Judge Lacey Worrell says stick to the books and avoid these Bears DVDs.
Our reviews of Berenstain Bears: Bears Mind Their Manners! (published January 19th, 2005), The Berenstain Bears: Bears Out And About (published August 31st, 2005), The Berenstain Bears: Christmas Tree (published October 24th, 2008), and The Berenstain Bears: Halloween Treats (published September 2nd, 2009) are also available.
Somewhere deep in Bear Country…
The Berenstain Bears: Bears Take a Car Trip is better than some of the other releases in this family of DVDs, but unfortunately that isn't saying much. The stories are bland, the characters are too prone to moralizing, and about the only thing this DVD has going for it is the recognizability of the central characters, who have been around in one form or another for going on forty years.
Facts of the Case
Brother and Sister Bear live with Mama and Papa in a tree house located in Bear Country. Each episode of this animated show (that originally aired on PBS) opens with a little rhyme that sets the stage for the story to come. The episodes are as follows:
• Bears Take a Car Trip
• The Wishing Star
• House of Mirrors
• By the Sea
• The Stinky Milk Mystery
• The Big Road Race
Although the stories are mildly entertaining, this DVD commits a cardinal sin of children's entertainment: the adults lecture far 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, or 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. Mama preaches several times that Brother and Sister should "keep an open mind" about the family car trip, and really lets Sister have it when she becomes self-conscious about the way she looks. The often hapless Papa Bear joins in to warn Sister to take her time solving math problems.
The adults in the stories often indulge the kids to a fault. Mama and Papa Bear are constantly offering positive reinforcement, and rarely lose their tempers, which does not always happen in real life. Even Farmer Ben indulges them, no matter how much extra work they end up making for him. The better episodes are the ones where the adults are not sharing as much screen time with the younger bears, as in "The Big Road Race."
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 mundane. This DVD is also lacking in special features; previews of other DVDs are the only extras. For a DVD to be worth the investment, games and read-along activities are almost a requirement. The stories, however, can be viewed in a variety of ways: "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 for me.
The Berenstain Bears: Bears Take a Car Trip is perfectly acceptable entertainment, but the stories are not distinctive in any way. Coupled with the adult characters' tendency to rush in and ruin the fun, it makes for difficult viewing, and may not even hold kids' attention. Instead, check out the softcover Berenstain Bears books on which this series is based; they are much more palatable.
The Berenstain Bears: Bears Take a Car Trip is slightly better than the more moralistic titles in this series, such as Bears Mind Their Manners, but in its very essence, it is still a thinly-veiled lesson on how kids should behave.
The Berenstain Bears: Bears Take a Car Trip, and the entire series for that matter, is ordered by the Court to lighten up and have some fun, even if that means putting Mama and Papa Bear on probation for a while.
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