THE BERENSTAIN BEARSOriginal Medium: Children's Picture Stories
First Appeared: 1962
Creators: Stanley and Janice Berenstain
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Stanley and Janice Berenstain had cartooning careers before hitting it big with the Bear family — but their phenomenal success with that series has completely overshadowed everything they
did earlier. Most of their millions of fans are completely unaware that the magazine cartoons and newspaper comics they collaborated on during the 1940s and '50s were aimed at grown-ups.
The inspiration for the series came from the early reading efforts of the Berenstains' own children. Watching them learn to decipher first pictures, then words, gave the parents valuable insight, which they used in writing and drawing their first Bear book, The Big Honey Hunt. It was published in 1962 as part of Random House's "Beginner Books" imprint — the one where The Cat in the Hat had earlier gotten his start; and indeed, Dr. Seuss himself was at that point still editing the line.
The Bear family consists of Papa Q. Bear (well-meaning but sometimes over-enthusiastic), Mama Bear (often called upon to guide the family through difficulties, some of which are exacerbated by Papa's hastiness), Brother Bear (very much the traditional little boy) and Sister Bear (very much the traditional little girl). A baby, Honey Bear, was added to the cast in And Baby Makes Five, which came out in 2000. They live in a rural, woodsy part of Bear Country. Their humor, like that of such diverse series as The Family Circus and The Simpsons, comes from familiar domestic situations — but with the Bears, the stories are aimed specifically at the youngest family members.
Gentle, funny and parent-friendly, the Bear books were an instant success — and just kept getting more so. Today, there are dozens of Bear books out, and they've won dozens of awards. Several new ones appear each year. The Bears even have a couple of publishing imprints of their own.
And let's not forget the animation. The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree, first of their half-hour prime-time specials, first aired on NBC on December 3, 1979. It was followed by The Berenstain Bears Meet Big Paw (1980), The Berenstain Bears' Easter Surprise (1981), The Berenstain Bears' Valentine Special (1982) and The Berenstain Bears' Littlest Leaguer (1983).
The weekly Saturday morning show started September 14, 1985, and new episodes continued being produced until '87. Voices include Ruth Buzzi (Pogo for President, Smurfs) as Mama, Brian Cummings (DuckTales, TaleSpin) as Papa, Christina Lange (Foofur, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo) as Sister and David Mendenhall (Rainbow Brite, Transformers) as Brother.
In 2003, they began a new series on PBS, home of Dragon Tales and Clifford the Big Red Dog. Benedict Campbell (King K. Rool in Donkey Kong) is Papa, Camilla Scott (Shalla Bal in The Silver Surfer) is Mama, Michael Cera (Little Gizmo in Rolie Polie Olie) is Brother, and Tajja Isen (Atomic Betty) is Sister. This series is produced by Nelvana Ltd. (Care Bears, Get Along Gang,) which was named after an early Canadian comic book character.
Why bears? Says Janice Berenstain: "They can stand up, they look good in clothes, and they're fun to draw."