Plot: Bear and the residents of the Big Blue House prepare to celebrate Christmas together when they meet an old dog suffering out in the cold named Jack. They take him in and discover the poor pup is homeless, having been recently kicked out of his old home. Bear and the others try to make an extra special holiday for Jack while trying their best to understand his situation and extend a kind hand.
Breakdown: Ah Bear in the Big Blue House. This special was suggested to me by a commenter named Joseph. Thank you for your suggestion, and have a very happy holiday! 🙂
My background with Bear in the Big Blue House isn’t that vast. I did watch the show a bit when I was younger, but I think I was just starting to grow out of Playhouse Disney, Nick Jr. and the like at that point. I definitely remembering watching it and enjoying it, but I just didn’t watch it all that much. I definitely don’t remember ever watching this special, which is a shame because this is an extremely enjoyable special, even as an adult.
There’s something very heartwarming and special about how some shows aimed at much younger viewers interact with their audiences. Yeah, some of them talk a bit too far down to their viewers and make interactions seem more condescending than anything, but shows like Bear in the Big Blue House make you feel like an old friend they’re always happy to see. I honestly couldn’t stop myself from smiling whenever Bear and the others would talk to ‘me’.
Initially, this special seemed like it was aiming for the typical message of “Don’t be greedy on Christmas (or in general)” which isn’t a bad message at all, and it’s one that a lot of little kids probably need to hear this time of year, but then the special shifted about halfway in when we’re introduced to Jack the dog. He’s howling outside in the cold and snow, about to pass out, and Bear and the others bring him inside to warm him up. When he awakens, he explains that he’s homeless, and most of the members of the Big Blue House don’t understand what that entails.
Homelessness/poverty really isn’t a foreign subject for holiday specials. In fact, it’s used quite often. It’s just that, when it’s tackled, it’s typically done in a manner that doesn’t really discuss it so much as just have the characters feel bad for poor people and then give to charity or volunteer at a homeless shelter or something for the holiday. That’s not a bad way of approaching it at all, and it’s still a good message, but actually discussing the topic of poverty and homelessness would most certainly drive the point home of why it’s important to give to charities, volunteer at homeless shelters and, most importantly, be kind to homeless people.
Now, I haven’t really reviewed a special that explored homelessness since…since The Proud Family Kwanzaa special……*huff*
To say they didn’t explore the topic in a satisfactory manner is a bit of an understatement. They were pretty much treated like subhumans by nearly everyone for a majority of the runtime, and, to make matters worse, the homeless family themselves weren’t really likable either. They gave major holier-than-thou attitude to the Proud family every five seconds. They rejected very kind gifts because they didn’t want to buy into the consumerism of Christmas. The mother acted as if she was better than Trudy because Trudy cared about her home and cleaned her dishes. The father basically chastised Oscar for working for a living instead of spending all of his time with his family. They didn’t tell the Prouds that they were vegan and proceeded to disgust everyone out of their family dinner of turkey by sharing horror stories at the table of how turkeys are tormented and slaughtered for meat.
Then the message basically seemed backwards in the end because they clearly were, intentionally or otherwise, telling the audience that working, valuing money and buying things, even a home, were not the right path to an enlightened and happy life, but then they direct the Prouds to helping another homeless family by giving the father a job so he can get money to buy his family things, including a home……
If there is one thing I will give The Proud Family Kwanzaa special in regards to their depiction of homelessness is that they definitely shined a light on the stigma of homelessness. Many of the characters, such as Oscar, Penny and Penny’s awful friends judged the family without getting to know them or after learning some aspects of their homeless lives, which is wrong. It’s just that the other half of that equation should be showing the audience that this family is a normal family just like anyone else and they just try to make the best of their situation to be happy. Instead, they’re a literal family of spirits who come off more as cult-y and conceited above all else. And their holier-than-thou attitude is fully justified in the end because they are, seemingly, the legitimate spirits of Kwanzaa and may actually be….I dunno. Angels? Demigods? I have no idea. They’re just depicted as celestial beings up in the clouds looking down on the Proud family.
Bear in the Big Blue House, on the other hand, takes a more meaningful approach. Jack the dog is just an old dog. He doesn’t want to bother anybody, he’s polite, he’s kind, and he’s just tired and cold. He also speaks of his circumstances in a manner that is very realistic. He doesn’t sound bitter about his life, but he also clearly has a bit of embarrassment about it. He mentions that he was abandoned, but decides to phrase his situation initially as being “between homes.”
