Literature: The Berenstain Bears

Do we have to call them the "modern Wood Age family"?
The Berenstain Bears is a long-running children's book series created by Stan and Jan Berenstain in 1962. It centers on a family of bears composed of Mama and Papa Bear, and their children, Brother (formerly Small), Sister, and Honey Bear. Yes, those are their real names. It started out as series of simple picture books in the line of Dr. Seuss, but soon evolved into a series of story picture books for children. Starting in 1993, the Berenstains (that's the authors) began writing Big Chapter Books, which put the characters into more serious situations in much longer (but still kid-oriented) books. The picture books have also taken several formats as well, ranging from small hardcovers written in rhyme, to square picture books. Almost all of the books take the title "The Berenstain Bears and __________"

Note the spelling of the name, by the way. It's a common error.

There were also several animated adaptations over time: Christmas Tree, Meet Bigpaw, Easter Surprise, Valentine Special and Little Leaguer, all of which aired on NBC. A TV series aired on CBS between 1985 and 1986, and a second began in 2003 on PBS Kids. The PBS series was produced by Nelvana.

Tropes present:

  • Absentee Actor: In the 2003 series, Mama was missing from "On the Job", "Big Road Race" and "White Water Adventure", Papa was missing from "The Giddy Grandma", "On the Job", "Big Road Race" and "White Water Adventure", Brother was missing from "The Giddy Grandma", and Sister was missing from "On the Job".
  • Adaptation Expansion: The cartoon adaptations of the storybooks would often add in scenes that weren't in the original stories. For example, the cartoon version of The Truth has Brother and Sister play a bit of soccer outside before they eventually go back inside and break Mama's lamp.
    • While the book version of Get the Gimmies simply dealt with the cubs' greed and tantrums, the cartoon inserted a "let's think of others in need" variation that changed the whole moral (probably because the original storyline would have been [[{Narm} narmy]] and unfitting with the slow-paced tone of the show).
    • The cartoon version of The Sitter actually shows Mama & Papa Bear at the community meeting; apparently, their whole reason for going in the first place was because Papa was frustrated with the fact that the gas stations no longer served free coffee & donuts.
      • The cartoon version of "The Trouble with Grown Ups" gives an explanation as to Mama & Papa's bad tempers - Papa's jigsaw breaks down, so he needs to use the "for sale" section of the paper (which is why he gets mad at Brother for taking it without asking), and Mama has been expecting an important call, which is why she gets mad at Sister for hogging the phone. Also, Mama and Papa apologize for being hard on the cubs, and point out that while they agree that it isn't always easy being a cub, being a parent isn't easy either, leading to the role reversal when Brother and Sister disagree.
  • Adults Are Useless: Unless they're your parents or grandparents. Especially don't contact the school authorities about bullies...wait...
  • Aesop Amnesia: Papa Bear manages to forget one Aesop in the very same book about it. He calmly tells Mama to not throw a fit because the cubs accidentally broke a vase...but when they break a window, Berserk Button.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The weasels in the Bear Scouts books and the cartoon are absolutely always evil, with no exceptions.
  • An Aesop: Most every book tries to teach a lessonnote . Some of the Big Chapter ones are particularly hamfisted in doing so (such as No Guns Allowed, where Too-Tall gets busted for using a squirt gun).
    • Reality Is Unrealistic: Under super-strict zero-tolerance (read zero-thinking) rules, kids can and have been suspended or even expelled simply for bringing squirt guns to schools, even if it was only by mistake. In certain cases, kids have even faced prosecution for this.
  • Animated Adaptation: See above.
  • A Weighty Aesop: Too Much Junk Food is Exactly What It Says on the Tin - all the Bears save Mama end up eating too much junk food, and it takes a visit to the doctor to Scare 'Em Straight. Ironically, some people have noted that said junk food is highly colorful and delectable.
