This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Care Bears cartoon. I was a big fan of the franchise in the 80’s, so I thought I’d share my memories. Besides, with all the mocking the franchise usually receives these days, it’s time it received some praise.
However, to really start this right, I need to turn back the clock not to 1985, when the cartoon officially started, but to 1981. That was when the American Greeting Cards Company’s research and development program Those Characters From Cleveland created the characters where they made their first appearance. Back then, Those Characters From Cleveland was a huge property. In addition, they had other successes like Popples, Madballs, and Strawberry Shortcake, as well as some ideas that never really went anywhere, like the Get-Along Gang. The Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake were such a big hit that they gained the attention of Kenner, the makers of the original Star Wars toys. I actually had every single figurine that Kenner made, along with the Care-a-Lot playset and I think I had one Cloud Car too. I even had characters you rarely saw in the cartoon that would come later, like the Cloudkeeper, Proud-heart Cat, and Birthday Bear.
Two years later, like many cartoons of the 80’s, Care Bears started with a pilot episode that introduced their main villain, Professor Cold-heart. This is what I like to call the “LBS Era”, after the first company to animate the franchise. This era was not well-received, but one thing I remember the best from it was the show’s theme song, “I Want to Be a Care Bear.” The animation was actually not bad, as I recall, although the sound effects were a wee bit overdone. I think its main problem was Professor Cold-heart. For such an eerie-seeming villain, (think the Ice Miser from the Miser Christmas Special on the Family Channel) the show rarely used him, so he never seemed like a threat.
Nelvana came in later with two movies that actually did well in theaters for what they were worth. Nelvana had a better budget and animation, as well as a better villain. No-heart was an evil wizard, whose legion of shadows sought to eliminate all compassion from humanity. He was a more proactive villain and always sought ways to influence humanity toward evil. To me, he seemed like a better villain, simply because he was more present and had an intimidating appearance. (I could’ve done without his niece Shreiky.) The show lasted for a pretty long time, but kind of jumped the shark in the final season when they started doing stupid ideas like ripping off Star Trek and the Flintstones. They even went so far as to give their version of the Enterprise a heart-shaped fuselage and rainbow colors. It was ridiculous.
And yet, Care Bears refused to die. They seemed to be in their death throes in the 90’s, but nostalgia brought them back in 2007, but it quickly died. Hasbro decided to buy up the franchise in the hopes of being able to copy the success they had with the revival of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but it didn’t do nearly as well. (They also tried with Strawberry Shortcake and a revival of Pound Puppies). I also hear Netflix is going to try their hand at it next. I think the main reason this franchise refuses to die is that the bears look cute and kids like cute things. (yes, even the boys, and yes, even the straight boys. I’m straight myself) I had all kinds of Care Bears stuff, and even though I’ve outgrown them, I still remember them as fondly as Transformers and Marvel Comics (especially since they actually had their own Marvel Comic. Well, technically it was a Star Comic, not their main line like X-men, but it still counts!) Will they be able to regain that star power they had in the 80’s? Who knows? But please, let’s not be so cynical about the Care Bears. I’ve had enough of the cynicism. I didn’t like it in the 90’s and I still don’t like it