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Build-a-Bear takes heat for global-warming webisodes

Conservative bloggers are calling for a boycott of the company. Executives say the series, in which Santa is warned the North Pole could melt before Christmas, was intended to inspire children.

December 25, 2009|Mcclatchy Newspapers

St. Louis — First, Chicken Little warned children that the sky was falling. And now Build-a-Bear Workshop has warned children that the North Pole could disappear before Christmas.

The Missouri-based company has found itself in hot water, defending an animated series on its website featuring polar bears, penguins and Mrs. Claus, as Santa is warned that global warming is "a serious situation."

Conservative bloggers reposted the videos online and called for a boycott of the toy company, saying Build-a-Bear should not be presenting a political stance to children.

The company relented, took down the videos and posted on its website a letter from Build-a-Bear founder and Chief Executive Maxine Clark.

"Our intention with the polar bear story was to inspire children, through the voices of our animal characters, to make a difference in their own individual ways," Clark wrote. "We did not intend to politicize the topic of global climate change or offend anyone in any way."

Clark pointed out that the videos end on a happy note.

"The webisodes concluded this week with Santa successfully leaving on his journey to deliver gifts around the world. The webisodes will no longer be available on the site."

The video series was called "Under the North Star: An Uplifting Christmas Experience."

Darren Pope, a writer for Examiner.com, was one of the harshest critics of the videos, in which a polar bear named Ella tells Santa: "At the rate it's melting, the North Pole will be gone by Christmas."

In a letter to Clark, which he posted online, Pope wrote: "It is one thing to use fear mongering and scare tactics when attempting to win adults over to a particular point of view, it is quite another when using those tactics against very young, impressionable children."

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Build-a-Bear said no one, including Clark, would be available for an interview, but offered two e-mail statements echoing the sentiments in Clark's letters.

"We didn't intend to make a political statement about global climate change with the webisodes, and we deeply regret any misunderstanding or offense that they may have caused. We place great value in the trust that our guests have in our brand," said Jill Saunders, whose title is director of bear and public relations. "Our intention with the polar bear story was to provide a fun holiday story that also raised children's awareness of very simple things they could do to make a difference in their own individual ways."

Pope, who said he learned of the webisodes from his two daughters, is glad the videos have been taken down (although they are accessible on YouTube and elsewhere, including Pope's site). But he says he doesn't buy the company's response.

"Even though Maxine Clark continues to stick to her guns by claiming the intent was not to 'politicize' the issue, I find that hard to swallow," said Pope, who is based in Charleston, S.C. "Another thing Clark said was that the video was intended to 'inspire' children. Inspire them to what? Obviously to take up the cause of fighting global warming. If that's not politicizing the issue, then I don't know what is."

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