Sony // 1986 // 76 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // May 9th, 2003
Come help the Care Bears save the Kingdom of Caring.
The Care Bears, those colorful and winsome ursine denizens of the cloud-borne realm of Care-A-Lot, and the Care Bear Cousins, their equally colorful and winsome equine, lagomorphic, and otherwise non-ursine relations (a conundrum of biology too baffling to contemplate at this juncture), band together to combat the villainy of the demonic creature known as Dark Heart (and no, he's not voiced by Marlon Brando).
Not recommended for diabetics, sufferers of bipolar disorder, or persons operating heavy machinery.
While most of the Care Bears are off spreading good vibrations (or whatever it is Care Bears do), True Heart Bear and Noble Heart Horse are left to baby-sit the Cubs -- infant Care Bears and Cousins in training. Meanwhile, below on Planet Earth, a misfit preadolescent named Christy is being seduced (in the general sense of that word -- after all, this is a Care Bears Movie) to the dark side of the Force -- or whatever -- by the malevolent Dark Heart in his guise as that most wicked of beings, a junior-high-school-age boy.
Noble Heart and True Heart join forces with two human children, melodically named John and Dawn, to muster up enough of the magical power of caring to thwart Dark Heart's plans. Do the Care Bears and their Cousins win in the end? Come on...they didn't call this Dark Heart Movie 2.
For the benefit of anyone who snoozed through the 1980s, the Care Bears were the Next Big Thing once upon a Christmas. The Care Bears began life as Day-Glo characters on greeting cards, then expanded their currency-minting empire into toys, games, TV cartoons, and ultimately feature films, of which the item under consideration was the second. (Hence the title Care Bears Movie II. I can't sneak anything past you perceptive Verdict readers, can I?) The Care Bears, like the Disney dwarfs of a previous generation, each possessed a single character trait for which he or she was named -- Bedtime Bear was sleepy, Cheer Bear was happy, Grumpy Bear was...well, you get the idea. Each bear's fur was a signature pastel color, and each bore on its little bear chest an insignia that corresponded to its name and emotional state.
As a father, I empathize with and applaud anyone who tries to create worthwhile entertainment for children. It's a tough, thankless task requiring masterful balance and a keen understanding of what does and does not work for the young audience. On the one hand, it's tempting to foist an adult sensibility on tiny tots, in which case one will likely alienate kids and infuriate their parents -- or worse, be guilty of the shameless manipulation of children's minds, for the nefarious purpose of leeching every dime out of the piggy bank. On the other hand, it's easy to go the safe route and dispense the blandest, sappiest, lowest-common-denominator pabulum one can churn out, just to avoid offending anyone.
I believe the folks who made Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation
have Noble Hearts and True Hearts rather than Dark Hearts. They brought a
positive, comforting message about the power of caring, which is undeniably
something the world can use in greater abundance. Unfortunately, what the
filmmakers needed was an invigorating dose of Chuck Jones Heart, or Jim Henson
Heart, or Walter Lantz Heart -- the heart of anyone with the knack of giving
kids a little innocent fun without putting them to sleep.
The producers of Care Bears Movie II wrapped their worthy sentiments in a package of such shoddy quality and lackluster production value that it's painful to watch. They compounded the foregoing problem by taking an excitement-bereft approach to the material that constitutes a sure prescription for ennui. Pediatricians could distribute this disc to parents of insomniac toddlers and guarantee a visit from the Sandman before the end of the first half-hour. I'm not saying children's entertainment has to be loud, flashy, and percussive -- far from it. Kids are assaulted by far too much hyperactive, video-game-influenced slam-bang as it is. But this movie is a virtual black hole. It's an energy sink. It sucked the electrons from my TV's cathode ray tube for the 76 minutes it ran. Most children I know would sooner watch a chess match between Ben Stein and Abe Vigoda than endure a cartoon this long (okay, so it's not that long, but it seemed eternal) and this dull.
The animation here is slapdash and crude, only occasionally reaching Saturday-morning-TV level. I don't know whether the Care Bears television program was put together as poorly, but if so, I can't envision how the producers sold three movies (there was a second sequel after this, which will never see daylight on DVD if there's any justice in the cosmos) based on it. The story makes no sense -- and I think I'm a reasonably intelligent adult, though my family may disagree. The characters possess such indistinguishable visual and vocal personalities I gave up trying to keep straight which Care Bear was which. In fact, Noble Heart so resembles the Bears that the movie was half-over before I realized s/he (the Care Bears are more gender-ambiguous than that singer who shares the name of the Verdict's Chief Justice) was supposed to be a horse. And don't get me started on the hackneyed, tiresome musical numbers trotted out by Debbie Allen (man, Fame was a long time ago, wasn't it, Debbie?) and Stephen Bishop (man, Animal House was a long time ago, wasn't it, Steve?).
If the movie wasn't bad enough, Columbia TriStar's DVD presentation succeeds in turning a sow's ear into a sow's ear with otitis media. The source print from which this full-frame transfer (the original aspect ratio, according to the keep case, but I'm not certain that's accurate) was cast looks like it's been tossing about in the director's fishing tackle kit since the '80s. Scratches, speckles, and skidmarks abound. The color separation fluctuates almost from one frame to the next -- characters and backgrounds change hues willy-nilly, like a psychedelic nightmare. The audio is only slightly better. I didn't have any problem deciphering any of the dialogue, but there's a significant tape hiss droning along in the background, and the score sounds as though it was recorded in the bottom of an empty cookie jar. (I was going to say garbage can, but hey -- these are the Care Bears.)
The only supplements included are Family Fun, a compilation trailer for several other Columbia kidvids (Jay Jay the Jet Plane, Bear in the Big Blue House, Dragon Tales, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Harold and the Purple Crayon), and a solo promo spot for Kermit's Swamp Years.
To the production team's credit, Care Bears Movie II doesn't play like a nonstop ad for Care Bears toys. Director Dale Schott and screenwriter Peter Sauder (who penned all three Care Bears flicks, not that he's bragging about it) contented themselves with telling a story about a select few of the Care Bear characters, without feeling compelled to give every one of the umpteen little dolls its own commercial highlight. Integrity survives.
The road to execrable children's fare is paved with Care Bears, as this disc proves. If your kids haven't yet moved on from Care Bears to Beanie Babies or Pokémon or whatever the fad toy is this week, spare them -- and yourself -- the agony. Buy the tykes some Care Bears action figures and let them make up their own story. They could hardly do worse than the adults who concocted this mess.
The Judge didn't care enough to pronounce sentence on these chubby, cuddly cubbies. He'll retire to chambers and gulp down a chesseburger Happy Meal with a Care Bear toy inside while he determines how to rule. Court is in recess.
Review content copyright © 2003 Michael Rankins; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Bottom 100 Discs: #76
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Bonus Trailers
* Care Bears Forever!