I consider myself quite blessed to have grown up during a golden age of children's television, as my childhood was marked by the rise of Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, as well as the children's block of PBS and, of course, the Disney Channel. For a kid in the mid-90s and early 2000s, the world was my oyster as far as good television was concerned.
Of course given my rather conservative upbringing, my parents didn't care for me watching Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, believing them to be far to anti-authority and immoral for viewing (not that that stopped me from watching some shows on the channels). Because of this opinion, I grew up largely watching the Disney Channel, especially its early children's block Playhouse Disney.
Playhouse Disney during the late 90s and early 2000s was, in my opinion, a glorious time for children's entertainment, filled with so many shows that I still hold close to my heart even to this day. We had Out of the Box, a musical show that focused its lessons around physical activity and arts and crafts, as well as Rolie Polie Olie, a CGI show about a family of robots created by the author William Joyce, just to name a few. But if there is one show that seemed to stand above the rest in terms of popularity and personal affection on my part, it would have to be Bear in the Big Blue House, produced by the Jim Henson Company.
Initially I wanted to do a review of Bear in the Big Blue House in order to convince you guys how good this show was. However, I actually realized that I didn't want to actually critique the show so much as I just wanted to go on about how this show made me feel and what watching its episodes are like now as an adult. To reflect upon my feelings rather than convey those feelings with numerical ratings.
So that's what this article is going to do. Rather than quantify my opinions numerically, I'd rather just create a reflective retrospective of the series in my mind (also because it would take too long to watch all the episodes of the show to truly get my take). This will be less a technical explanation and more a subjective self-analysis; so let's get going.
Airing on Playhouse Disney from 1997 until 2006 (though its final season ran intermittently over a four year period), Bear in the Big Blue House was created by Mitchell Kreigman, the creator of Clarissa Explains It All for Nickelodeon, in collaboration with The Jim Henson Company. The show was widely popular at the time, easily ranking as one of the highest rated shows on any children's network at the time and even now, I still see people my age and slightly younger whose eyes light up when I mention this large loveable muppet and his gang of friends.
The show follows the titular Bear, voiced and acted by Noel MacNeal, as he has various different adventures within his large blue house with the other residents that call it home. Each episode was self-contained and always included a few standard elements to its core narrative structure. Every episode begins with Bear opening the door and inviting the audience in, then sniffing them (bringing the puppets nose up to the camera) and complimenting them on their pleasant smell before moving on with a general tour of the house.
Bear usually starts in the living room where he introduces the topic of the episode, sings a little song about the topic, interviews some kids about their experiences with the topic, while also introducing a basic plot tangentially related to said topic, usually involving Ojo or Treelo. He then travels to the kitchen, often to speak to Tutter the Mouse or Pip and Pop, he'll then begin to make his way up to the second story; where he might visit his bedroom or speak with Shadow who will tell some kind of fable, the plotline from the beginning of the episode will then resolve itself and the episode will move on to my favorite part of the show. At the end of every episode, Bear will travel up to the attic, where he will speak with Luna the Moon (voiced by the late Lynne Thigpen) before singing the "Goodbye Song" and reflecting upon all the events of the day.
And holy shit, this song!
Even after almost two decades, I still sometimes find myself singing this damn song. It's so lovely and soothing and catchy that I will likely always have this ear worm infecting my brain, whether or not I had recently watched some episodes.
And with the show now streaming on Disney+, I and everyone else with a Disney+ subscription have the opportunity to check out this show and see if it holds up and still evokes all the same emotions that I remember it did.
Short answer? Absolutely.
Long answer? I have seen other people discuss Bear in the Big Blue House and describe its general feel as being very similar to Mr.Rogers Neighborhood or The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross and I really can see that. The whole show has this real light-hearted and relaxed feel to it; like you really have been invited into this really kind persons home and they are trying their very best to make you feel welcome with their friends. Norm MacNeal's voice is soothing and compassionate and really works for the overall tone that the show is going for.
I will freely admit that the subject matter can be a little simple, though perhaps this is simply my grown-up cynicism thinking that an episode about water isn't inherently interesting on its own. Rather, I feel like a grown-ups appreciation for this show will largely stem from its relaxed and comforting atmosphere as I found myself often relaxing and even falling asleep as I streamed the show. For kids though, I think the show still really holds up.
Bear in the Big Blue House has this timeless quality about it, as its episodes topics are often subjects that any kid is going to deal with regardless of age or time. Unlike a lot of children's show, I genuinely believe a child nowadays will get just as much from Bear and his friends as I did growing up. And that is something truly special.
Mixed with an earnest sweetness, wonderfully catchy music, and stunning puppeteer work that is actually quite creative at times and I feel like Bear in the Big Blue House is as strong a show today as it ever was then. And as I head down to Texas to enjoy HarmonyCon (a regional My Little Pony convention), I am thrilled that I could end off this week talking about such a warm and relaxed show.
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