  • Bad Dreams: This is the topic of "The Bad Dream" — in both Brother and Sister's nightmares, the Space Grizzlies appear and come after them.
  • Bearfoot Cartoon Animals: Most of the characters in Bear Country. Professor Actual Factual wears spats over his feet while Bigpaw goes au naturale.
  • Big Guy: Too-Tall.
  • The Boxing Episode: A portion of The Berenstain Bears and the Bully is Brother Bear teaching Sister Bear to box so that she can defend herself from a bully at school. Sister is a natural at it, from what the pictures let us see.
  • A Boy, a Girl, and a Baby Family: With the addition of Honey Bear.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The ending line of the Animated Adaptation's theme:
    "You may think that this starts our show / Well, it does!"
    • To the tune of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," by the way.
  • Bumbling Dad: Papa Bear, though he is the voice of reason in Messy Room. The 2003 series somewhat tones this down and makes him wiser and more helpful, while still acting goofy once in a while.
  • Canon Immigrant: Raffish Ralph (later renamed Ralph Ripoff) and Weasel McGreed from the 1980s cartoon.
  • Catch Phrase: "I don't know if I can stand the excitement." The 1980s cartoon version of Brother often said this in Sarcasm Mode.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase
  • Christmas Episode
  • Clueless Aesop: See here for the 8 most awkward titles.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Week at Grandma's has Brother and Sister find this out about their grandparents.
  • Compressed Vice: The plot point of several books, among them: eating too much junk food, watching too much television, throwing tantrums, and forgetting their manners.
  • Darker and Edgier: Many of the Big Chapter Books.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mama, in Too Much Television. When Papa complains that he won't be able to check the weather if he can't catch the TV weather report, Mama fires back with "Try this. It's called sticking your hand out the window to see if it's raining."
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Many people think that the junk food in ...and Too Much Junk Food looks so colorful and delicious, despite the Aesop of junk food being bad for you.
    • Quote from one Real Life child looking at the inside cover:
    "Mamma bear sad. Mamma Bear needs to eat some candy."
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Aside from Brother Bear being called Small Bear, anything that was written before The Berenstain Bears New Baby (the first "First Time Book"). Later entries in those previous lines (e.g., Beginner Books) were written to reflect the First Time Books.note  Moreover, the Bears themselves had similar, but nonetheless different designs from the First Time Books.
  • Easter Special: The Berenstain Bears' Easter Surprise.
  • Everyone Calls Him Brother: Everyone refers to members of the Bear family by their role in the family. Keep in mind that everyone outside the Bear family has a proper name.
    • Of note is the fact that, before Sister Bear was born (and as previously mentioned), Brother Bear was originally called Small Bear.
    • In the German translation (at least of the TV series), Brother and Sister are renamed Bastel and Suse.
    • The pattern stopped in 2000 with the introduction of Honey Bear.
    • Brother and Sister's cousin Fred is called "Cousin Fred" by everyone, even teachers.
    • Lampshaded with Papa's full name: Papa Q. Bear.
  • Feud Episode: Get In A Fight deals with Brother and Sister getting into a bitter argument with each other.
  • Fictional Counterpart: "Bearbie" dolls, present in the books and cartoon. Also Beary Bubbies.
  • First Pet Story: The Trouble With Pets
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: For the longest time, The Bear family consisted of Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Brother Bear and Sister Bear. This balance was undone with the introduction of Honey Bear in 2000.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: In The Green-Eyed Monster, Sister is overcome with this when she sees Brother's brand-new bicycle. That night, she has a dream where she meets up with said monster, and when she gets on the bike, it grows in size until it crashes. Toward the end, it starts to get to Papa when he notices Mr. Bruin's new car, but is quickly subdued when Sister warns him.
  • Hanna-Barbera: Producers of the 1980's series.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Papa Bear, repeatedly. When Brother and Sister whine about not being allowed to watch TV for a week in Too Much Television, Papa lectures them about being good sports - and then finishes with "Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a sports show I want to watch."
