If animated bears are the new arbiters of manners, Judge Lacey Worrell looks forward to seeing Yogi Bear's guide to picnic etiquette.
Our reviews of The Berenstain Bears: Bears Out And About (published August 31st, 2005), The Berenstain Bears: Bears Take A Car Trip (published June 1st, 2005), The Berenstain Bears: Christmas Tree (published October 24th, 2008), and The Berenstain Bears: Halloween Treats (published September 2nd, 2009) are also available.
Learning to say please, not to tease, and how to stop with the gimmies, the Bears are finding there's big fun in good manners.
While there are some good values being taught here, watching The Berenstain Bears: Bears Mind Their Manners! may just put you on icky sweetness overload.
Facts of the Case
Brother and Sister Bear live with Mama and Papa in a tree house located in Bear Country. In this DVD, they face all sorts of etiquette dilemmas, from remembering to be appreciative, to welcoming a new kid at school, to learning not to be selfish. Each episode opens with a little rhyme that sets the stage for the story to come. The episodes are as follows:
• "Say Please and Thank You"—Brother and Sister Bear aren't remembering to say "please" and "thank you" often enough. They keep their bus driver waiting, they track mud into school, and Brother even breaks one of the school's windows with a football. A discussion around the dinner table gives Mama and Papa Bear a chance to emphasize the importance of appreciating others.
• "Papa's Pizza"—Sister and Brother have a scheduling conflict when they both invite a group of friends over to their house on the same day. As they plan the party, it becomes clear that they expect everyone to share their own opinion on food. After Mama points out that everyone has different tastes, the bears go on a mission to please their friends' palates. When they're given too many opinions, however, Brother and Sister must find a way to compromise.
• "Mighty Milton"—Brother excels at baseball, basketball, and soccer, which enrages Too-Tall, the school bully. Too-Tall begins picking on Brother's new friend, Milton, a new student. Milton is gawky and overweight. A visit to Milton's farm shows Brother what a fun bear Milton really is, and Milton turns out to have some hidden athletic talents of his own, which might just silence Too-Tall once and for all.
• "Double Dare"—Too-Tall is back, calling Brother a chicken and daring him to explore a spooky cave. When Brother is goaded into stealing watermelons from his friend Farmer Ben, it is clear the joke has gone too far. Farmer Ben gives Brother a gentle lesson in thinking for himself instead of following the crowd.
• "Big Blooper"—Sister and her friend Lizzie are playing at Lizzie's house one day when they decide to watch a movie aimed at teenagers. After viewing the negative behavior and language in the movie, the two girls begin trying it out on their friends and family, which lands them in a load of trouble. Sister learns that emulating bad behavior can lead to hurt feelings.
• "Get the Gimmies"—On a grocery shopping trip with Mama and Papa, the bears constantly ask for candy and toys. Although this earns them a lecture about selfishness from Papa, Gramps and Gran arrive to share some stories about Papa's own selfishness when he was a cub.
If you go back to the first time the Berenstain Bears appeared in print, they have been around for over 30 years; there is no doubt they have staying power. In addition, country music fans will love the very distinctive voice of Lee Ann Womack, who sings the title song.
Although the stories are mildly entertaining, this DVD commits a cardinal sin of children's entertainment: The adults lecture all the time. It's too much. There is a reason why characters like Peter Pan, Nancy Drew, and Huck Finn have endured the test of time; there are no parents around to muck up all the fun and the action. The characters must learn the lessons themselves, and from the people they encounter. Mom and Dad rushing in to give a quick lecture is just too much like real life, and it eliminates the necessity to think for oneself.
That said, this DVD does have some good, solid features to it, namely the fact that it underscores the need to respect grown-ups and one another. A range of emotions are portrayed, both positive and negative, and the characters manage to work through them. In "Mighty Milton," children's ability to be incredibly cruel to one another is handled quite deftly, and in "Say Please and Thank You," there is an interesting moment where, after Mama and Papa Bear emphasize the importance of appreciating others, it is clear the lecture has just gone over the kids' heads.
On the negative side, the episodes have a very choppy feel to them; each is basically a series of examples before the moral is spelled out. The adults in the stories often indulge the kids to a fault: Brother's principal is perfectly okay with the fact that Brother just threw a ball through a school window, and Farmer Ben offers Brother a slice of watermelon right after he catches Brother trying to steal one! Mama and Papa Bear are constantly offering positive reinforcement and rarely lose their tempers, which—let's face it, folks—does not happen in real life.
The colors and lines on this DVD are bright, sharp, and beautiful. Kids will be instantly drawn in by the vividness of the picture. The voice acting, however, is uninspiring and verges on the shrill. This DVD is also lacking in special features; previews of other DVDs are the only extras, and for a DVD to be worth an investment for children, games and read-along activities are almost a requirement. The stories, however, can be viewed in a variety of ways, as "Play All," "Play All Continuously," or "Episode Selection" options are given. As a parent I always appreciate the continuous loop, especially on the shorter DVDs…until I can train my little one to operate the remote himself, it means less running back and forth to work the remote.
The Berenstain Bears: Bears Mind Their Manners! is perfectly acceptable entertainment, but there are plenty of other children's DVDs out there that manage to teach without whacking kids over the head with the moral of the story. Check out the softcover Berenstain Bears books instead; they are much more palatable.
A hung jury on The Berenstain Bears: Bears Mind Their Manners!. It's not great, but it's not bad, either.
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