A Bear and Blue House and A Little Blue Mouse

Age Levels targeted:

2-6

 Background:

Bear in the Big Blue House is a long running TV program that first started on the air back in 1997. It was designed for young kids and produced by the Jim Henson company. Yes the same Jim Henson who brought you the Sesame Street, Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock and Between the Lions characters, so you know that we’re talking about a show made by someone with top credentials in the world of child education on TV. Henson’s company eventually sold the show to another icon of the kids entertainment world, The Walt Disney Company, but the show’s format remained essentially the same and the new management simply allowed for a larger budget.  The show was shown in a number of countries around the globe Ireland, England and Australia

Overview of the show:

The show almost always opens with Bear opening the door to the big blue house and letting his viewing audience enter the house. As he welcomes us in he inevitably wiggles his bear nose and say “mmmmm what’s that smell? Is that you? You smell just like (name of some sweet object). It must be because you’re so sweet” He then invites us into the house and either gives us an introduction to what’s going on at the moment if the show is around an event or he’ll suddenly be surprised by something he hears from another room and invite us to come check it out with him where we find the catalyst for the show’s issue going on. Over the course of the show Bear either helps reserve a conflict or teaches a lesson about some subject, often with the aid of a song.  At times there are also subplots going on during the course of the show and generally there’s a visit and story from Bear’s friend Shadow (see characters section below). Finally after all is resolved and the characters head off to bed, Bear goes to his balcony and converses with his friend Luna, the moon, about the day’s events in the big blue house after which they duet on the show’s goodbye song.

The Main Characters

Bear – Bear is exactly the kind of creature a child adores, feels safe with and instinctively wants to cuddle up to. I know that because it’s exactly what my kids all did with their stuffed animal version of him. He’s about 6 feet tall with thick light brown shaggy fur and a gentle calm voice and is responsible for the inhabitants of the Blue House. Bear is the ‘adult of the house’ patiently teaching his friends life’s lessons and intervening in their differences of opinions and finding ways to mediate. He loves cha cha music and especially loves to dance the bear cha cha cha. While there’s no Mrs. Bear, we’re given to understand that there’s a certain romantic feeling between him and a Spanish bear named Ursa who comes to visit him though it’s all very innocent and they speak about being very good friends. It’s only we jaded grownups to whom its transparent that there’s meant to be anything deeper than just being buddies. Being a bear, our hero unsurprisingly spends a great deal of time in the kitchen where many life lessons are learned and where he can serve up his famous triple berry pie.

 Tutter – Other than Bear himself, I’d have to say that Tutter, a small blue mouse who lives in a mouse hole in the house is the most dominant member of the cast. He’s very sure of himself and his ways, confident that his grandma flutter has taught him well. That said, he still has plenty of lessons to be taught by bear. One of Tutters chief characteristics is that he’s got a very strong sense of pride and tends to get easily insulted enabling Bear to teach lessons about getting along and not rushing to assume things about people’s behavior. Tutter is very attached to his grandma Flutter who appears in several episodes. It’s not clear why he no longer lives with her, but be that as it may her influence is felt constantly throughout all the episodes focusing on Tutter and he holds her in an almost fearful regard, though as we learn in one episode much of this comes purely from Tutter’s perception of what she expects of him and not of how she actually behaves or of what she does value in him.

 Treelo – Treelo the lemur seems to be the obligatory babyish character that seem to be a signature of Henson’s productions. Sesame Street has Cookie monster with his broken speech and Elmo’s World has Elmo with his baby voice.  Bear in the Big Blue House has Treelo with his own baby voice and often incomprehensible speech that leaves omits necessary parts of speech. He lacks the humor of Cookie monster or the show headlining ability of Elmo but he is useful for teaching lessons about getting along with other creatures – especially with Ojo and Tutter. Personally I’m not a big fan of intentionally having characters using baby language or poor grammar. I’m not saying that the arguments for it (that it makes certain children identify more with the character and thereby connect with the show) don’t have any validity. However I’m just noting that that’s how I feel about Treelo and the other Henson muppets of this kind. On the other hand, as I’ve noted elsewhere,  my personal feelings about the character are not necessarily a reason to negate the character, and certainly not the whole show.

Pip and Pop – the two very funny otter twins of the show are Pip and Pop – or perhaps Pop and Pip, as they’re really quite impossible to tell apart even once they’ve told you which is which. The mischief the two of them get up to allow Bear to teach lessons about appropriate behavior while their different opinions at times, despite identical looks allow Bear to teach that even when people seem outwardly the same they’re still individuals with their own opinions.

