If this new CGI incarnation of the Care Bears is anything to go by, Judge Bill Treadway suspects that the erstwhile innocent ursines have been moonlighting for the Grateful Dead.
Our reviews of Care Bears: 25th Anniversary (published January 5th, 2008), Care Bears: A Belly Badge for Wonderheart (published August 11th, 2013), Care Bears: Cheer, There And Everywhere (published March 23rd, 2009), Care Bears: Festival Of Fun / Magical Adventures (published April 6th, 2005), Care Bears: Helping Hearts (published February 3rd, 2010), Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation (published May 9th, 2003), Care Bears: Share-A-Lot In Care-A-Lot (published May 8th, 2010), Care Bears: Share Bear Shines Movie (published October 23rd, 2011), Care Bears: Super Cuddly Collection (published January 1st, 2012), and Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie (published December 5th, 2010) are also available.
CGI animation has never had so much heart!
There is dissent in the land of Care-a-lot. After being snapped at by an irate Grumpy bear over some insensitive jokes, Funshine Bear decides to run away and find a new home. His journey takes him to the land of Joke-a-lot, a place where the word serious can result in major trouble. Under the guidance of Royal Rat Funnybone, Funshine is proclaimed the new king of Joke-a-lot. Little does Funshine know that the whole thing is a cover for an elaborate jewel heist scheme cooked up by Funnybone.
In my 25 years on the planet Earth, I have never found myself compelled to try recreational drugs. However, after viewing Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-lot, I now have a sound idea of what an LSD trip must be like. This is a movie that is weird for the sake of being weird rather than using the strangeness as a springboard for greater leaps and challenges. It also fails to work on the level of a standard Care Bears adventure, the kind I grew up loving on television.
One thing that bothered me greatly about Journey to Joke-a-lot was the lack of what made the Care Bears so appealing in their earlier incarnations: In those cartoons, each bear had a unique personality that remained unforgettable no matter how many adventures they had. In this film, the variety has been replaced by standard cutout characters. If they didn't have names, there wouldn't be any way to tell them apart.
Another thing that bothered me was the utter bizarreness of the story. One of the biggest weaknesses of their previous feature-length film, Adventures in Wonderland (1987), was the emphasis on strange, bizarre surroundings and characters. In that film, the story and characters were dwarfed by the surroundings, and it is a problem that rears its ugly head in their new film. I have no problem with strange visuals as long as something concrete is done with them (as Ken Russell has done again and again with such works as The Devils, Lisztomania, and Tommy). Sadly, not enough is done with them in this film. The thin story doesn't hold up to scrutiny and collapses beneath the weight of the visuals.
The previous Care Bears adventures were made in traditional two-dimensional hand-drawn animation. Much has been made of this being the first three-dimensional, computer-animated Care Bears feature. If films like Journey to Joke-a-lot are going to be the result of switching to CGI, I hope the experiment stops now. While there have been solid computer-animated features (particularly the Pixar films), I remain unconvinced that computer animation is the sole animation format to rely on today. Several months ago, I discussed the issue with John D. Wilson, a Disney animator in the early 1950s, and this is what he told me (reprinted with his permission):
"2D is the animated art form. 3D is simulated live action and does what Fellini called the 'wooden log' principle. He told me that actors are like wooden logs, they won't move like the idea behind the line. He said 'I wish I could animate [2D]…you move with the idea.' He is absolutely right. Pencil animation gives you freedom to really get the idea across. I've had on my letterhead for 25 years, 'If you can think it, you can animate it.'…It is essential to keep 2D alive. Look at The Triplets of Belleville. It uses the drawn line as a great way of stating outrageous situations. You will never kill 2D as 3D needs lots of time and money, which 2D doesn't have or need."
He is positively correct. Two-dimensional hand-drawn animation can suggest so much more than even the best CGI can. I remember the real feeling and emotion the original Care Bears cartoons had. Watching them again in anticipation of this review only confirmed my belief. The CGI of Journey to Joke-a-lot feels cold and clinical rather than warm and human.
Although Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-lot was composed for 1.66:1 widescreen, the film is presented in full frame on Lions Gate's DVD. Despite the pan-and-scan job, Lions Gate has served up one beautiful-looking transfer. The picture is completely flawless, with bold, lush colors and spotless images throughout. Kids will love the brightness of the picture and will eat it up.
Audio is presented in both Dolby digital 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround. I couldn't tell much of a difference between the two tracks. Both sound terrific, free of hiss and various aural defects. Kids will be able to bounce along with the music and dialogue quite easily.
Lions Gate even offers a few extras, although none will ever stand out in anyone's memory for long. Seven deleted scenes are presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen (go figure). Oddly enough, these scenes help flesh out the considerable gaps left in the story. Several scenes are in an unfinished raw state, while others are fully animated. An introduction by director Mike Fallows offers no explanation as to why these scenes were either cut or unfinished.
A sing-along option allows children to sing along with three of the film's five songs. In a technique reminiscent of Max Fleischer's popular Screen Songs series, a bouncing ball accompanies the lyrics on screen. This is a feature that very young children will positively adore, while their older siblings will run screaming from the room.
"Five Fabulous Buttons" is a rather misleading name for this feature. Basically, they are short ten-second clips from the movie that play when the viewer clicks on the button. Most are found on the main menu, with several others hidden on individual menu pages. This feature is for the very, very young as it becomes monotonous with repeat clicking.
Teaser and theatrical trailers for Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-lot and the upcoming Popeye: The Quest for Pappy are all presented in 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. They are your standard trailers, no better or worse than most out there.
Kids who are unfamiliar with the Care Bears will probably enjoy Journey to Joke-a-lot. The bright visuals and wacky, freaky characters will engage those who find the bizarre Cartoon Cartoons on Cartoon Network very appealing. Hardcore Care Bears fans are going to be dismayed by the liberties taken with the basic material, however. Adults, you'd better have a bottle of Advil handy, because you're going to need it after viewing Journey to Joke-a-lot.
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