Teddy Bear Scare (1998)

The Teddy Bear Scare (alternately known as The Great Bear Scare, not to be confused with the other special of the same name) is about pair of teddy bears, Benjamin and Wally, who come to life. The concept is not to be confused with Teddy Ruxben, Superted, or any number of similar cartoons that have come and gone over the years.

The first lines of dialogue in this one come as the teddy bears see their owners coming home. "It's about time," says one. "I could use a hug."

Clearly, folks, we are in for some halloween horror here. 

But, then again, Raggedy Ann and the Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile took an equally bland concept and managed to make it witty and creative. Even The Great Bear Scare, which had some SERIOUS production limitations blocking its attempt to launch a teddy bear-oriented multi-media property, had its moments. The teddy bears here in Teddy Bear Scare suffer from a distinct lack of personality. The Care Bears may have each been based around one single trait apiece, which doesn't really lead to great character depth, but these ones never even rise above seeming like a "Corduroy" knock off. One single trait would have helped. Maybe they got better in their later shows (episodes of The Secret World of  Benjamin  Bear were still being produced as recently as 2009; perhaps this just isn't a good introduction  to them). 

Then again, this could have been a lot worse. There's nothing too offensively bad about the animation, the scenery is reasonably Halloweenish, with plenty of browns and oranges in the color palette.  Kids would probably enjoy it, if they're not too old to think living teddy bears are lame, and it has probably aged about as well as could be expected.  When it first came out, it was just about exactly what you'd expect of it based on the description, and still is now. And the reason we watch about 80% of these shows today is simply nostalgia. If looking back at it just brings back memories, without making you think "Wow, that was way funnier than I realized when I was four," that isn't such a crime, is it?

Since the writers had come up with such a highly original concept as teddy bears coming to life, and decided to make a Halloween special, they came up with the even MORE original concept of having the two kids, the bears' owners, believe that the old lady who lives in the creepy old house on their block is a wicked witch. The old lady is voiced by Margot Kidder and looks like Phyllis Diller.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on this one, which has been MIA for years until the good folks at halloweenshows.net encoded it.  I've been around the writing industry long enough to know that the best way to impress a producer is to say, "I've got a concept - there's this girl who wants to be a dancer, but her mom doesn't want her to. But then, she takes lessons anyway, and right before the big recital, the guy she likes convinces her mom to come and cheer her on. And she's just about to panic and blow the recital when she sees her mom there, smiling, and then everything is okay!" The entertainment business is FULL of guys who would think that was BRILLIANT. Or, anyway, guys who think it would be profitable. Formula sells. Don't let anyone tell you that the best career advice a writer can get is anything but "follow the trends and stick to the formula." Bitter? You bet I am.

These kind of specials almost ALWAYS worked better when it turned out that the old person really WAS a witch or werewolf or time-traveling weirdo who could extract years from the burnt-out end of your life in order to spare the life of your friend.  Actually BEING one allowed the witch in Witch's Night Out to be about 200% more entertaining than she would have been if it had turned that out she was just a nice old lady who happened to use sentences that gullible kids could easily mistake of double entendres ("I'm sure you're just DYING to find out what I have in store for you…") like this one.  

In only 13 years, this show has fallen WAY into obscurity. As of today, if you type "Teddy Bear Scare" into google, you get a LOT more hits for episodes of Webster and Donkey Kong Jr that had the same title, despite that fact that, unlike this special, those actually pre-date the internet as we know it. This one seems to have been released on video with another adventure of the two teddy bears, Teddy Bear's Christmas,  and eventually spawned a series, The Secret World of Benjamin Bear, which is still aired in Canada, but by 2011 it was almost completely forgotten. Like the series that spawned Which Witch is Which, these characters were successful enough to inspire a whole series of shows that don't happen to be the kind that you grow up and want to re-watch over and over again. Still, the "old lady the kids think is a witch turns out to be nice" is the most generic of all possible endings to a Halloween special, and this one, coming 20 years after the concept had been done to death, has certainly never developed a cult following of its own.

1 comment:

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