by Michelle Erica Green

This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.

Grade: B+
Network: Disney Channel
Best For Ages: Under 2, 2-5

A large, costumed bear and his animal Muppet friends explore the everyday life of nursery school-age kids. Though Bear teaches some rudimentary reading skills, the songs and social lessons are aimed at very young children. The silly, mischievous antics of Tutter, Treelo, and other Jim Henson creatures enliven the house-based scenes, but the live kids playing and singing together on Barney may more effectively engage viewers.

Parental Advisory:
Educational Value: Episodes explore topics like waking up in the morning or taking a trip. A primary vocabulary word is explored in letters and graphics. When the other puppets behave immaturely, Bear lectures on proper behavior.

Entertainment Value: The brightly colored sets and familiar toys capture young children's attention. Occasional trips outdoors with footage of live kids provide a change of pace. Simple jingles like "The Goodbye Song" encourage singing along.

Emotional Intensity: Animals fear having made mistakes and offending one another.

Sex/Nudity: Some discussion of bodily functions like peeing.

Imagine MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD with animals, and you'll get Jim Henson's BEAR IN THE BIG BLUE HOUSE. Most episodes begin with Bear in the morning, and end with him talking and singing with the moon, Luna. During Bear's day, he gives a vocabulary lesson, sings with his Muppet-like friends, and talks to children about their feelings.

Bear's friends include Tutter, an anxious and hard-working mouse and Ojo, a little girl bear who likes to play pretend games (reminiscent of Barney's Baby Bop). Pip and Pop are mischievous otters who love to dance, and Treelo is a lemur who's a little out of sync with the others.

Bear is a loving parental figure, but not someone children necessarily relate to. Two three-year-olds chose Tutter as their favorite character. They grew restless during one episode when Bear explained how to spell "morning," using graphics of the sun rising to illustrate the concept. But the same viewers liked a song about brushing teeth, complete with nonsense lyrics and a camera angle from inside someone's mouth.

Frequent repetition of songs and ideas holds toddlers' attention, though kids approaching five may grow bored more quickly. This is an excellent show for early morning or shortly before bedtime, when parents might want to encourage relaxation and concentration. SESAME STREET fans will probably enjoy this series.

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