The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree (1979)

An annoying combination of anti-father propaganda and commercial for professional Christmas tree salesmen, The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree somehow conflates wanting to have a bad ass Christmas tree with not knowing what is really important about the holiday.

Everyone knows they’re supposed to pay lip service to the idea that the whole point of the season is about giving, but how you can be credible handing out goodies to ungrateful family members if you’re having to do it underneath some stunted and deformed fir that looked looked like it did a tour in Nam and got hit with some experimental defoliant?

The film pulls no punches hating on do-it-yourself dads, taking the opportunity to use the opening scene to set Papa Bear up to be a clueless doofus, ambling through town in his hick clothes, lugging a a giant salmon around and wreaking havoc with his fishing pole. Mama Bear is of course super smart about everything (except apparently marrying Papa Bear) telling him to get the tree from the Grizzly Gus Christmas tree business and warning Papa about the big blizzard that’s coming. And while a case of child neglect is pretty much made against Papa for the entire duration of the program, it’s Mama Bear who comes off looking the worst because she surely knows what an inattentive moron dad is and still lets him take their kids with him to get a tree!

Even though the narrator has as little respect for the intelligence of the audience as he does Papa Bear, beating us over the head early on about the true meaning of the season, he neglects to hammer dad for something legitimately stupid dad does. Like why is he waiting until a few hours before Christmas to trudge out into the wilderness to find the perfect tree? At this point your kids have gone without a tree for weeks, no doubt being taunted about how Papa Bear was out playing Old Man and the Sea with that giant salmon instead getting properly geared for the holiday. What does it matter now when there’s only a few hours left?

Despite finding some trees that Papa Bear feels fits the bill, he runs into some unexpected drama in the forest! All the other animals that live in the trees object to him chopping them down! In the first tree alone, there’s a skunk, a grouse, squirrels, crows and chipmunks protesting his attempts to responsibly harvest the tree. While the threat of getting sprayed by the skunk is troubling, these militant Earth firsters turn hysterical when Papa checks out a second tree.

This time it’s an eagle, owl, hawk, and wolf demonstrating, but things turn scary when the eagle resorts to violence! In what has to be one of the least “Christmasy” moments ever in animated special aimed at children, the eagle steals Papa’s ax and chases him with it before finally throwing it at him! Damn! Where is the line between the Law of the Jungle and eco-terrorism?

Papa though is either unflappably steadfast in his determination to give his kids the best damn tree ever or simply obsessively delusional because he seeks out a third tree even as the storm of the century is threatening to bury his children until at least the spring thaw. But before he can chop it down, he notices a tiny window! I will confess that at this point, I figured father had been finally driven insane by hypothermia and was merely hallucinating.

What exactly did Papa Bear see when he squinted and peered into that itty bitty window? Was is it a portal to a time long ago when a baby was born in a manger? Was it the ghost of Christmas Tree Past? Or did he see straight into his own empty vacuous soul, finally realizing what an empty existence his life had been all these years? What are you, nuts? He saw a tiny freaking bird family!

Tiny bird family was decorating their own tree. Only it was just a crappy little twig. But they didn’t care because what was important was that they were doing it as a family and enjoying each other’s company. And let’s be honest, they kind of had to enjoy it because Grizzly Gus was unlikely to have a six inch Christmas available on his lot anyway.

So Papa Bear learned the lesson the elites always like to preach to poor people – it’s okay that you don’t have awesome stuff like we do because you have that big family you can’t support. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have a month long ski vacation in the Alps we need to get to. But enjoy staring at the empty space where the tree and presents were supposed to be and pretending that eating that smelly salmon for dinner with your family somehow makes this the best Christmas ever!

Of course all of this is an entirely unnecessary exercise because if Papa Bear had simply watched the far superior A Charlie Brown Christmas he would have learned the exact same lesson about crappy Christmas trees being ok minus all the frostbite. It also makes this show entirely unnecessary for the audience as well. In addition to being a pale echo of an earlier, better Christmas show, but populated with off-putting gender stereotypes, The Berenstain Bears Christmas Tree also tosses in a couple of horrid songs and as a bonus has everyone speak in rhyme. (Would I be a Grinch if I pointed out that was also done better before?)

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