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Tidy Time With Bear!: "Working Like A Bear," "Woodland House Wonderful," "We Did It Our Way"
Everybody's Special: "As Different As Day and Night," "Bats Are People Too," "The Yard Sale"
by Jarrod Chambers For those of you who have never seen it, "Bear in the Big Blue House" is a children's show about a bunch of animals (two bears, two otters, a mouse, and a lemur) who live in a big blue house and get along famously, thanks to the gentle leadership of the bigger of the two bears, named simply Bear. They are produced by Jim Henson Television, who with Columbia TriStar Home Video have put together two fabulous DVD packages, "Tidy Time with Bear!" and "Everybody's Special!", each with three loosely-related episodes of the show from 1997 on plus a few extras.
I watched "Bear in the Big Blue House" with my 3½-year-old son Max. He is a big fan, having seen the show on TV and played the computer game. What he seems to like most is the interaction, when Bear asks questions to the camera, or pretends to sniff the viewer as he lets them into the house. As an adult, I find that a lot of my time is spent watching the amazing Muppet puppetry; Bear, in particular, is a fascinating construction, articulated like a real bear and unlike any human--I still haven't figured out how his operator sees out.
The format of each show is essentially the same, with certain set-pieces, such as a visit with Shadow (a high-spirited shadow of a dancing girl) and the final chat with Luna, the Moon. Some of the songs and stories are repeated in different episodes but blend in well enough and are of such quality that it doesn't seem like cheating. As the Teletubbies proved once and for all, kids love repetition, so they will be happy to see their favourite bits over and over.
"Bear in the Big Blue House" walks a fine line, with great success. Most kids shows are either so dumbed-down that even kids find it hard to watch, or so savvy that they can't say a word without winking at the adults watching. The shows in these DVDs are the perfect middle ground: they don't talk down to kids, they talk straight to kids. There is the occasional reference for the adults (Doc Hogg is a member of The Swiners, a service organization whose members wear a fez), but the show is clearly aimed at the kids in the audience. It teaches such concepts as valuing differences (in "Bats Are People Too") and cooperation ("We Did It Our Way") in a fun way, without becoming sickly sentimental or overtly preachy.
One of the great strengths of "Bear in the Big Blue House" is the music supervised and largely composed by Peter Lurye. A music teacher friend of mine, who ought to know, has said that the series has the best music on television. Even without her training, I can tell that it uses real instruments and more complex harmonies than the average mass-produced junk show for children. Because of this, the sing-a-longs included in these DVDs are a great feature. Each sing-a-long shows a song sequence from the show but with the words spelled out underneath. I could follow along, but I thought at first that the speed and jitter of the words might be a bit much for kids; however my other son Sam, who is 11, told me he had no problem keeping up, either. Max can't read quite yet but he sang along anyway--after five or six times you don't need the lyrics flashing up on the screen.
In all, these are great quality shows like most of the Henson company's offerings. Three per DVD is about right for us--Max can watch two at a sitting but is starting to get antsy during the second one. If you're like us, sometimes you just want to put on a half-hour of quality television to wind down in the evening or before the nap, and these shows will certainly fill the bill without making you feel guilty for putting on the tube. Originally published: May 15, 2002.