HORRORS OF… is a biweekly series exploring the overlooked darker elements of well-known media.
Rupert the Bear, or simply Rupert, is a story about a young polar bear with a yellow tartan scarf and red sweater who goes on adventures with his other animal friends. Created in 1920 for newspaper syndication, there have been several iterations of Rupert from books to animated versions but here I’m specifically talking about the 1991-1997 British-Canadian production. It’s actually one of my first childhood memories and I’ve thought about these moments off and on over the years: Did that really happen? Yes, it turns out, and some are much weirder than I remember.
Each episode tends to involve one of the other characters making a mess of things while Rupert, the voice of reason, tries to fix it. Bill the Badger can be selfish, and he hates taking care of his baby brother. Podgy the Pig is usually the butt of a fat joke. The professor–the only human resident of Nutwood–is a legit mad scientist and on one occasion created mutant giant topiary animals that rampaged through the town. There is both magic and science in this world and it gets ridiculous. Also, every episode is freely available on the Treehouse TV Youtube channels. As the professor always says: Think of the possibilities!
Rupert’s Undersea Adventure
Rupert is falsely accused of stealing King Neptune’s treasured pet, the whistle fish. After being captured and tried in court by a devious barracuda (the actual thief) Rupert is broken out of jail and hurries to find the fish with the help of a mermaid named Marina. Thankfully the professor has created a diving suit that manufactures its own oxygen supply (how convenient).
After almost being eaten by sharks twice, King Neptune realizes they’re telling the truth and everyone rushes back to the tide pool where the whistle fish is. The tide has gone out and the poor fish sadly drags its body through the dry sand, the whistling but a whisper. I think I was around 4 when I first saw this and I got really upset! The gang gets there just in time and Rupert is rewarded for his efforts with some shiny seashells.
Rupert In Timeland
After being denied permission by his parents to go on a kids-only camping trip with Podgy, Rupert laments “I can’t wait till I’m grown up, then I can do whatever I want!” And because this is a children’s cartoon, they have to address this in a messed-up way.
While eating pickles covered in pepper (yeah..I don’t know either) the boys sneeze at the exact moment Father Time arrives, avoiding his time-freeze magic. They wander through Nutwood and become increasingly worried as they see all of their friends and family frozen. Father Time is casually fishing in the river and tells the boys he’ll fix everything in 75 years after he’s done his vacation.
We then get a series of scenes as Rupert and Podgy experience their lives at a rapid pace, from dating, marriage, having children and eventually growing old. Hunched over with huge beards, neither can remember who they are. Even after it’s fixed Father Time jokes that the accelerated ageing is irreversible. What a dick. Thankfully he goes “lol jk” and returns the kids to normal. All because of a sneeze.
In another episode, Rupert and The Lost Memory a rival of the professor steal Nutwood’s file from the Memory Bank, causing the town’s residents to forget everything. Many of these episodes revolve around childhood fears: getting in trouble, not understanding or remembering something, getting lost…Which feels a million times worse as a kid.
Rupert and the April Fool
While hanging out with Gregory the Guinea Pig (a character who seldom showed up from what I remember) Rupert and his friend read a joke book written by “A. Fool” and find out he owns a shop in the next town. When they arrive they find the locals extremely hostile, and angry when Gregory shares a riddle with a local boy.
They’re chased by an angry mob and thrown out. Soon the pair come across an odd house–the residence of the April Fool himself! At first, it’s all fun and games joking around with this practical jokester, but soon he gets downright mean: throwing food in their faces, chasing them around and not letting Rupert and Gregory leave. They eventually trick him in a game of hide-and-seek and show him that jokes can be hurtful. Something about these kids being trapped with this constantly laughing weirdo made me so uncomfortable as a child.
Rupert in Dreamland
Podgy is absolutely terrified of falling asleep. He gets Rupert to dump water on him and when Rupert repeatedly says he wants to go to bed Podgy tries to stall. “Let’s do this puzzle all night instead!” Poor kid–he’s so tired he can’t help but nod off. They decide to catch the Sandman before he sends them off to Dreamland, setting a trap. The Sandman turns out to be a pretty nice guy and helps the boys find Podgy’s nightmare. It turns out since Podgy has been ignoring it and forcing himself to wake up before the dream is concluded, it’s gotten out of control, absorbing all the good dreams and turning them into nightmares.
The big bad monster from his nightmare turns out to be a giant killer pickle, who’s turning a “Nightmare Machine” and getting more powerful by the minute. Thankfully Podgy learns to face his fears and defeats the giant gherkin. Mrs. Bear warns Podgy not to eat weird food before bed anymore or else he’ll give himself nightmares but I kind of doubt the boy will listen!
Rupert and the Sun Bandit
Various “behind the scenes” magical facilities exist in Rupert’s world. The previously mentioned Memory Bank, and now the Weather Office, a location that showed up once before as a pirate tried to steal the Four Winds. The fact that such a massively important part of the environment is easily available (Rupert and The Professor take a plane there) with only a single person in charge is ridiculous. So, it’s no wonder Dr. Reginald P. Healthminder swoops in and steals Nutwood’s sunshine and sells it back to the townsfolk at exorbitant prices. It’s sold as a “golden tonic that cures all ailments” and wears off after a while, making it a wonderful racket for the salesman.
Rupert uncovers the plot but gets captured along with the Professor. Once the snake oil salesman realizes the jog is up he tries to shoot them with a lightning cannon but thankfully the pair are saved by a talking Robin. The Clerk of The Weather shows up and arrests Dr. Healthminder, towing his cloud away like a car being impounded. Who’s watching the Weather Office while he’s gone?? These people are way too trusting.
It’s always interesting to me how children’s shows try to have a clear, simple message for kids to take away. “Be kind to each other”, “don’t lie”, things like that. How they get to these conclusions is always ridiculous. I’m not sure how many of these storylines are from the old Rupert books or if they were simply created for the show, but they’re quite imaginative. Rupert also tends to look into the camera like he’s on the office and complain, so even he knows it’s absurd.
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