What's that smell?
What is wrong with America? Why are we obsessed with our rear ends and what does, or does not, come out of them? On a daily basis we are deluged with ads for laxatives and diarrhea suppressant. Feeling gassy? There's a pill you can take. WANT to feel gassy? Got one for that too. Is it any wonder that in a society brimming with heartburn relief and antacids, quilted toilet tissue and lightly wet butt wipes for both baby and parents, that we become fixated on our rumps? But nowhere is this twisted obsession more outlandishly laid bare than in the plethora of potty training tapes and books available. Long considered the first real step in child maturation (and turned into a pre-adolescent nightmare by Freud and other brain scanners who've labeled toilet trouble as the first steps toward everything from sexual perversity to serial murder), there is an entire cottage industry built up around teaching toddlers to turd and tinkle. From the now classic books Everyone Poops and Once Upon a Potty to action figures and motivational stickers, helping the child discover his or her inner bowel has become family-oriented big business. Add Jim Henson's Bear in the Big Blue House to the samples of stool instruction. Potty Time with Bear may not win the Noble Prize for excrement explanation, but for 22 minutes or so, it is one of the most inadvertently hilarious DVDs out there.
Facts of the Case
Bear is a big cuddly grizzly who lives in a large blue house. He has many animal friends who live with him. Tutter the mouse, Ojo the young female cub, Treelo the lemur, and Pip and Pop the otters all share Bear's wonderful home and entertaining adventures. Shadow, a talking…well…shadow is also his friend and tells Bear interesting, Eastern stick puppet style tales. Every night, before he goes to bed, Bear visits with Luna, the moon. They reminisce about the day and sing a goodnight song. There are three episodes of the television show offered here:
When You Have to Go: Bear helps mouse friend Tutter and little bear Ojo become more comfortable and confident about going to the bathroom and using the potty.
If At First You Don't Succeed: Bear teaches Pip and Pop the otters, and little bear friend Ojo the importance of trying, showing how practice makes one better at picking berries, or otter hoops.
Call It a Day: As the gang settles in for a slumber party, Bear cleans up and reflects on all the different events that happened during the day, from a swim at the pond to the bedtime story.
This is going to be a very tricky review. It is going to require disclaimers and content warnings. Those with heart conditions or other medical maladies that prevent them from comprehending or appreciating the tone and material presented will simply have to click on another review link for your daily fix of DVD dissection. For you see, this review is going to focus almost exclusively on that most foundational and hilarious aspect of comedy and wit: scatological, sophomoric toilet humor. That's right. It's impossible to do otherwise. When presented with the prospect of pooping puppets, of felt and fabric farting, filling and flushing the bowl, what more can an easily entertainment mind do but grab the Lysol and go with the flow (so to speak). Parents need to be warned: aside from being a really enjoyable children's entertainment presentation, Bear in the Big Blue House: Potty Time with Bear has so many unintentional BM, ca-ca, and checher jokes that the Farrelly Brothers would be jealous. It's enough to drive even the most infantile brain into fits of doodie delirium. It may not teach your kids about what to do when they need to make #1 or #2, but it is subversively humorous. And frankly, if you don't find the prospect of watching muppets make mud pies hysterical, there is something wrong with your funny bone.
Understand that, unlike the advertising on the front, this disc is not all about stuffed animals with skid marks. Of the three episodes offered, only one deals with "the grunts," while the others focus on more important life lessons like trying, learning, sleeping, and daily reflection. But let's face it, if you are over the age of three, none of this will matter to you. The lessons may be simple and sincere, and the storytelling wonderful and imaginative, but what you really want are more and more tales of tiny talking toys taking their first trip down the Hershey highway. And Bear in the Big Blue House delivers. We get to witness a mouse with the trots. We watch with mischievous glee as Bear comforts a young cub as she relieves herself all over the bathroom floor. We discuss the importance of wiping and washing up. And we even get to sing songs about knowing when to go, and joining cult-like religious sects revolving around the commode. And no matter what the Charmin commercials try and sell us, the answer to the question "does a bear shit in the woods?" is a flat out "NO!" According to this DVD, bears do their dirty, sinful business in a wonderful split-level dwelling with indoor plumbing and ornate fixtures. Kind of seems unfair that many third world countries use their streets and sidewalks for sewers and yet a bunch of overstuffed carnival prizes get Kohler toilets and Peerless washerless faucets.
Honestly, this disc is not going to teach your young one very much about not squirting his pants. It is not instructional and the message seems aimed more at a mature, not a maturing age bracket. It feels more like a parental panacea, a way of making the frightening and overwhelming prospect of helping instruct your child on how to properly pinch a loaf or throw a whiz that much less heart attack and/or stroke inducing. Bear is all about comfort, about being at ease with your feces and urine. And outside the outhouse he is a wonderful creation, a big burly bundle of love and understanding. It is easy to see how kids would want to coddle and cuddle up to him. But standing next to a bidet or discussing the concept of "having an accident," he turns into a juvenile joke. It is just impossible to take him, or his hilarious hype about learning to pee properly seriously. And it's really not his fault. It's not the messenger. It's the message. It must boggle the minds of new parents to think of the whole kiddie colonic construct. Not only that, but also that there is an entire market dedicated to making their child's transition from diaper to dump mind and tuchus comforting. But with the wealth of wee making material, just how and what does one choose? Something new, like The Bananas in Pajamas Toilet Training Tea and Pea Party? Or perhaps a classic, like Dr. Seuss's Horton Has a Dingleberry?
