Nobody Cares Like a Bear

The Care Bears were a line of characters originally created for greeting cards, which was kind of a thing at the time. That also happened with Strawberry Shortcake, the Popples, and Rainbow Brite, among others. They’re sort of teddy bears who are also guardian angels, living in the clouds and monitoring the Earth for people who need caring in their lives. They seem to work exclusively with children, as they were at the height of their popularity during the Reagan administration and never did anything about his uncaring policies. They came in different colors, and each character had its own symbol on its belly. These symbols reflected their personalities, but also produced useful objects, and they could all get together to perform their ultimate move, the Care Bear Stare, where they emitted light from their bellies to form a kind of caring ray. It didn’t involve their eyes, but I guess the rhyme was more important than the accuracy. I never had any of them, and not just because they were seen more as girls’ toys, because I didn’t have any of the popular boys’ toys either. I was somewhat intrigued by the Transformers, especially the Dinobots, but I didn’t get any of them. Anyway, the Bears were popular enough to receive three theatrically released movies, and Beth and I recently watched the first two, from 1985 and 1986.

The Care Bears Movie – We’d actually both seen this one before, more than once in Beth’s case. It performed better in theaters than its animated competitor, Disney’s The Black Cauldron, but that was hardly one of Disney’s better efforts anyway. And for the record, I saw The Black Cauldron at the theater. There was some actual celebrity talent involved with the Care Bears, with Mickey Rooney as the narrator, and Carole King and John Sebastian writing (and sometimes singing) the songs. They were good songs, too; these writers didn’t phone it in because it was a film about toy bears. The animation, which was outsourced by Canadian production company Nelvana, wasn’t super high-quality but it worked, with the Care Bears moving like stuffed toys. The plot focuses on the Bears helping three kids, two orphans who are able to care again after a trip to Care-a-Lot, and a clumsy magician’s assistant named Nicholas. I was a depressed child, so why didn’t any magical teddy bears come to help me? I would have loved visiting a country in the clouds!

Anyway, the first two kids have their problems solved rather quickly, but Nicholas falls under the influence of an evil spirit inside a book. Keeping in mind that the intended audience was young kids, I have to suspect the evil book might have been genuinely scary for some of them.

Nicholas works evil spells to rid the world of caring, or at least that’s what we’re told. It’s not like we ever see much of the world beyond the amusement park where he lives and works. The two children and two of the Bears are accidentally transported to a place called the Forest of Feelings, home to the Care Bear Cousins.

These were a spin-off of the toy line for animals other than bears, although they all still had the same basic teddy bear body.

This works all right for most of them; bipedal toy bears and bipedal toy rabbits, for instance, aren’t all that different, despite the fact that actual bears and rabbits aren’t all that similar. The lamb does look a little weird with that model, though.

The Bears and the Cousins all team up to save Nicholas from the spirit, and the Cousins are inducted into the Care Bear clan and receive their own belly symbols.

We then find out that Nicholas grew up to be the narrator, who runs an orphanage in the framing story. While I think all of the characters who had been released as toys at the time appeared, some were largely in the background. The most prominent ones tended to be Tenderheart, Friend, Secret, Grumpy (who did most of the mechanical work), and Brave Heart Lion, with Grams Bear and her baby charges Hugs and Tugs playing a significant role near the beginning. I guess I kind of feel that, with movies based on properties that already have a lot of characters, children are all going to want to see their favorites. If yours was Champ Bear, for instance, he was there, but not featured all that much.

The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation – Despite the success of the first movie, this one seems rather more half-hearted (and as far as I know, there’s no Half Heart Bear). The songs aren’t even very good this time; King and Sebastian did not return as writers, and the ones here are rather more cloying. In terms of plot, it’s a prequel, looking back at the Care Bears’ first Caring Mission. Exactly how long ago this is supposed to take place, I don’t know. Since most of the first one was also a flashback and its child characters were adults in the framing story, the Bears must have been active for some time. Attempts to make sense of the timeline are probably doomed to failure anyway, as this movie totally destroys any continuity the first one established. Remember how the Care Bear Cousins received their tummy symbols at the end of that film? Well, here they get them as babies, and they grow up with the Care Bears.