  • Hypocrite: In the chapter book about the dress code, one of the teachers turns up at the Bear family's house to drum up support for a scheduled meeting for a debate about the dress code. Brother happens to be present and asks about the band concert that was previously scheduled at that time. When the teacher brushes off his concerns by claiming the debate is more important and the concert will be rescheduled, Brother storms up to his room in a fit of temper. The narration tells us Brother and the rest of the band want the concert (a school-sponsored event) to be over soon so they can move on; the hypocrisy of the teachers disrupting school events for their own desires (which they had claimed the cubs' fashion choices had been doing) so angers Brother that he goes from being a mildly annoyed but overall neutral party to a ringleader of the kids' side of the debate who is ultimately indirectly responsible for their win.
  • Implausible Deniability:
    Papa Bear: I told you, I never get sick! *sneezes*
  • In Medias Res: The fourth book, Moving Day, explained how the family moved into their tree house.
  • Innocent Swearing: Happens to Sister Bear and her friend Lizzie with the word "furball" after they watch a video owned by Lizzie's brother - ''Trouble At Big Bear High''
  • It's the Best Whatever, Ever!: At the beginning of "Too Much Vacation" on the PBS Kids version, the Bear family declares that their vacation will be "the best vacation ever." Throughout the episode, as things go wrong, Papa Bear's refrain becomes "We won't let (x) spoil our best vacation ever." He finally gets fed up, though, after a flood hits the cabin that they're staying in and he gets washed away into a stream, a quite rude awakening. He grumbles that they were supposed to be having fun, but it turns out that Sister and Brother were having fun and thought that he was too, showing him the pictures of his antics during the vacation. They put a smile on his face and he decides that he was looking at things all wrong, deciding that it was, indeed, the best vacation ever.
  • Insufferable Genius: Ferdie Factual, in his debut episode, at first.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: How the kids thwart the school's new dress code; display a slide show of the adults wearing absurd 60s and 70s clothing.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In the Too Much TV episode of the PBS series, Brother Bear comments that he could learn just as much from a nature show on PBS than from a book.
  • Licensed Game: One for the Sega Genesis, one for the Sega Pico, and one for the Game Boy Color. And a few for the PC/Mac.
  • Lighter and Softer: The 2003 series. The adaption of "Get the Gimmes", along with the moral expansion, takes out the tantrum scene, whilst the adaption of "The Messy Room" has Mama actually tell the cubs reasonably to clean their room.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Lampshaded when Freddie and Lizzy are borrowing Sister and Brother's clothes. The artwork shows their closets have twenty of the exact same outfit.
    • Similarly, "The Trouble with Grownups" plays with this— since everyone on the show usually only wears one thing, when Brother and Sister portray Papa and Mama, they dress up in their standard outfits, which makes it instantly recognizable who it is that they're portraying. The reverse becomes true later when Mama and Papa dress up as Sister and Brother.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Very many secondary characters.
  • Long Runner
  • Loophole Abuse: In one of the novels, a new principal establishes a school dress code, and the students hate both the new principal and the dress code. So they study the rules and on the very first day, decide to piss off the principal by doing just this, and intentionally declaring that they are not breaking any rules. "The rules say there are no blue jeans allowed...Mine are green", and "It says no Superman capes...this is a batman cape." This prompts the principal to blow his top and put in an Obvious Rule Patch mid-day.
  • Magic Feather: In The Bad Dream, Sister Bear goes to the local movie house to see the romantic comedy The Magic Toeshoes, which is premised entirely on this trope. (Brother opts instead to catch the infinitely cooler Space Grizzlies!)
  • Mama Bear: Well, that's her name, anyway....
  • The Moral Substitute: There are Christian Berenstain Bear books. This is not a joke. Most notably,The Berenstain Bears and the Big Question, in which they are heavily suggested to be Quaker. There is even a Berenstain Bears children's Bible. (Yep, that's not a joke, either.)
