"Welcome to the blue house!…howdy from the big bear!"
Prior to viewing this disc, I was not at all hip to the phenomenon that is Bear In the Big Blue House. When I pulled the disc out of the envelope of screeners I cringed because, you see, I enjoyed classic children's television when I was a tyke, stuff like Sesame Street or The Electric Company, and the only modern-day kid's shows I'd been exposed to were Barney and Teletubbies, shows that frankly made me want to purchase a sniper rifle and find the nearest clock tower.
Ah, but Bear In the Big Blue House…this is different…this, as far as tots' programming goes, is the good stuff.
Facts of the Case
The DVD contains three episodes of Bear In the Big Blue House, all having to do in one way or another with working:
• "Working Like a Bear": It's berry-picking time and, as the big, furry guy himself tells us, "If a bear does not put berries on the table, he or she is not a real bear." Subplots include Ojo the little bear and Treelo the green monkey playing firefighter, plus kid-on-the-street interviews in which real tykes answer the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" We also learn the value of bathing after a hard day's work and are treated to Bear and crew singing "Everybody in the Tub."
• "Woodland House Wonderful": Ms. Henrietta Vandepreen, an ostrich, calls Bear to let him know the Big Blue House has been selected as Woodland House Wonderful magazine's house of the year. Bear's got a problem, though: the place is a mess. The episode also teaches us the wonders of bathing and brushing one's teeth, and we're treated again to "Everybody In the Tub" as well as the dental hygiene anthem, "Brush Brush Bree." Ojo, Treelo, otters Pip and Pop, and Tutter the mouse help clean up in time for the big photo shoot. Moral of the story: things look, feel, and smell better when clean.
• "We Did it Our Way": Today's theme: cooperation. Doc Hog's coming for a visit and Bear promised to bake him a pie. Meanwhile, Pip and Pop have dropped a jar lid into a hole and learn working together is the only way to succeed in retrieving it. Bear takes time out from his baking to teach Tutter and Treelo the joys of cooperative play. In the end, the whole crew chips in and finishes the pie together. Doc Hog, thank goodness, remembers the whipped cream.
Here's the deal: Bear In the Big Blue House is grade-A parental propaganda. Certainly on the surface it appears to be simple children's entertainment, but its real goal is to pound into little kids' heads the idea that all kinds of stuff they absolutely hate doing is, in reality, the most fun in the world, stuff like cleaning their rooms, brushing their teeth, taking baths, cooperating with other children. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. Parents everywhere rejoice!
The show was created by Brian Henson, son of Jim and heir to the Muppet empire, and it really is quality children's fair. It's fun and simple and consistently structured so the tiniest of children won't find themselves lost or confused. One shtick that appears in all three episodes on the DVD (and I'm assuming every episode of the show) is Bear, as he welcomes us into the Big Blue House at the beginning of the show, sniffing around and observing something smells good, then poking his big, bulbous nose into the camera and telling us, lo and behold, it's us who smell so wonderful. It reminded me how live and real and interactive TV was to me when I was kid—little ones must eat that gag up.
Bear himself is a big, affable, fully-articulated Muppet much like Big Bird, as opposed to the crappy-suited Barney or creepy-faced Teletubbies. His voice is soothing and it won't drive adults to drink. He and all the other characters are Muppets after all. The performers bringing life to the show are the best in the business.
So, how does the show look on DVD? Like a television show shot on video. But the transfer is good overall, providing bright colors and sharp detail. There's tiny examples of video artifacts here and there, but nothing that ruins the presentation and certainly nothing that'll bug small children. I've never seen Bear In the Big Blue House broadcast, but I doubt it looks any better than the DVD and more likely it isn't quite as good.
Sound is Dolby Digital Stereo Surround. It's clean and clear. I expected no more and no less.
In addition to the three episodes of the show, the DVD contains four sing-a-longs: "Everybody In the Tub," "Brush Brush Bree," "Clean Up the House," and "Get It Together." They're musical segments pulled from the show, with lyric subtitles and bouncy-ball for singing along added. And this is an opportune time to mention the show's music. I can't stand most children's music. It tends to be so simple, repetitive, and melodic that it sticks in my head for days, driving me to the brink of insanity. I could never be a Good Humor man, driving that little truck around all day, listening to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" over and over and over. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. I'd become a serial killer. Having said that, the songs in Bear In the Big Blue House ain't bad. While simple, they're at least an order of complexity higher than nursery rhymes. And they're original songs, avoiding Barney's annoying convention of taking "Knick-Knack Paddy-Whack" and adding new, even more inane lyrics. If the music in Sesame Street doesn't bother you, you'll have no worries here.
Finally, the disc gives you the option of selecting episodes individually, playing all the episodes, or playing all the episodes in continuous rotation, a feature I'm sure is of vital importance to parents everywhere.
Bear In the Big Blue House: Tidy Time with Bear! is everything entertainment for small children ought to be, and Columbia TriStar has delivered with a quality DVD.
The show and the DVD are free to go. Court is adjourned.
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