Dec. 11 – The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree

THE BERENSTAIN BEARS’ CHRISTMAS TREE
Original Air Date: December 3, 1979

A family of grizzlies have waited until the last possible minute to obtain a sacred symbol of the Holidays…

BACKSTORY
According to Stanley and Janice Berenstain, their choice of creating a family of bears had nothing to do with their last name. According to the duo, bears were simply easier to draw in funny outfits and after the first Berenstain Bears book “The Big Honey Hunt” in 1962, they had already moved on to writing a book about a family of penguins.

Stan and Jan Berenstain

That is, until they got were asked to stick with the bears by their editor, the very same man who bestowed upon their shorthand pen names “Stan & Jan”: Theodore Geisel… Otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.

The 1962 original and the 2002 reissue

Stan & Jan met in art school, and following World War II, got married and immediately began working collaboratively in cartoon illustration. Together they wrote and illustrated over 300 titles in the Berenstain Bears series, which have sold over 250 million copies worldwide. Following the death of Stan in 2005, and Jan in 2012, their sons continue to keep up the Berenstain’s brand.

One of my personal favs

The Berenstain Bears got their first shot at animated stardom in 1979 with a Christmas special (see below) airing on NBC. More Holiday specials followed until 1985, when two seasons of The Berenstain Bears began airing on CBS. The show featured two 11-minute segments, one based on the books, one original to the show. The series was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in Children’s Programming in 1987, and was followed up by in 2003 with a new series for PBS that ran three seasons and featured Michael Cera as the voice of Brother Bear.

Stars of game and screen

BREAKDOWN
A bit of a confession I might’ve made before: I like dopey, sappy cartoons. As a red-blooded American boy, I loved the shit out of stuff like He-Man and Voltron back in the day, but if I had to be honest, I merely endured shows like Thundercats and G.I. Joe a lot of times.

It’s not that I thought those other male oriented shows were stupid (even if that’s the generally the case), it just that I generally preferred either hardcore comedy or cartoons with something that more resembled the stuff in my life.

SPOILER: Bears live here

In fact, just take a look at that side bar on the left side of the page. That’s much more indicative of my taste as a cognitive kid. Now, if I’m being completely honest with myself, I even preferred watching “girlier” shows like Rainbow Brite and Care Bears over Transformers any day of the week.

See?

If I may take back a little masculinity for myself, I think that had a helluva lot to do with the art style. I had little to no interest for realistic looking people in cartoons. I mean seriously, what’s the point?! Round that head out, give that hero a beak, and make that sponge sing, goddammit!

If you had decent parents, you’ll recognize this guy

I love single bone turkey drumsticks, nondescript candy, and Christmas toys that largely consist of trains, balls, and blocks! What am I getting at here? Nothing, really. This is mostly so I can post more photos of this gorgeous special.

Seriously, Berenstain Bears always had my ideal everything

Second and most importantly, if I had to pick my favorite art style as a kid, The Berenstain Bears are way, WAY up there. I enjoyed those hyper-moral books years after I should’ve grown out of ’em and absolutely loved the look of the characters and their environments. I was constantly baffled by the fact that people didn’t dress like Brother, Sister, Mama, and Papa Q. Bear.

That thing in the middle is a fresh kill from Papa

I’ve never been able to shake my affection for the art style of The Berenstain Bears books, and the Xmas special, The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree, is no exception. However, this self-indulgent attempt at stalling is occurring for another reason.

I WANT IT ALL

Strangely, The Berenstain Bears’ Xmas Special is among the trippiest feats of animation I’ve ever seen. Plot wise, not a lot happens in its 24 minute runtime, however, there’s a shit ton of incredibly surreal imagery I certainly wasn’t expecting. I think I counted somewhere around seven lingering close-ups on Papa Bear’s dilated, zonked out eyes.

Hang on, it’s gonna get weirder…

On top of that, almost no one speaks with the exception of Papa Bear and the narrator, and it’s always done via a dream-like rhyming scheme I have to imagine is taking a stab at Grinch glory. I mean, I certainly don’t remember the characters in the books speaking in iambic pentameter…

Sure, she’d eventually end up in rehab. But cute here!

The story is a simple one, and one I was originally going to write off as boring, terrible, and a waste of time until the ending actually took me surprise. That title isn’t fucking around: The Berenstain Bears need a Christmas Tree and that’s damned sure what makes up the entirety of the special.

NAAAAAAAAG

A festive song is unspooled in regards to all the Xmas trimmin’s, none of which can come together without a proper Christmas tree. Which they don’t have. And it’s Christmas Eve! I know this is a plot device for many a Xmas Special in order to heighten tension, but I kinda wish it would stop because my brain can’t escape finding a secondary, ignored theme of procrastination and time management.

“I hear he gets his trees from Asian child labor”

Ma sends Pa and the Kids out to procure a tree from Gus Gizzly, and sadly, that’s about the last we see of her for the entire special. Of course, Papa Bear is a proud Bear and as dictated by the source material, a bit of a bumbler.

“Fuck Gus!” exclaimed Papa Bear / Gone mad with wanton
“Let’s endanger our lives / And find one on this mountain!”

That’s my own interpretation of the narrative, FYI. Pop’s too proud to simply buy a tree from the neighborhood Alpha Bear/Tree Baron, which do actually exist in nature, and instead opts to risk his own life and limb as well as those of his young children by climbing up a dangerous, jagged, and snow drenched mountain to chop one down themselves.

