100 Film Favorites – #86: The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw
(Mordicai Gerstein and Al Kouzel, 1980)
Today, we’ve moved from Halloween to Thanksgiving.
The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw is probably the best Thanksgiving special out there…not that it really has all that much competition. Typically, a franchise has to grow fairly old and ubiquitous before the producers feel the need to move beyond Christmas and Halloween episodes to include a Thanksgiving special in the mix. What really puts Bigpaw head and shoulders above other specials is its complete rejection of traditional Thanksgiving mainstays. You won’t find a single Pilgrim or Indian here. Rather, the story involves a town preparing for war against an ursine sasquatch. You might think that being a half-hour TV special excludes Bigpaw from consideration for a list of “films,” but it involves sasquatch warfare, so I don’t care what you think.
The “film” begins with the citizens of Bear Country preparing for Thanksgiving. But because their preparations are primarily “selfish, and greedy, and unkind to the needy,” they accidentally summon the legendary Bigpaw, the Bigfoot analogue among anthropomorphic bears. At least, this is the explanation offered in the beginning of the story – Bigpaw never mentions anything about the other bears’ greed, or any vindictive intentions at all. He really just seems to wander toward town amicably. Assorted forest creatures warn the bears in town of Bigpaw’s approach, and Papa Bear leads his fellow townsfolk in preparing for battle. Brother and Sister Bear, who have learned of Bigpaw’s real, relatively peaceful nature, try to convince the townfolk of the truth. Failing to sway the growing army, the cubs run to warn Bigpaw, and wind up trapped between sides of the imminent battle. Will the true spirit of Thanksgiving shine through? Will the enormous, naked anthropomorphic bear slaughter the smaller, clothed anthropomorphic bears? Will all the vaguely harvest-themed carnage be enacted in the form of a catchy song?
My love for Bigpaw is largely the result of four factors:
1. Cryptids, bro. Somehow, after their 1979 Christmas special was well received and they were approached to do a second special, Stan and Jan Berenstain thought, “Forget Halloween. We’re doing Thanksgiving next. But…no Pilgrim bears. No Native American bears. What we need is a sasquatch. A big ol’ singing, bear-ified sasquatch.” As I mentioned in the Beanstalk entry, I’ve been a sucker for cryptozoology since I was a little kid, and this was one of the first titles to fuel that interest. A heads-up to all you other cryptid enthusiasts out there – there’s yet more to come ere the Countdown is out.
2. Rhyming. The whole story is presented Seuss-style, with rhyming narration throughout. If I were ever to do a Thanksgiving Countdown featuring holiday-appropriate poems and songs, Bigpaw would definitely be an entry…in fact, probably the only entry…so I’m not going to do that.
3. The songs. In addition to the verse throughout, the special features several catchy songs. “Thankfulness” is a pretty tune that emphasizes the spirit of the holiday, and it makes great ending credit music. But the real showstopper is Bigpaw’s introductory number, the aptly titled “My Name is Bigpaw.” If you listen attentively to the song, Bigpaw offers some valuable advice on how to truly embody virile masculinity in your day-to-day life:
-Whomp and tromp.
-Pound the ground and shake the swamp.
-Play a mean lute.
Here’s the song, purely for your edification:
4. Going to war through poetry. As many of you already know, I wrote a poem a few years back entitled “The Great Moustache War,” which I later adapted into a play for the William and Mary Premiere Play Festival. The poem, about two armies waging war “for the right to grow sweet facial hair,” was largely influenced by two works: Dr. Seuss’ “The Butter Battle Book,” and “Bigpaw” here. There’s something about presenting the absurdity of war through outlandish, cartoonish poetry which really speaks to me.
I could go on for a while about both Dr. Seuss and the history of the Berenstain Bears franchise, but you probably don’t want to read that. At the very least, I’ll save it for future posts. Just remember, in a market sodden with Christmas specials and Halloween episodes, there’s still just one cryptid-centric Thanksgiving special.
Bigpaw stands alone.
Remember his name.
Brian Terrill is the host of television show Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain. You can keep up with Brian’s 100 Film Favorites countdown here.