  • The Moving Experience: The book Moving Day flashbacks to before Sister Bear was born and the Bear family lived in a cave, before deciding to move to their split-level tree house in Bear Country. When the book was adapted into a TV episode (in the PBS/Nelvana series), the story was appropriately told in flashback and bookended with Brother and Sister being distraught that two of their friends from school will be moving away.
  • Ocular Gushers: In "Get the Gimmies" on the PBS series, young Papa Bear cried these to get his parents to get him a toy truck he wanted, though he ended up donating it to a boy in a needy family.
  • Only Sane Bear: This trope gets passed around a lot but frequent holders are Brother, Mama and Sister; Lizzie has also gotten it when the conflict is between Brother and Sister.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: A mild version involving a school dress code. The kids adopt obnoxious new fashions, and due to an escalating power struggle between the acting principal who keeps making new rules and the kids using Loophole Abuse, it looks like the school will be going to uniforms... until Grandma Bear defuses the situation by hauling out photos of Papa and Mama Bear in their ludicrous Seventies attire.
  • Pet Baby, Wild Animal: In one of the PBS Kids TV stories, Sister Bear adopts a baby chipmunk.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: A scene from Learn About Strangers used an instrumental version of "Down with Mush" from The Berenstain Bears' Valentine Special.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: No Guns Allowed, in response to Columbine and other school shootings.
    • And The Sinister Smoke Ring, which featured anti-smoking protesters, Brother briefly joining Too-Tall's gang and a moose mascot that might as well just be called "Joe Camel."
  • Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: look at Brother in The New Baby. Kayaking, snorkeling, and all sorts of activities. The New School Year is post-Honey's birth (to the point where she's walking). Brother is in 3rd grade and Sister is in 1st. No way is Brother 2 in the first book, and no way is Sister 4 in the Bear Scout books.
  • Species Surname. The Bear family of course, but also Dr and Too-Tall Grizzly, the Ursus family, Queeny Mc Bear, Lizzy Bruin, and practically every other character has a surname that is some variation of the word Bear.
  • Steam Never Dies: Sister and Brother Berenstain may eat too much modern junk food, watch too much TV and do their homework on a computer, but when the time comes to take the train to visit Aunt Tilly, suddenly it's 1899 all over again. The Grizzly Express comes complete with steam engine, caboose, coal car, coal tender, dining car, and engineers wearing blue coveralls and funny hats.
  • Stock Sound Effects: In the audiobook production of The Berenstain Bears and the Baby Chipmunk, the sound effect for the squealing of the chipmunk should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever owned a guinea pig.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Sister's bow
  • Theme Tune Roll Call: Both TV adaptations do this.
  • This Is My Side: Done with Brother and Sister's tree house in ...Get in a Fight.
  • Title Theme Tune
  • Too Smart for Strangers: A comparatively realistic and intelligent handling of the subject.
  • Walk Into Camera Obstruction:
    • In the theme song in 1985, where a bear in purple overalls walks into the screen.
    • And the theme song in 2003, where Papa Bear is riding a unicycle, but runs into the screen.
  • Wicked Weasel: In the Bear Scouts series, an underground society of Always Chaotic Evil weasels led by Weasel McGreed serve as recurring villains.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the dog? An early book depicts them getting a pet dog who is never shown again. (If not extremely rarely) Granted, she appears in the 2003 Cartoon a few times.
  • Women Are Wiser: Except for that incident in Messy Room where she lost her temper and started throwing out all the cubs' toys out and Papa got to be the voice of reason, Mama is always right and Papa is always wrong. (In some of the rhyming advice books, he's not just wrong, but almost lethally stupid.)
    • Thankfully, there was another moment where, after the Slumber Party goes a little too out of hand, Papa mentions that maybe it was their fault too, since they didn't ask if Lizzie's parents would be home.