Mad with cheer

The kids are excited. But what the fuck to they know – they’re kids! As is the case with poetically spun Xmas specials, an emergency song erupts, as the Mama-less trio hikes up the trail. Now, you’d be forgiven for calling this song “stupid” or even “shitty” but I don’t know… it’s just brief enough to keep you from jamming candy canes in your ears.

Ever wondered where dancing bears come from? Yep, Russia!

Plus, it’s once again accompanied by some of the weirdest imagery, though this is due to this weird era of animation, and not necessarily a stylistic decision. Okay, so here’s where the special starts to drag a little bit. The Berenstains find what seems to be the most perfect tree in all existence. You know it can’t be this easy.

Turns out the tree already has an owner. Several of them actually…

All I could think is that this means squirrels pay taxes

The tree is already inhabited, and at a volume that would startle a Central American family. The Bears are chased away, out of guilt, although next time, they will not get off so easily.

Anything in nature not wearing a hat is probably evil

Oh, wait! They actually do! After another brief la-dee-dah musical interlude…

Not too dissimilar from my own brain this time of year

The Berenstain Three (which is probably what the WBER Action News Team would eventually call them if the were missing and presumed dead) come across another ideal tree waaay further up the mountain.

Just walk right up the edge and start wildly swinging an axe

And wouldn’t you know it? This tree is also someone’s home.

This is where I began to lose a little patience with The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree. Sure the species of critters has escalated, but the gag is largely reused, which is kind of inexcusable considering back in the day animation such as this took months or even years. Seriously, you couldn’t think of anything else?

Okay, that’s a pretty solid gag actually

I’ll let the laziness go this time, Berenstain Bears. Just don’t let it happen again… wait, are we still trying to find a Christmas Tree?! You live in a fucking forest!

This better be worth it…

At this point I’m kinda yelling at the screen, “Just pick a goddamned tree!” It’s starting to snow, so according to the little I know about nature, pickin’s are just going to get slimmer. But finally…

CUT IT. Cut it with fire!

YES! A tree in an altitude of nowhere. Surely, they won’t resort to yet another critter chase away…

Oh Jesus…

Not quite, but Papa Bear does peer in to find a eerily familiar family of birds decorating an Xmas twig. It’s agreed that the tree stay unchopped. Sweet, but was it all leading towards this. There’s no time to think about that because Brother and Sister Bear are dying of exposure, so it’s time to scram.

“This way to the conclusion!”

Papa axes nothing but a set of skis, so that the family may get down from the deadly mountain weather ASAP, and tuck tail betwixt legs and buy from Gus.

Whoops…

Gus has packed up shop. For the year! How will they explain to Mama that they’ve had since 45 minutes after to Thanksgiving to procure a tree and have come up empty handed… but look

What the deuce?! I think someone pulled out tree inside out!

It appears somebody has gone and transformed The Berenstain Bears’ house into a Christmas Tree. Which makes a helluva lot more sense than propping up a dead pine in a living tree, when you think about…

“We felt bad about tryin’ ta kill ya, so…”

More importantly, look who dun’ it?! None other than the very woodland creatures who had their homes spared by Papa.

“Look, Mama. Rodents threw all our Xmas shit on the roof”

Wow… that was an ending I didn’t expect. A Christmas salvaged and a tiny bit of an environmental message to boot.

Bears and eagles living together, MASS HYSTERIA


Not much of one, outside of another appearance by an ambiguous shiny star.  However… I’d like to think, assuming you can accept the bears as a stand in for humanity, there’s something to be said about upholding symbiotic respect for the planet on which we all live. That sounds like something that probably used to be a foundation of religious principles, right?


Absent! And Kringle gets upstaged by a bunch of feral skunks and birds no less.


Strange, but watchable. Exponentially more so if you have an kind of background with The Berenstain Bears, which you probably do if you were born after 1970 and read books. The tone and pacing of the special are a bit odd, and you can tell The Berenstains have yet to find their place in world of cartoons (and I doubt they ever did.) The poetic structure certainly borrows heavily from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which ain’t a bad thing, and the pseudo-psychedelic animation is almost always visually interesting. Taking into account all that, I’m glad I reconnected with The Berenstain Bears one more time, and the ending was every bit as unexpected as it was sweet. Good stuff!

PRODUCT INFORMATION (Shop Amazon through us!)

You can grab The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree on its own standalone DVD, which also includes several other episodes filled with Holiday feel goodery. Fans of the books should check out the Storybook Treasury, compiling almost 200 pages of classic stories. Fans of Christmas can find more Holiday Berenstain adventures within the pages of The Santa Bear.

MORE CARTOON CHRISTMAS SPECIALS!

YESTERDAY’S XMAS SPECIAL
FROSTY RETURNS

 

LAST YEAR’S DEC. 11th XMAS SPECIAL
THE SMALL ONE

 

2010’s DEC. 11TH XMAS SPECIAL
DROPPING THE YULE LOG

 

2009’S DEC. 11TH XMAS SPECIAL
SUPER MARIO BROS SUPER SHOW – KOOPA KLAUS

3 thoughts on “Dec. 11 – The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree

  1. I feel like I’ve read every bearinstine bears book as a kid, but I never realized that there we’re so many! I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of the animated features, but I’m going to go hunt some down right away

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