Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Great Bear Scare

Director: Hal Mason
Writer: John Barrett
Producer: Mary Roscoe
Cast: Ted E Bear and Friends
Country: USA
Year of release: 1983
Reviewed from: UK VHS

Big disappointment, this one. It takes a lot to be disappointed by a 23-year-old, 22-minute cartoon about a teddy bear because, well, expectations are naturally low, but let me explain.

Back in 1992, when I moved to Stoke-on-Trent, I spotted this tape in a video store. There on the cover was ‘Ted E Bear’ - blue hat, blue waistcoat, green bow tie - and ranged around him were Dracula, a werewolf, a witch and a Karloffian Frankenstein monster. The sleeve blurb about ‘monsters’ naturally led me to believe that this was some sort of House of Frankenstein-style monsterfest. And I love monsterfests!

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, The Monster Squad, Mad Monster Party, Mad Mad Mad Monsters. Heck, I even enjoyed Van Helsing (dumb, but fun). Any time you cram a bunch of classic monsters together in one film, you can count on at least one person in the audience. I included The Great Bear Scare in a list of Frankenstein films that I was compiling in those days, when the nascent internet was not yet a feature of film research and you had to plough through books and magazines and, well, browse video stores. But I never watched the video. Had no time, had no money.

Now here it is in Help the Aged for 50p. Now, I get to watch it. And you know what? There’s no Frankenstein monster in this film! Nor is there a werewolf! I’ve been had.

Here’s the plot. Rumours are circulating in “beautiful downtown Bearbank” that tomorrow night all the monsters are going to emerge from nearby Monster Mountain and take over the world, starting with Bearbank itself. Ted E Bear bravely volunteers to go and investigate the mountain, a news story which is covered by Patti Bear on K-BEAR news (the cartoon actually opens with a ‘we interrupt this programme for breaking news’ caption).

Dracula and a witch named Miss Witch see this news report and Drac decides to fly down to Bearbank and check the place out. Unfortunately his magical spell of ‘Lumpkin pumpkin, make me a bat!’ doesn’t work very well so although he flies there he has to walk back, accepting a lift on the way from Ted E Bear (who doesn’t recognise him).

Ted discovers that inside the mountain is a whole city populated by monsters, but these are generic big, ugly monsters, plus assorted witches and ghosts. There is a mummy glimpsed briefly in one shot but there are no werewolves and there’s no Frankenstein. I want my 50p back!

Ted has been told that “bears are afraid of nothing” so he reasons that if bears are afraid of monsters, then monsters are really nothing. The monsters chase him around the monster city (which includes locations such as Madison Scare Garden and the Vampire State Building) before he escapes and is picked up by Patti Bear in her news blimp. He broadcasts a message back to Bearbank that the bears should not be afraid of the monsters so that, when the invasion starts, the ghouls are easily routed by bears who do little more than shout boo and occasionally pour pots of honey on them.

I’m sure there must be a moral in here somewhere but it’s hopelessly confused. Is it that we shouldn’t be afraid of monsters, or that monsters don’t exist, or that we shouldn’t be afraid of anything, or... what? Like most people, I get annoyed when moral messages are spelled out simplistically, but in this instance it’s all very muddled. It’s like there are several bits of different morals all bolted together in the hope that one general moral will emerge.

Then there’s the animation, which is among the cheapest I have ever seen. Most movements are done as a simple dissolve from one character position to another, so while the movement isn’t jerky, it’s very limited and there’s no real inbetweening. The exceptions to this are facial movements, which are properly animated, and anything moving in a straight line without changing shape, such as Ted’s car or Patti’s airship.

The Great Bear Scare is a sort of sequel to The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas, a 1973 DePatie-Freleng production although the only shared credits are Tom Smothers as the voice of Ted E Bear and ‘ghost writer’ (as he is credited here - ho ho, very satirical) John Barrett, who in ‘73 shared writing duties with Larry Spiegel. Both animated specials are based on books by Barrett who also wrote Ted E Bear books on Thanksgiving and Easter, although neither of those seems to have been animated.

Smothers, of course, was half of the comedy folk act the Smothers Brothers. Largely unknown here in the UK, I used to have half a dozen LPs by them which were unfailingly hysterical. Over the years he has made numerous appearances on TV, and occasionally in films, usually with his brother Dick. The rest of the voice cast are Louis Nye (a frequent stooge for Steve Allen who was in Larry Cohen’s Full Moon High) as Dracula, Lucille Bliss (The Secret of NIMH, Robots) as Miss Witch, jazz singer Sue Raney as Patti Bear, Hal Smith (hundreds of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s cartoons including Owl in many Pooh animations) as town mayor C Emory Bear and Hans Conried (Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan) as ursine scientist Professor Werner von Bear. That last name is a gag on rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, of course.

Director Hal Mason was a well-known animator who worked with Walter Lantz on characters such as Woody Woodpecker and Oswald Rabbit. His most famous creation was the Pillsbury Doughboy. The Inaccurate Movie Database confuses him with another Hal Mason who was production supervisor on many classic Ealing comedies. He directed a Chipmunks Christmas Special in 1982 and this appears to have been his follow-up project although I can find no other actual directing credits for him. He passed away in 1986.

Producer Mary Roscoe had worked on various Warner Brothers properties in the 1970s including Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24 1/2th Century. She was also responsible for the Americanisation of the Japanese Voltron cartoon series. The Great Bear Scare appears to be the only credit of any sort for either production company DimenMark International Inc or executive producer Thomas A Mayfield.

Music on the cartoon is credited to Thomas Loose and Edward Yelin. Loose was a prolific composer of stock music tracks which have been used in Night of the Living Dead, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a whole bunch of Russ Meyer pictures, Trader Hornee, The Adult Version of Jekyll and Hide and many other movies far, far removed from animated teddy bears.

The Great Bear Scare has a few very weak gags, paper-thin characters, a plot that makes little sense, an unclear moral message, limited animation and no Frankenstein or werewolf, despite what the sleeve promises. It’s pretty rubbish all round, to be honest.

MJS rating: D
review originally posted 18th November 2006

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