Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Bear

Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Bear

Written by Abigail Maughan.


Performed by…
Noel MacNeal

First appearance…
Bear in the Big Blue House Episode 101: Home Is Where the Bear Is (1997)

Most recent appearance…
Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon (2007)

Best known role…
Musically-inclined, caring, sensible supervisor of the Big Blue House

Dance of choice…
The Bear Cha-Cha-Cha

Bear is the owner and overseer of the Big Blue House, as implied by the name of the kids’ TV show on which he starred, Bear in the Big Blue House. He acts as the father figure to a group of young anthropomorphic animals like himself, teaching them, and the viewers at home, various lessons about friendship, hygiene, nature, school subjects, and other concepts, as well as punctuating the program with songs and sincerity.

Bear enjoys (and is very talented at) singing and dancing, especially if he has a partner to do one or the other with, and if the dance is the Bear Cha-Cha-Cha. Aside from his and Luna the moon’s lovely duet of “The Goodbye Song” that concludes every episode, Bear can be counted on to sing at least one song nearly every time we see him, whether as a solo or with one or more of his housemates. As far as Bear’s other areas of expertise lie, he also has a powerful sense of smell and startled many a child viewer by pressing his nose up to the camera and sniffing it at the beginning of every episode. His more subtle talents lie in the way he runs the Big Blue House, and aids and guides the others therein.

While the official relationship of the Big Blue House’s occupants is somewhat unclear, the essence is that Bear is the caretaker of the animal kids who share his abode in the city of Woodland Valley. Bear’s housemates consist of a precocious bear cub named Ojo, a high-strung mouse named Tutter, a rambunctious lemur named Treelo, and two playful otters named Pip and Pop. Ever-forgiving of their mistakes and naivety, and ever-indulgent of their antics, Bear helps the mismatched group understand everything from settling disagreements to toilet-training, while making room for fun and music, or participating in theirs. Never once does he get frustrated at them or displeased with his job, nor do they ever bear any contention towards him. As a result, the atmosphere of the Big Blue House is always one of happiness.

Bear’s astounding amount of patience and friendliness allows him to make friends with quite literally anyone, up to and including the moon, the sun, and a mirthful entity named Shadow who inhabits the premises, all of whom he chats with at regular intervals. His less-mythical friends that also dwell in Woodland Valley include the jovial Doc Hogg, the quirky blue-footed booby Lois, the ancient Jeremiah Tortoise, and the insecure young Harry the Duck. Bear also has a girlfriend of sorts named Ursa who appears on the show occasionally.

At some point during Bear in the Big Blue House’s production, Bear also became the star of the spinoff, Breakfast with Bear, in which he toured the country and explored how different (human) kids start their day. As far as other projects go, Bear and his friends were the feature attractions of a handful of live shows, including ones playing at Disneyland and Disney World up to 2008.

Bear is a full-body puppet, his operation being very similar to that of Sesame Street’s Big Bird. Noel MacNeal, inside the suit, moves his limbs to move Bear’s, aside from his right hand, which is used to operate the mouth and eyes. Bear’s empty left arm is attached by a string to the moving one, causing it to move simultaneously. A monitor for viewing progress is either attached to Noel MacNeal’s chest, like Big Bird, or in an eye-piece, similar to the Gorgs of Fraggle Rock, the latter technique most commonly used for off-set appearances. Bear’s unique two-legged mobility allows him to complete activities such as jumping on a trampoline, as seen on Breakfast with Bear, and guest-starring on other shows such as Donny and Marie without the need to hide the puppeteer—he’s right there the entire time.

Seen previously on Sesame Street and various non-Henson projects like Eureeka’s Castle, Noel MacNeal had auditioned for a different, full-body alien character for an unaired (and as far as we know, unproduced) Henson pilot, when he was called back later that day to try out for the part of Bear, which he subsequently won. Mr. MacNeal has played Bear every time we’ve seen him on camera, meaning in all four seasons of Bear in the Big Blue House, Breakfast with Bear, every guest appearance on other TV shows, as well as various live appearances, at children’s hospitals and the like. In addition to performing Bear, he also directed one and wrote three episodes of Bear in the Big Blue House.

Bear’s young charges certainly need him, as the source of wisdom and care that he is in their lives. Without Bear, they would be without a home and family.

In the years he was on TV, hundreds of children grew up watching Bear, and I struggle to think of a better role model in children’s television shows. He is patient, accepting, and wise, yet in touch with his inner child and not without his own desires or sense of humor. Wouldn’t the world would be a better place if everyone tried to be a bit more like Bear?

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

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