Bear Country: hypnotize Big Paw Bear and order him to bash all the region's cubs to death with a wooden club. Seriously, this is actually the plot.

* "The Missing Pumpkin"
Farmer Ben's prize-winning pumpkin is missing and the cubs play sleuth to find it, with some unwanted help from Papa.

* "Bust a Ghost"
The cubs try to sneak away on their merit badge camping trip without Papa. He's resentful and tries to scare them with a story about ghosts in the woods. Meanwhile, their butch chaperone, Scoutleader Jane, plans some retaliation against Papa.

* "The Spooky Old Mansion"
Some old lady bear who knew Mama Bear years ago leaves the family a mysterious gift that they must go claim in her spooky old mansion. Spookiness ensues.

* "The Trojan Pumpkin"
The Weasels and Raffish Ralph are back -- and speaking in rhyme all of a sudden. They convince Papa to plant a magic seed in his pumpkin patch, which grows into a pumpkin big enough for them to mount a bunch of cannons inside in another attempt to take over Bear Country.

I have very fond memories of the Berenstain Bear books from my childhood. I liked the warmth and familiarity of the characters, the adventures the cubs would have, and especially the tidy, detailed drawings of the furry bears and their cozy treehouse. Unfortunately, the 1980s CBS series from which these episodes are drawn severely dampens those simple charms with lackluster animation, grating voice acting, and plots that, frankly, seem much stupider than those I remember from the books. Regardless of how well my memory of those original stories serves me, The Berenstain Bears: Halloween Treats leaves the impression of cheap animation and overly simplistic, self-righteous storytelling.

Every inane plot is arranged around an obvious moral lesson, which is delivered in a heavy-handed fashion by one of the bears before the credits roll. At the show's best, it at least offers a good lesson and some silly fun, clipping along at a relaxed pace. "Bust a Ghost" is like this, with some halfway decent antics, an atmospheric setting in the woods at night, and a solid message, delivered at the end by Scoutleader Jane: "There are no such things as ghosts. Two, there is such a thing as bein' scared of 'em anyway." On the other end of the spectrum, there are some painfully dull stories here that don't even seem to connect with the Halloween theme. "The Wicked Weasel Spell," for example, features the cubs wandering around aimlessly for the first several minutes expressing vague worries that the Weasels are up to something, and then it proceeds with a hypnotism plot that didn't feel spooky in the slightest.

Then there are other instances of bad lessons and laughably unrealistic behavior from the down-to-earth Bear family. In "The Spooky Old Mansion," the writers and characters completely ignore the obvious implication that the old lady bear who has left them inheritance has died -- instead the family immediately and callously celebrates their good fortune to receive a gift. Then later (spoiler warning!) after the Bear family has traveled to the house in the middle of the night and gotten freaked out by scary animals living in it, the inheritance turns out to be a note revealing that by making the family enter the spooky old mansion, she has given them the gift of courage. Rather than cursing out the old bag and trudging home in a huff, the Bears are totally delighted by the bounty of moral edification they've received. One of the lessons, apparently, is that it's okay to arrange sanctimonious surprises for people that waste their valuable time and terrify them.

Lastly, one can't help but pick up on the way Brother and Sister Bear are clearly written by adults who have little conception of what children are like. Leading lives that are untroubled by anything but the most temporary setbacks, Brother and Sister maintain an exhaustingly exuberant attitude throughout all of the would-be turmoil in Halloween Treats. They're totally unfazed by Big Paw's menacing attack with a heavy club and by the sinister cannons threatening their lives and their home in "The Trojan Pumpkin." Plus, they have an absurdly keen sense of their own intellectual potential and moral failings and are able to articulate these things just as an adult would, as when Brother mutters to himself after seeing something supernatural, "Must've been seeing things. Guess that'll teach me to eat too many cookies!" or in this exchange when the cubs see a sign about a town meeting:

Brother: "What does that have to do with us? Town meetings are grown-up stuff."
Sister: "It has a lot to do with us. WeÕre the grown-ups of tomorrow!"

Sony has given this release little to no attention, it seems, since the technical quality is poor and there are no extras. At more than two decades old, the episodes appear faded and warn, with unstable, washed-out colors and frequent scratches visible. The image looks pretty soft and the original animation lacks smoothness. The sound quality is a bit tinny, though you won't wish for much improvement there when you hear the theme song -- just a mute button.

If you're dying for a disc to pop into the DVD player for the little ones, The Berenstain Bears: Halloween Treats isn't the worst way to secure yourself 84 minutes of freedom. It's calm, innocuous, and not too scary for younger kids (who apparently are feeling the Halloween spirit in August, based on the release date). But you and your cubs will have a far better time if you can find ten minutes to read them one of the Berenstain Bear books instead.

The Verdict

Guilty of that most common audiovisual crime: not being as good as the book.

Review content copyright © 2009 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 74

Perp Profile
Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0233033/combined

* Official Site
http://www.berenstainbears.com/