I’m now imagining some kind of midquel where they somehow lose the symbols and have their memories wiped or something. Also, isn’t Grams Bear older than the others? Where is she during this story? The villain here is named Dark Heart, and he’s a shapeshifter who has no known back story.

From the beginning, he’s harassing the Care Bears and Cousins, who are then under the leadership of True Heart Bear and Noble Heart Horse.

The latter really doesn’t look much like a horse, suffering more from the basic teddy bear body than the other Cousins. They escape from him and bring up the children in the Kingdom of Caring. In many respects, the plot is derivative of the first, right down to the Bears being able to assist two human siblings right away, but another child being corrupted by evil until the end.

This time, they’re staying at a summer camp, which I know from my experience in YMCA day camp to be a good way to lose faith in humanity. Some boy known simply as the Camp Champ keeps bullying the three of them, and for some reason there don’t appear to be any counselors they can complain to. They must all be having sex and letting Jason Voorhees drown. For that matter, I don’t think there are any human adults in this movie. At least the last one had the magician, although even that was weird because Nicholas apparently lived with him, but didn’t seem to view him as a father figure. This time, the corrupted child is a girl named Christy, who has Dark Heart grant her the ability to be the best at every camp activity in exchange for a favor to be named later. As pretty much every page I’ve looked at points out, it’s a loose retelling of the Faust legend, although Faust got a lot more out of his deal. She’s forced to help Dark Heart capture the Care Bears, but not only is Christy eventually redeemed by the power of caring, but so is Dark Heart, who learns about selflessness when Christy saves him from drowning (not that he presumably couldn’t have just turned into a fish or something). The Care Bears address the audience Peter Pan style to get them to help in reviving Christy, which makes even less sense when you remember this is supposed to be a flashback.

I guess they didn’t expect their intended viewers to notice, and they might have been right. I’m now a little bit outside the age range they were marketing these toys to, in case you didn’t know.

The third and final theatrical Care Bears movie was an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland that came out in 1987. I haven’t seen this one, and I don’t know if I will; I’ll probably leave it up to Beth. The Care Bear toy line has been relaunched several times since then, and there have been other animated series and direct-to-video movies in that time.

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8 Responses to Nobody Cares Like a Bear

  1. davidthebishop says:

    I used to have a Care Bear, but I’m having a tough time remembering which one it was. I know my sister had Cheer Bear. I thought I had Wish Bear, but it might have been Bedtime Bear. Maybe we had both? Oh, well, it doesn’t really matter.

    My siblings and I saw all three of the Care Bears movies on the big screen. I can confirm that the scary book lady in the first movie kinda gave me the creeps. I think the villain in the sequel did, too, but maybe not as much. I only saw the first two movies one time each, but the eeriness still sticks with me all these decades later. I remember my Mom jokingly trying to get me to play along with the Tinkerbell moment, but even though I was young enough to still be entertained by the Care Bears, I was a little too old and too embarrassed to chant “I care!” out loud at the screen.

    My favorite of the three movies was actually The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland because it was the most lighthearted and whimsical (plus it had a rapping Cheshire Cat). Looking back, though, it doesn’t really have all that much in common with Lewis Carroll’s stories.

  2. Sailor Sedna says:

    Good review. I first got a Bedtime Bear plushie and video as a kid from my Grandma, which is what got me interested in Care Bears, though oddly I didn’t get into them till I was a teen and I didn’t grow up with them in the 80’s…my sister got Cheer and my brother Funshine. My favorite bears are Tenderheart, Bedtime, Grumpy, Wish and Friend, and my favorite Cousins are Bright Heart, Swift Heart, Cozy Heart and Gentle Heart (I dunno why her old toy counterpart looks different but it’s still cute), but I love them all. I even collected some vintage plush of them.

    The first Care Bears movie was the best, and all of the Bears were used well/adequately in it to me, like Bedtime got to help save the kids when being chased for example. Unfortunately some of the Cousins got pushed to the sidelines and didn’t get much development or speaking time. Sadly ones like Loyal Heart and Gentle Heart seem to have mostly become known as “forgotten” Care Bear Cousins, but that seems to hopefully be going away now as two days ago I won a prize of him and Proud Heart at a crane machine (there was one of Gentle Heart at one time but another lucky person got her before me).