All joking aside, Bear in the Big Blue House is a wonderful show. But tackling tough issues like toilet training should, perhaps, be left to professionals and experts, not actors and performers in faux fur fun suits. It's a Herculean task to find a big, cuddly teddy bear discussing the ramifications and importance of defecation anything but insane. Serious, touchy or controversial subjects demand a more balanced, less baby talk approach. And maybe teaching your child personal hygiene and health issues is just not within the realistic realm of puppet philosophy. What next? Tutter wants to explore his sexuality, and Bear supports him through a series of bi-curious experiments? Pip and Pop defraud millions of stockholders and seek Bear's guidance on how to handle the upcoming legal and publicity firestorm? Terrorists attack the Big Blue House and Bear is there to explain why suicide bombing is wrong? We don't need committees and licensed loons mandating an even dumber version of Life's Little Bathroom Instruction Book, especially when it is marketed in such a fetching and friendly package. While Bear receives high marks as a show and an overall concept, this DVD will only aid the drunken frat boy of Chi Omega at their next house party. One can imagine the pledges, running around in their underwear screaming "we are members of the mystic order of the toileteers!"
Columbia TriStar does do a good job with its simple, straightforward presentation. The full screen image captures all the color and clarity of the show without any major defects or video artifacts. The Dolby Digital stereo is also very good, especially during the songs where elements like bass and treble really shine. In addition to the episodes, we get isolated sing-alongs, taking tunes from all three segments and presenting close captioned lyrics onscreen so your child can croon along with Bear and his pals. But remember: one of these songs focuses on using the toilet and not every parent may be liberal enough to consider a pop song to poop appropriate musical poetry. Aside from some trailers for other children's titles (including the noxious Jay Jay the Jet Lag), this is an overall quality but decidedly bare bones children's product. It's just too bad that a little more thought wasn't put into the educational or informational issues raised. Extras like a series of scientific or health geared videos or essays should have been included. Part of the problem with any presentation of sensitive subject matter is the desire to treat it…sensitively. If you're going to teach a child about dealing with their bowel movements, shouldn't we get something more helpful than H. R. Pufnstuff singing about his fudge factory?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sure, this review is juvenile and flip, but it is also offers a valid philosophy underneath the naughty jokes; the whole notion of toilet training tapes for parents and children is just plain ludicrous. Some things are best left behind the doors of privacy and how one handles their waste product is definitely one of them. Still, Bear in the Big Blue House is a truly wonderful show, and the overall program is perfect for any child or any age. The songs are wonderful, the visuals exciting and the interaction between Bear and his friends very wholesome and familial. There are good lessons to be learned here, lessons about taking one's time, about practice and perseverance. But unfortunately, any good that can possibly come from parents and children addressing the issue of the potty will be undermined by the incredibly surreal idea of teaching kids good bathroom habits by implementing imaginary creatures. Other judges on the site have reviewed other Bear DVDs, and almost all have found them entertaining and informative. However, this disc suffers from the inclusion of the potty episode. Perhaps it should have been removed and an all-toilet title created. Unfortunately, two other really good episodes are soiled, so to speak, by the bizarre inclusion of Bear and his BM buddies.
Let's face it. If handled correctly, feces are funny. Jokes from and about the john create immature impish grins on the faces of anyone who ever laughed at the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles, or the horse laxative rectal explosion in Dumb And Dumber. But placed within the toddler connotation, bottom brownie baking and the production of personal lemonade takes on a whole new creepy meaning. For some reasons, kids and crap are synonymous, one not being far from the other. Bear in the Big Blue House: Potty Time with Bear has the best intentions. It wants to take the fear, the shame, and the apprehension out of toilet training for both parent and child and turn it into a homogenized, pasteurized pleasurable pastime. One can envision the story meeting, where buzzwords and catch phrases like "non-confrontation," "empowering" and "self-image supporting" were thrown about like psychologists with techno babble Tourette's toward a goal of maximizing bathroom efficiency while minimizing "pre-seat evacuations" and "post-potty anxiety based constipation issues." But it doesn't work. This DVD is a timid teaching tool, too generic to be enlightening. But since it deals with the nether regions and the stuff which hence flows forth, American parents will be fanatical about it, and enlightened adults in tune with the inherent humor in log launching will find themselves double over in laughter. Poor Bear. All he wanted was a quiet place in the woods to spread his scat. Now he has to share it with families everywhere.
Bear and his cast of cuddle characters are free to go. 2/3rds of Bear in the Big Blue House: Potty Time with Bear is acquitted on all charges. The When You've Got to Go episode is held over in juvenile detention pending further evaluation from a team of psychiatrists and baggy pants comics on its ultimate value as either instructional tool or lewd laugh-a-minute comic gem.
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