 Ojo – Ojo is an inquisitive bear cub who serves as an excuse for bear to give lessons in “growing up” to kids. He is very avuncular towards her and is generally more than happy to take part in the roles dreamed up by her very active imagination such as when she decides she’s a famous “flamingo dancer” (no – not a typo) and wants to dance with him.

She often gets frustrated by her inability to do things and bear has to explain them to her or explain why she’s not ready to do them yet. She’s very friendly and outside the house has a rabbit friend who lives near the otter pond.

 Luna and RayLuna, the moon is a staple character in the show. At the end of each episode Bear goes out on his balcony and discusses the events of the day in the Big Blue House with her in a conversation that generally contains some wisdom on Luna’s part stemming from the fact that as the moon she sees whatever trait or human behaviorism is the topic of the show happening all over the world. The show concludes with Luna and Bear singing a duet of the show’s theme song and wishing each other good night.

 Ray, the sun, is a less frequent character (he appears quite a number of times during the series but not every episode as Luna does). At times the episode will open with Bear’s asking him what the weather for the day’s going to be like because of some activity or another that he has planned for the house’s inhabitants.

Shadow

Shadow is a black silhouette of a girl on the wall who appears in most of the episodes and tells Bear a story, generally (though not always or directly) related to the main topic of the show. We never see the girl – at least not in any episode I’ve ever seen – just the silhouette and she often refers to her life as a shadow. When Bear asks her what she’s been up to or where she’s going she tends to reply with statements like “I’m off to play hide and seek with my friends the moonbeams” and similar statements.

In addition to these there are a number of more minor characters who appear throughout the series. There are a veritable host of these, the most important of which are Tutter’s grandmother Grandma Flutter, Jeremiah Tortoise and Doc Hog. Many of the characters on Bear in the Big Blue House are recycled from another Henson show called Jim Henson’s animal show,” a ‘news’ show in which a bear and a skunk interview other animals.

Types of skills the show teaches:

The show teaches many social and practical behavioral lessons ranging from getting along with friends or as part of a larger community to understanding values and what things matter and which don’t. The lessons are imparted in a fun and light manner which allows the kids to get into the events as a story before they suddenly realize how this can relate to something practical in their own lives. Seldom is it preachy and, on the contrary, when things are taught in a preachy manner (usually by Tutter) it’s in order to hold it up as a mistaken assumption which Bear then has to correct  as part of teaching a lesson. For example in one episode Tutter wants to set the table in a particular way and insists it’s the only way to set a table while Treelo wants to do it another way and finally bear intervenes to suggest to Tutter that perhaps they could find a compromise and invent a whole new way of setting it (which of course they do to the satisfaction of all.

Site review: As mentioned above this is a Jim Henson production which speaks for itself. It’s hard not to like the characters who are not only large fuzzy and friendly but are also well rounded characters. They each have their own distinct personality traits except pip and pop who are apparently meant not to.

Some questions which I’ve never really gotten an answer to regard the background of the show. What exactly ARE two bears, a lemur and two otters are doing living together at all (especially the otters who clearly have a pond nearby). Why are they living in a human style house and how exactly can they afford to live there since none of them seem to have employment of any sort (except for Bear whose job is to take care of them and minor characters such as Doc Hog who’s the town doctor). But admittedly this is just nitpicking as the show isn’t intended for kids at a level that tend to wonder about such things. The setting, presumably, is made as it is in order to bring a set of diverse characters into close proximity where they need to learn social skills and learn to get along with each other with the helpful tutelage of bear.

My kids review: My kids have all adored this show in turn. At least one of them was successfully toilet trained on the Bear Potty episode one of the songs from which you can see below

and for another his first TV song memorized. For a long time my two older sons would always refer to the moon as “Luna” not because they know any Italian but because that’s the name of the moon character on the show. The various tv tie-in books were subsequently a hit as well. I didn’t find them to be as good as the show, personally, but the kids were so Bear obsessed that if it had him in it they wanted it read to them.

Anecdotal: when my son first discovered baseball his favorite player was Derek Jeter. While this likely would have happened anyhow, me being a Yankees fan, a large reason for this was the episode “At the Old Bear Game” in which baseball legend Ferret Jeter shows up at the Big blue house and reveals to the awestruck inhabitants (especially Pip and Pop) what a baseball star Bear was in his youth, the morals being that 1) people we take for granted often have a lot more to them then you’d know if you only cared to ask and 2) Bear’s taking care of everyone at the house is just as heroic and important as being a big league ballplayer.

Similar shows: Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Breakfast with Bear, Jim Henson’s Animal Show, Bannanas in Pajamas