Harry Davis (Eddie Albert, Green Acres) has his hands full. He’s the principal at the school his two boys, Billy (Butch Patrick, The Munsters) and Timmy (Donnie Carter, Burke’s Law), attend. They’re obsessed with becoming bears. Their teacher (Nancy Kulp, The Beverly Hillbillies) and father are taking this too seriously, while their mother (Jane Wyatt, Father Knows Best) says it’s a passing fad. Maybe it would be, except that the Davis boys come into contact with a fraudulent fortuneteller (Opal Euard, I Led 3 Lives), who tells the boys how to become real bears.
A side story has the boys’ sister Tina (Brenda Lee, Smokey and the Bandit II) singing her way through the ups-and-downs of navigating first love. Wouldn’t you know? Her beau gives her some smelly cream (to purportedly remove freckles), and the boys think it’s a gift from the witch to help them become bears.
On Halloween Night, the boys put their bear costumes back on after trick-or-treating, apply the cream, curse like a witch, and bam! They become real bears. When they wake up the next day they’re back to being little boys. That is, until they ditch school to sneak home and re-don the costumes and once again become bears.
The boys’ teacher is at her wits’ end, and it doesn’t help that her father is responsible for picking the new high school principal, a job Mr. Davis desperately wants. When the boys sneak back home after having their parents worried all day, it’s the last straw. Mr. Davis burns the bear costumes and that’s that.
But it’s not. It turns out that the boys met a widow bear, Emily, who befriends them. When their father says he’s going to go back to the place they met her in order to kill her, the boys are horrified. They are able to change back into bear cubs, but when they try to warn Emily they end up captured. It’s about that time when dear old Dad comes around to the idea that maybe his sons really are bears.
Of course he makes the mistake of sharing that idea and he soon lands himself on a psychiatrist’s (Jake Finch, Highway Patrol) couch and in danger of losing not only his promotion but his current job as well. Regardless of whether or not anybody believes their dad the fact of the matter is the boys are missing. The fraudulent fortuneteller from before finds the boys and returns them home. Then it’s merely a matter of convincing everyone the boys are able to become bears at will, and the story can end.
The Two Little Bears was an amusing little film, carried by the presence of its adult cast more than the younger actors. Nancy Kulp as the hysterical teacher and Eddie Albert as the boys’ father especially play their parts well.
Most of the boys-as-bears scenes follow the simple formula of setting two live bear cubs loose on a set and then playing some voice over which could conceivably fit the boys’ conversation with one another.
Even though The Two Little Bears is only 83 minutes long, it’s clear the other storylines are there merely to pad the runtime. It’s hard to blame the screenwriters for doing so, as watching the bears’ antics lose their appeal after a while. There’s only so much we can watch of the bears before we wonder where this story is going.
The standard def 1.33:1 full frame video is strange, beginning and ending with a frame-within-a-frame format which we enter and leave for no conceivable reason. Even though it’s a bizarre style choice the black-and-white film doesn’t have any technical issues. I like the special effects shots and they work well, especially considering how long ago (1961) this was made. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo suffers a little more, with the off-camera work sounding especially hollow. Even though none of the audio truly inhabits the space, at least it’s audible. There are no bonus features.
The Two Little Bears is a charming piece of filmmaking. The adults’ performances are the most convincing in this modern fairytale and help sell it. I don’t think you need to purchase it, but a streaming wouldn’t be amiss.