26 user 11 critic

Jack the Bear (1993)

PG-13 | | Drama | 2 April 1993 (USA)
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Danny DeVito is John Leary, a professional clown, whose wife's death in a car accident has left him to care for his two young boys. Loving, but useless at the daily job of fathering, the ... See full summary »


Dan McCall (novel), Steven Zaillian (screenplay)
1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Danny DeVito ... John Leary
Robert J. Steinmiller Jr. ... Jack Leary
Miko Hughes ... Dylan Leary
Gary Sinise ... Norman Strick
Art LaFleur ... Mr. Festinger
Stefan Gierasch ... Father-in-Law
Erica Yohn Erica Yohn ... Mother-in-Law
Andrea Marcovicci ... Elizabeth Leary
Julia Louis-Dreyfus ... Peggy Etinger
Reese Witherspoon ... Karen Morris
Bert Remsen ... Mitchell
Carl Gabriel Yorke ... Gordon Layton
Lee Garlington ... Mrs. Festinger
Lorinne Vozoff Lorinne Vozoff ... Mrs. Mitchell
Justin Mosley Spink Justin Mosley Spink ... Dexter Mitchell


Danny DeVito is John Leary, a professional clown, whose wife's death in a car accident has left him to care for his two young boys. Loving, but useless at the daily job of fathering, the onus falls on plucky Jack the Bear (Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr.) Leary's conscience, and a quantity of alcohol, leads him to denounce a neo-fascist candidate on his children's television program, and also to the kidnapping of youngest son Dylan (Miko Hughes) by a disturbed neo-Nazi supporter. Written by David Holmes <d.r.h@btinternet.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Laugh. Cry. Hold on tight.



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for elements of theme, and for some terror | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

2 April 1993 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

El pequeño papá See more »


Box Office

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Paul McMichael was an original choice to play Edward Festinger. See more »


The stuffed dog on the living room floor of Karen's house. See more »


[first lines]
Jack Leary: I thought I knew all about monsters. I used to watch them late at night on Dad's TV show. After we moved to Oakland, he stopped doing kid's shows, because he was different now. Everything was different. Now he was Al Gory, monster of ceremonies at Midnight Shriek.
See more »


Features Sesame Street (1969) See more »


Written by Marty Balin and Paul Kantner
Performed by Jefferson Airplane
Courtesy of the RCA Records Label of BMG Music
See more »

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User Reviews

Growing up is never easy
11 January 2006 | by Andreas_NSee all my reviews

Jack the Bear is a wonderful movie. It is the story of John Leary (Danny DeVito) and his two boys, Jack (Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr.) and Dylan (young Miko Hughes, known e.g. from his later accomplishment in 'Mercury Rising'). It is a story that takes a bittersweet look at the joys and pains of growing up. By doing so it elaborates on weighty issues, while at the same, it has a certain amount of humor to it. Yet despite the subtle comedian edge, this movie is by no means a comedy. It is a very emotional and instructive tale of one family's struggles, of challenges and tragedies. It features sincere messages of life and can be seen as a symbolic story that stands for the premise that growing up is never easy. Sometimes it is painful. Sometimes it is scaring. Then again, when the chips are low and the world seems to fall apart, there is hope. Hope you find within your family, hope – and the knowledge that there will be brighter days ahead.

Danny DeVito plays Jack Leary, a widower who works as a monster-host of a late night horror show and who entertains the neighborhood kids with silly ghoulish antics. His twelve-year-old son Jack is the movie's main protagonist. He talks to the audience as if he would tell the story of his life – which he does to some extent. The entire developments are told through his eyes mainly. Thus the story is endowed with the childish naivety that makes it so special and so sincere. Dylan, Jack's little brother, is about four years old. The setting is Oakland, California, in 1972.

The main theme that runs through the entire story is the theme of monsters. Jack Leary, the perfect monster in his TV show, is not the only one. Right at the beginning Jack says that he would find out that summer that real monsters existed. Then there is Jack's "monster" crush on the lovely girl at school (young Reece Witherspoon), which is a sub-theme of the plot. We share Jack's joy and his confusion after their first date, which is so funny as many will be able to identify with his tenseness prior to and his enthusiasm after their first kiss. The real monster is introduced as weird and apparently dangerous Norman Strick (Gary Sinise, who completes the quality of the cast), who turns out to be a deceitful and dangerous antagonist.

The strongest emotional theme is that of family life. John's wife, Jack's and Dylan's mom died the previous winter in a road accident after some heavy arguments with her husband. This left a huge gap in the boys' lives and painful scars on Jack in particular. He occasionally seems to see her, and we get some flashbacks to their time together throughout the movie. This is very tough and intensifies the feeling of loss and loneliness. This theme is then even more so addressed when Dylan is kidnapped, which is presented in all its horror and pain for Jack and his dad. Very close to this is John's struggle to be a good father, to overcome his irresponsibility and live up the needs of his boys. All of these aspects mixed together make up the story's strength and provide substantially more than mere entertainment, but real issues of daily struggles and common problems.

Seen from socio-cultural aspects, this movie is typically American in its entire setting and its developments. Following the emotionally stirring showdown with Norman Strick, Jack has an emotional breakdown and cries for his mother. When John tries to comfort him, Jack shouts: "No, nothing is all right!" Then John looks straight into his son's eyes and replies: "Then we gonna make it all right." This is the embodiment of the American Dream, the American attitude never to give up and keep fighting, even if the chips are low and the times are hard and full of privation.

The cast is outstanding, the acting is very convincing and the themes are brilliantly worked out. It is the struggle of a father to keep his kids; it is one boy's quest to find happiness; it is a typically American tale of courage and steadfastness, of values, trust and love. The movie captures pure messages of life, is exciting and displays tremendous wisdom, all woven together in the cultural stratum of 1972. And finally, it has genuine humor and provides first class entertainment for the entire family. You will enjoy Jack the Bear, and you have all reason to do so.

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