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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Bunsen Is a Beast is an animated series from the creator of Fairly Odd Parents with prominent messages about inclusiveness and appreciating differences, as shown by a beast's arrival as a student at a human middle school. A boy's determination to befriend his new classmate and help him acclimate is a heart-warmer, but as the story continues, Bunsen's behavior is still pretty out of control. Of course, kids will like the show's over-the-top situations and Bunsen's bizarre reactions to them, and there's some body humor mixed in as well. Expect some hints at a boy's crush on his pretty classmate and a lot of meanness from the class bully, who's determined to oust Bunsen from her school.
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What's the story?
BUNSEN IS A BEAST centers on the unlikely friendship between Mikey Munroe (voiced by Ben Giroux) and his new classmate, a beast named Bunsen (Jeremy Rowley). As the first beast enrolled in the traditionally all-human Muckledunk Middle School, Bunsen is something of an ambassador for his species, and he gets off to a rough start fitting in with his new peers. Then kindly Mikey steps in and offers to help him navigate the uncertainties of such activities as making friends, doing homework, and eating lunch in the school cafeteria. It will take all of Mikey's patience and Bunsen's concerted effort to win over the likes of Mikey's nemesis, Amanda (Kari Wahlgren), who's out to make sure Bunsen is sent packing from their school.
Is it any good?
This show's messages about inclusiveness are obvious from the start, and the improbable friendship between human and beast underscores the importance of looking past physical appearance. Unfortunately, though, Bunsen's utterly beastly -- if not entirely purposeful -- behavior makes it increasingly difficult to root for his success in winning over his human counterparts and causes thoughtful viewers to wonder if this exercise in "commingling" is really worth the effort. As TV misfits go, quirkiness and naïveté are endearing characteristics that always manage to get the audience on your side, but Bunsen gets tiresome in record time. Kids will find the hyperbolic comedy entertaining, but it will wear on parents' nerves.
What's more, while Bunsen Is a Beast is visually engaging on the eyes, it's downright hard on the ears. Bunsen has two volumes -- loud and extremely loud -- and his body's many unusual functions (eyes that extend outward, numerous arms that appear and disappear, a head that propels objects from its top) are accompanied by all kinds of sound effects. The bottom line? This series has an admirable premise that's illustrated by a surprising friendship, but the show's more irritating elements can overshadow its better points.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about empathy and how it's demonstrated in Bunsen Is a Beast. What is the value in trying to see a situation from someone else's viewpoint? How can we show we care even when we don't fully understand another person's plight? What other character strengths are important for people to develop?
What basic truths unite all people, regardless of where they come from? Is that enough to make coexistence a possibility, or can other factors threaten peace despite our best efforts? Have you ever experienced this kind of challenge among friends?
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