Likewise, the residents of the Big Blue House don’t quite understand homelessness, but they’re not rude to Jack. Much of the questions they ask him are asked and phrased in manners many children would ask.
Later, Tutter has a moment where he becomes concerned that one day the Big Blue House will be gone and he’ll be homeless as well, but Bear assuages his concerns by saying the Big Blue House will always be there and his place is in that house with them, which….not sure I’m 100% on board for. I’m not saying you should let kids spiral into anxious thoughts of becoming homeless one day, but the reality is that becoming homeless can happen to anyone for a wide variety of many circumstances, and responding to fears of that happening by saying that it won’t kinda doesn’t really address the concern.
Maybe they’re more saying that, as long as you have people who love you and are willing to help you, like Bear points out, that you can get through those tough circumstances should they arise, which is a better response, but I think they could have been a little clearer with it. This is definitely a conversation that needs follow-up with a parent or guardian.
In the end of that portion, however, Tutter suggests that they offer as much kindness to Jack as they can, which is a great idea and very sweet.
What I find especially great about this storyline is that it actually addresses another serious issue of homeless pets. I think it was an awesome idea to make Jack a dog character. Everyone in Bear in the Big Blue House is some form of animal, but I think that having Jack be a dog was particularly poignant because not only are there tons of dogs on the streets who wind up suffering in the cold winter months, but many dogs (and other pets) are abandoned around the holidays because people buy/adopt them for someone for Christmas but then realize that the recipient either didn’t want the dog or they were too lazy/young/what have you to properly care for them, so they just dump them on the side of the road either expecting someone else will adopt them or not caring what happens to them.
That’s not what happened to Jack – he explains that his last family abandoned him because he dug up rose bushes – but it happens an awful lot. Having Jack serve the dual purpose of showing children, in an understanding manner, the homeless problems of both people and the abandonment problems of animals will hopefully drive them to make positive strides to help resolve these issues as they get older. Even simply sharing what they learned in the special can have a strong effect and change people’s perceptions.
The fact that Jack is also an older dog adds another layer to the situation. Approximately half of the homeless population in the United States is over the age of 50, and older individuals are the fastest growing age group in America for poverty and homelessness. In addition, continuing on with the abandoned dog parallel, many pets are abandoned because they’re elderly. Their owners don’t want to put up with them as they age, become sick and have difficulty doing everyday activities.
I know I’m putting a lot more thought into this than the target audience for this would, but you have to keep in mind that kids do carry small details with them from the media they consume, whether they know it or not. Even subconsciously recognizing these details and being able to kinda recall them as they get older might help shape their attitudes and behaviors towards issues like homeless, poverty and abandoned animals. That’s one of the reasons why I get so irritated when people brush off kids’ media as being allowed to be stupid, hollow or just flat-out bad. Kids can have silly fun with the shows and movies they watch, and I’m not saying everything needs to inject a heavy topic or message, but give them more credit and expect more from your children’s sources of entertainment at least.
Of course there’s a happy ending for Jack (or maybe I shouldn’t say it’s an ending, per se) when he finds a home with Doc Hogg. After Doc Hogg randomly finds a dog house buried in the snow of his yard (….??? Just go with it.) he invites Jack to come live with him, and Jack accepts.
They don’t even brush off Jack like a one-off ‘very special episode’-ish character. He reappears in the show a few times and even becomes the fire chief. Good for ol’ Jack!
The special also briefly explores other holidays such as Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. It doesn’t spend more than a minute or two on either, but I appreciate that they do include them and even give each holiday their own songs.
Something I’ve failed to mention in the other muppet features I’ve covered is how great the puppetry is. Bear in the Big Blue House is a Jim Henson production, and they do such a wonderful job both crafting puppets/muppets and bringing them to life with skilled puppetry. The facial expressions, their gestures, the way they move, they way they interact with their environments – it’s all very natural and impressive.
Over the two parts, there were a lot of songs, and many of them were very well-composed and enjoyable. Not sure I’ll remember all of them after a while, but I’d certainly like to hear them again.
Overall, this was a fantastic Christmas special. It wasn’t too heavy for its younger audience despite the themes that it tackled, it was heartwarming, and it had a lot of holiday fun. I’d gladly watch it again, and if you have never seen it, I recommend giving it a watch this holiday season. Only part one is available on Disney+, for whatever reason, but the second half is readily available online. I watched it on Archive.org.
I hope all you amazing visitors of my blog have a very merry Christmas, a wonderful holiday season and a fantastic new year! 🙂
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