Oh, the cozy amber-tinted memories of youth. A simpler time of simpler tastes. As the cynical, crushing weight of adulthood often sends us nostalgically yearning to revisit the things we once held dear, we tend to find that those special things are not quite how we left them. Like a favorite climbing tree’s branches that we once had to leap for, now boringly coming up waist-high, the films we adored as children and tweens typically do not measure up the same now. Sometimes old favorites are best left to our memory. Yet now and then they miraculously hold up, or even prove to have hidden subtext we never realized. They say you can’t go home again, but I think it is high time that I tried.
The Artifact: The Care Bears Movie (1985)
What Is It: Theatrical feature film.
The Background: The Care Bears characters began life in 1980 as greeting cards created by American Greetings. The cutesy love loving bears proved immensely popular, quickly spawning a plush doll line, two television specials, and then in 1985, a feature film.
The Memory: I remember very little of this film, except for one specific detail: it terrified me as a kid. It has thusly always fascinated my adult mind. How could a movie about the fucking Care Bears – those retch-inducingly saccharine adorables – terrify anyone? But terrify it did.
My memory of the plot is piecemeal fuzzy. I know there was an older boy (older than me at the time I saw it) who falls under the sway of an evil book with a freaky face wedged between its pages. The Care Bears want to care all over this boy, but the evil book is corrupting his soul.
That’s about it, as far as what I remember of the plot. I also remember that the Care Bear Cousins were in the film. I only remember that because I never really liked the Care Bears themselves, but I dug the Cousins, who were made up of a wide variety of other animals. I think my basic logic as a little boy was – “A stuffed teddy bear with a heart on its belly? Pft! That’s girl stuff! Oo! A stuffed lion with a heart on its belly?? Kickass!” Ah, the folly of youth.
But that book with the face haunted my nightmares. To this day I vividly remember what it looks like. This:
And I also vividly remember the image of Nicholas desperately trying to close the book at the end, with the face being pressed against the pages, preventing it from closing all the way. The suspense!
How Long Has It Been: 26 years.
The Reality: Okay, so here’s the actual plot of the film:
We begin in an orphanage where a bunch of parentless kids want to be told a story, so the kindly orphan-wrangler (Mickey Rooney) tells them the tale of the Care Bears Movie.
For those who don’t know, the Care Bears are each a different color, and have a stomach adorned with a different symbol. Like so (brace yourselves):
Jesus. Also, they all have stupid cutesy names like Love-a-lot Bear, Friend Bear, or Share Bear, that either vaguely or overtly refer to their personalities, like the Seven Dwarfs. They live up in a magic cloud city called Care-a-Lot, where they monitor all the carrying and not-carrying going on down on Earth. The one thing the Care Bears can’t fucking stand is to see some kid not caring about shit. Unacceptable to the Care Bears. When such a kid is located, the Bears insert themselves in this kid’s life until they’ve taught said kid to care once more. I can only imagine that the Care Bears had to start hiring more Bears or outsourcing to other caring firms in the 90’s once the goth scene expanded.
The Care Bear Movie features two different sets of miserable kids. There are Kim and Jason, whose parents both died. Good reason to be upset. They now live in an orphanage (this movie is really pandering to the orphan niche) and have decided to never care again. Friend Bear and Secret Bear call bullshit on that and unwillingly bringing Kim and Jason to Care-a-Lot via the Care Bears’ newest invention, the experimental Rainbow Rescue Beam.
Uck. Meanwhile, Tenderheart (I believe the de facto leader of the Bears), travels to an amusement park where a magician’s apprentice named Nicholas is miserable. I think he might be an orphan too. While unpacking a trunk of junk his master just purchased, Nicholas finds a magic spell book with a creepy woman’s face in it. While I think most kids would run away screaming at this sight, Nicholas falls under the sway of the book. The book coerces Nicholas to read spells from its pages so that Nicholas may become powerful and loved. All Nicholas is really doing is sucking all the “care” out of the world.
The sudden drop in global caring causes a massive earthquake in Care-a-Lot, as their Care Meter starts registering record lows.
The Care Bears realize it is because of Nicholas and his evil book, so they form a care posse to go fuck shit up, Care Bear style. But unfortunately the experimental Rainbow Rescue Beam malfunctions and the posse is sent to some new magical land they don’t recognize. Here they meet the Care Bear Cousins. They decide to join forces and go put a boot of caring up that evil spirit book’s ass. But once the showdown begins, the Care Bears discover that even their ultra-powerful Care Bear Stare (when they shoot a laser of hearts and rainbows out of their guts) can’t stop Nicholas or the book. In the end, only the two miserable orphans can reach Nicholas. The end. Hugs.
The Care Bears have to be the most nauseatingly adorable concept ever. It is only rightfully so that their movie should be the same. What’s so weird, though, is that all the stuff with Nicholas and the book is kind of fucked up. I can easily see why this creeped me out as a kid . The evil book’s design and the voice provided by Jackie Burroughs are eerie, especially for a movie aimed at extremely young children. I frankly still kinda enjoyed this stuff. I like the junkie look they give Nicholas once he becomes evil, and the scene in which Nicholas first encounters the book actually plays like a scene from a horror movie. On the ridiculous side, I also like the fact that we just suddenly cut to Nicholas and the book living inside a spooky castle at some point with no explanation.
The other portion of the film I liked best as a kid were the Care Bear Cousins. Viewing it now it’s hard to get past what shameless merchandise promotion that subplot is. There are ten damn Cousins. We start with the Lion and the Monkey, then a new one gets introduced in each scene, until the movie finally runs out of time and introduces the last four all at once. As a legit movie, this is where Care Bears ultimately fails the most. There are simply too many goddamn characters. I mean, look at this end shot:
They all look the same! And that’s not even all the Care Bears! Thankfully the Cousins are distinguishable in close-ups, but unfortunately their shoe-horn addition to the film is extremely perfunctory. At least Transformers: The Movie decided to make the bold decision to disturbingly kill off tons of the original characters to make room for the new toys.
The film also features a lot of forgettable but at times genial songs by Carole King and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian. King’s opening “Care-a-Lot” song is laughably terrible though.
Paradise Lost or Magic Reborn: Paradise definitely lost. I mean, the movie is what it is. Super little kids dug it. But they like anything bright and fuzzy, so that doesn’t really mean much. But as a film this doesn’t hold up to even middle-schooler scrutiny. One of the big on-going plot elements is that there is a magic key that must be used to lock the evil book again. Tenderheart entrusts the key to Jason, telling him he can’t lose it. The entire world is depending on him! Then, during the climax, the key gets destroyed! Oh shit! But then Secret Bear just creates a new key using his magic belly. Huh? If he had that power the whole time, why was the key ever important?
If you have any fond memories of this film, don’t revisit it.
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