    The second film wasn’t as good as the original, but I liked it, though oddly I never did expect a sequel at first. My headcanon as to what happened is not too long after the Bears and Cousins grew up, the Evil Spirit from the first film somehow took away the Cousins’ symbols and wiped their memories of the Bears and the Bears’ memories of the Cousins, or something like that. And something else odd: Treat Heart Pig, believe it or not, isn’t even in that film oddly. And that whole “We Care” thing, well…embarrassing. :P

    I also do love Noble Heart and True Heart, and oddly to me, there’s something charming to me about Noble Heart not looking horse-like, but I’ve seen cool artwork where he does look like a horse.

    You’re not missing much by skipping out on the Adventure in Wonderland Care Bears film. I got it from a used library sale, thought it was so-so, and not too long after, bad. Reasons to me why are that version of Wonderland was just too wacky and weird looking, even for Care Bears standards and such, the tone oddly doesn’t fit in the Care Bears universe, some of the characters like Dim and Dum, and the version of the Jabberwocky (who was bastardized) were annoying, the action/use of Care Bear Stare scenes weren’t all that great, the songs weren’t anything enjoyable minus “Rise and Shine” and “Mad about Hats” song sung by the Mad Hatter, the villain, who is an evil wizard who looks like Jafar from Aladdin, wasn’t all that great and he does one of the freakiest faces ever. Only good things I can say is the animation and art (minus some possibly questionable stereotypes) are excellent for a Care Bears film, like Swift Heart’s animation when she hops off of a chair, the voice acting is good, and Swift Heart does a hilarious expression here: blob:null/5ed7a771-6534-456d-bad3-4680740edb75

    But it doesn’t make up for the corniness and such it has.

    I oddly thought Care Bears was for both boys and girls though, if it was for girls, why did they also have male protagonists with them, especially considering how MLP had so few male protagonists as female ones in comparison?

    • Nathan says:

      You might be right that Care Bears were geared toward both sexes. I guess I tend to think of the cuter toys and related cartoons as being girl-oriented. Not that it particularly matters, as I think gendering toys like that is messed up. It bugs me, for instance, that McDonald’s workers are still prompted to ask if you want a “boy or girl” Happy Meal, as if there aren’t boys who like Barbie and girls who like Hot Wheels. But anyway, thanks! I actually joked to Beth while watching that they should end the second movie with Dark Heart getting sealed inside a book, although that was before I knew he reformed. The Care Bears universe seems pretty rife with evil spirits who target depressed children.

      • Sailor Sedna says:

        Yeah, that could be the case in a way, but then again Disney’s had cute stuff in it too.

        No problem.

        Oh, that’s a funny joke there, and yeah, it does seem rife in the world. Now I wish in a way they were real, because then they could solve a lot of cases of depression around the world…

        I’ve actually thought of making my own Care Bears fan film interestingly myself, though more in the 80’s series spirit, maybe have it as a “Roger Rabbit” style, and I’d have to think of a plot or something and in it I’d try to involve more of the “forgotten” Care Bears/Cousins.

    • rocketdave says:

      Care Bears in Wonderland is tonally quite different from the first two movies, but I thought it was more in line with the universe established in the TV show. In fact, it was more like a long episode of the cartoon than a movie. Dim and Dum were even based on the henchman Beastly from the cartoon. It’s not a great movie, but I don’t know if any of the Care Bears stuff from my childhood has held up particularly well.

      • Sailor Sedna says:

        Yeah, maybe if it was like a 3 part or 4 part episode it could have worked. In fact, I’m not sure how the whole Care Bear universe works, but then again, maybe that’s what gives the show its charm…

        To me Care Bears still has held up well but it is easier to spot flaws it has (that key plot hole in the first film, some characters being underdeveloped).

    • Sailor Sedna says:

      Little bit of an update, now I got that Gentle Heart plushie.

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