The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree
|The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree|
Title screen from the original NBC TV special (1979)
|Created by||Stan and Jan Berenstain|
|Written by||Stan and Jan Berenstain|
|Directed by||Mordicai Gerstein|
|Narrated by||Ron McLarty (uncredited)|
|Theme music composer||Elliot Lawrence|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||25 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Perpetual Motion Pictures|
The Joseph Cates Company
Embassy Home Entertainment
|Followed by||The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw (1980)|
The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree is an animated television special based on the Berenstain Bears children's book series by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Produced by Buzz Potamkin and directed by Mordicai Gerstein, the program made its debut on NBC on December 3, 1979. The television special inspired a book by the same name, published by Random House in 1980.
It is Christmas Eve in Bear Country and the Bear Family is decorating for Christmas. Now the only thing they need is the tree. Mama suggests Papa and the cubs to get a tree from Grizzly Gus' lot, but she reminds them to return home as soon as they can since a snowstorm is likely. Papa, however, decides to go out into the mountains to find the right tree for them. The first tree they find is in good shape, but unfortunately, it is home to a skunk, some squirrels, a grouse, a chipmunk, and twenty-six crows, who chase them off. But, from their point of view, Christmas is a time for them to celebrate as well, and without their home, how will they do so?
Papa and the cubs find another tree on a cliff. But it is the home to an eagle, a hawk, a wolf, and a snowy owl who aren't too pleased that Papa wants to chop their tree down either. After narrowly avoiding the eagle's attack, the bears continue on through the mountains, despite the fact that it is now snowing heavily.
After climbing their way through the snow-covered mountains, Papa and the cubs find a third perfect-looking tree. This time, however, Papa takes a good look at the tree and sees a little window on the trunk. Inside, there is a family of snowbirds decorating a small twig like a Christmas tree. Touched by this, Papa decides not to chop the birds' tree down and tells Brother and Sister that Christmas is the time to be thinking of family and friends. They then go back down the mountain to the tree lot, only to find that every last tree has been sold. They are all sad about this until they find that their tree house has been decorated by all the animals they met on their way as their act of kindness, delighting all the bears in town. Mama and Papa Bear lead everyone in a Christmas carol about the Christmas star and its meaning.
- Ron McLarty as Papa Bear and the Narrator
- Gabriela Glatzer as Sister Bear
- Jonathan Lewis as Brother Bear
- Pat Lysinger as Moma Bear
Stan and Jan Berenstain first pitched their idea for a holiday special in November 1978. They were told that there was not a market for new animated television specials, and the husband and wife team nearly gave up on the project. In February 1979, however, they received an invitation from producer Joseph Cates to discuss the idea further.
A deal with Perpetual Motion Pictures was soon solidified, and, over the course of the next several months, the Berenstains collaborated with Mordicai Gerstein and Buzz Potamkin to develop a script and sketch nearly 20,000 original drawings needed for the animators. The Berenstains drew for three straight weeks, struggling with some of the sketches. According to Stan and Jan, "Back views of the bears are especially challenging (we’ve never seen them from the back before)."
Soon after, the Berenstains auditioned for vocal talent:
Auditioning voices: we listen to eight Papas, six Mamas and four-and-twenty Sister and Brother Bears in six hours. Actors are selected. Two days in the space station atmosphere of a high-powered sound recording studio: sound engineer Bob Lifton laughs at two of the show's ninety-seven jokes. Since he does sound for Saturday Night Live this is considered a good omen.
By mid-June, Stan and Jan saw the first bits of animation, and the completed special was viewed by the Berenstains on November 10, just over three weeks prior to the national broadcast.
Production and casting
The 25-minute special was created and written by Stan and Jan Berenstain and featured original music composed and conducted by Emmy-winning musician Elliot Lawrence, with lyrics provided by Stan Berenstain. The score included three original songs: "Christmas Day is Here (It's Almost Here)", "We Need a Tree for Christmas," and "The Christmas Star".
The Christmas special starred Ron McLarty (billed as Ron McLarity), Gabriela Glatzer, Jonathan Lewis, and Pat Lysinger as Papa, Sister, Brother, and Mama Bear, respectively. McLarty also doubled as the show's narrator.
It was the first of five Berenstain Bears animated specials that aired on NBC from 1979 to 1983. Lawrence and Berenstain would provide music and lyrics for each of four subsequent Berenstain Bears NBC specials. Most of the voice actors reprised their roles in future specials, as well.
Premiere and reception
The program premiered on NBC on December 3, 1979 at 8:00PM ET (pre-empting Little House on the Prairie). The broadcast was sponsored by Kellogg's and competed against 240-Robert on ABC and The White Shadow on CBS.
The plot of the storybook, published by Random House in 1980, closely follows the storyline of the television special. The Random House edition remained in print for nearly three decades until a newer storybook version was released by Zondervan in 2009. As part of the Berenstain Bears Living Lights Series, this new edition generally follows the original plot, but focuses more closely on the Christian aspect of the holiday, including depictions of a manger scene and several Bible verses in the updated text.
Home media releases
In 1984, Embassy Home Entertainment released the special in Betamax format, as well as on LaserDisc as a double-feature with The Berenstain Bears Meet Big Paw, called "A Berenstain Bears Celebration." In 1987, the special was made available on VHS by Embassy Home Entertainment as part of the Children's Treasures series. In 1989, the special was distributed on VHS by Kids Klassics. In 2002, the special was released on DVD by GoodTimes, also in a double-feature with The Berenstain Bears Meet Big Paw. In 2008, Sony Wonder also released the special on DVD. In this edition, the Christmas special was bundled with four bonus episodes from the 1980s cartoon series.
- "TV Week." Lewiston Morning Tribune, 1979-11-30, p. 7F.
- "Previews." The Evening Independent, 1979-12-03, p. 11-B.
- Mariska, Bradley (2015). "Berenstain Bears Complete Bibliography & Blog". Retrieved 11 October 2015.
- Berenstain, Stan and Jan (2002). Down a Sunny Dirt Road: An Autobiography. Random House. ISBN 978-0375814037.
- Berenstain, Stan and Jan. "The Diary of a Christmas Special..." berenstainbears.wordpress.com. Berenstain, Inc. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
- "The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree – Soundtrack". IMDB.com. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
- "The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree". IMDB.com. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
- Berenstain Bears History, The Berenstain Bears, Inc., 2015, retrieved 11 October 2015
- The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree (VHS). Embassy Home Entertainment. 1987.
- Woolery, George W. (1989). Animated TV Specials: The complete directory to the first twenty-five years, 1962-1987. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press. p. 29. ISBN 0810821982.
- Robinson, John M (December 3, 1979). "Television". Lewiston Journal. Lewiston-Auburn, Maine. p. 16.
- Greene, Alexis (December 7, 1980). "A Guide to Holiday Programming for Younger Viewers". The New York Times. New York, NY. p. 231. Retrieved 18 October 2015.
- Berenstain, Stan and Jan (1980). The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0394888828.
- Berenstain, Stan and Jan (2009). The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree. New York: Zonderkidz. ISBN 9780310719403.
- A Berenstain Bears Celebration (LaserDisc). Embassy Home Entertainment. 1984.
- The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree (VHS). Kids Klassics. 1989. The special was re-released in 1992 by GoodTimes Home Video, in a double-feature with The Berenstain Bears Meet Big Paw.The Berenstain Bears Double Feature (VHS). GoodTimes. 1992.
- The Berenstain Bears Double Feature (DVD). GoodTimes. 2002.
- The Berenstain Bears' Christmas Tree (DVD). SonyWonder. 2008.