A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Friend Bernard is meant to help a child overcome fears by facing them, but in order to do that, it sets up a young boy of indeterminate age, likely a toddler, in a nonstop saturation of peril that he must face -- noises, shadows, heights, monsters, and lots and lots of falling. Some challenges are more absurd than others -- fighting a dragon, anyone? -- and it's balanced with lots of humor (some of which ventures into potty humor territory), but for some kids, the positive message about facing what frightens you could easily be lost amid all the brouhaha.
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What's the story?
My Friend Bernard is an animated adventure about Sam, a little boy whose fears are on overdrive no matter their source -- from noises, to scary shadows, to new faces. But when he receives a magical necklace with transportive qualities, he visits a magical ice world and makes a new friend in a polar bear named Bernard who, along with a couple of penguins, teach him about courage and facing his fears.
Is it any good?
My Friend Bernard certainly means well in its quest to teach youngsters that their deepest fears are better faced than avoided. But it does that by jam-packing 70 minutes with nonstop frights like a series of scary dominos to knock down one by one. In Sam's world, the only way out is through. And in an effort to keep the pace going, My Friend Bernard overdoes the action with a trial-by-fire ethos.
It doesn't help that the adventure storyline feels needlessly convoluted, that the polar bear is confusingly presented as both friend and foe, and that the attempt to make every stop on this epic rescue-thon a teachable moment wears thin. Kids may enjoy the silly penguin characters and laugh at bear fart jokes, but parents may find this a tough one to get through. More significantly, parents may find this an oversaturated, lesson-packed attempt at diffusing fear for younger kids, who likely prefer to space their frights out over longer than 70 minutes.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Sam overcame his fears. What do you think was the most helpful thing for Sam to experience to learn to be less afraid? What tricks do you use to stop being afraid of something?
Sam and his friends learn a lot about sharing. Some characters got awfully upset when their things were used without their permission. Have you ever been upset when you had to share? How did you deal with it?
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