Monday, December 07, 2015

Pitch Me, Mr. B: "CARE BEARS"

Well, then. We've finally reached the end point of this little experiment. With CAPTAIN PLANET, MEGA MAN (now to be a real thing, for better or worse) and X-MEN now written-up and accounted for, it now falls to me (at the behest of my readership) to try and find something interesting to do with a bunch of characters mainly created to appear on greeting cards:



Alright. So, after deep-diving into the CARE BEARS mythology (and yes, apparently there is such a thing) I decided that this experiment was going to work best with a narrow focus on the earliest incarnations of the property. For fans: For fans, that means the points-of-reference here are the original ten bears, the first wave of merchandising, the TV specials, the two movies and the DiC version of the TV series.

So, then...

WE OPEN in... nothingness, somewhere in deep space. A pair of huge, moving masses of sound and light are engaged in what can only be called a "fight" for space, dominion, etc. Gradually, they take more substantive shape as colossal, galaxy-dwarfing nebulas - one of fiery and red, one blue-ish clouds and light-beams.

As they finally coalesce into more familiar shapes (the blue a rotund humanoid form, the red something alternately like a dragon or octopus) we are informed that we are watching two Forces of Creation, "Chaos" and "Order," engaged in a conflict that has finally rendered them sentient. Ultimately, their "battle" settles over the newly-born planet Earth; whereupon Order gains an upper-hand with Chaos held (relatively) at bay for eons.

Moving ahead through countless ages, we find that Order has ultimately taken on a semi-corporeal form: That of a fat, jolly man with a white beard and overalls living among the clouds - THE CLOUD KEEPER - while Chaos (who does not yet appear to have a "true" form) has come be called DARK HEART.

We rejoin the action in modernity, wherein The Cloud Keeper - self-appointed gaurdian of happiness and "good feeling," i.e. stability - has come to fear that modern humanity is losing it's way (too much violence, fast-living, depression, the usual) which could both fuel and be fueled-by Dark Heart. In response, he has constructed an invisible city/base-of-operations in the clouds, "CARE-A-LOT," and willed into being a group of creatures gifted with tremendous powers and clear, childlike vision of right and wrong representing personified emotions. These are THE CARE BEARS - and they are charged with finding and helping people (especially children) in danger of giving in to anger, fear, hate, etc.

The initial lineup is strictly "first wave:" BEDTIME (sleepy/"chill" mellow guy), FUNSHINE (joker), BIRTHDAY (hyper, party-animal), CHEER (positive to the point of irritating), FRIEND (compromise-driven peacemaker), GRUMPY (self-explanatory, also the "tech guy"), LOVE-A-LOT (mama-hen/"matchmaker"), GOOD LUCK (Irish, the "pep-talk" guy) and WISH (eternal optimist) with TENDERHEART ("The Red Ranger," essentially) as the nominal leader.

As the main plot gets underway, we see the Care Bears going about their missions like a well-oiled "feel better" machine... except for Grumpy, who (for purposes of this origin story) is our main character.

Note: Ideally, all of the Bears would have more distinct voices and nuanced personalities than originally, but Grumpy is the biggest overhaul by far. No longer the "team downer," he's more of a world-weary cynic - as committed to doing good as the others, but jaded and skeptical (think Paul Giamatti/Philip Seymour Hoffman characters) and more than a little morose about it.

Grumpy Bear is becoming disillusioned with the Care-A-Lot way of doing things. While the other relentlessly-sunny Bears are happy to have him building/maintaining their equipment and vehicles, it's clear that his representative-emotion isn't as valued as the others' - after all, "grumpiness" is one of things they exist to CURE, not something helpful, right?

But as much as the others maintain their ever-upbeat positivity outwardly and are often dismissive of Grumpy's disposition, they have issues of their own. Good Luck has a crush on Wish, who appears oblivious to this. Cheer and Birthday both struggle with always being the ones giving the pep-talk or throwing the party but never getting the same in return. Tenderheart is caught in his position as leader - the Bears rely on him to be their go-between with The Cloud Keeper, but in truth their master's plan and doings are often as inscrutable to him as any of the others.

Meanwhile on Earth, a college science professor named GERHARDT is working on a groundbreaking project: Finding a way to chemically "sever" the heart/mind link in the hopes of creating a medication that would allow those in high-stress jobs to temporarily mute non-intellectual reactions. While looking into a microscope at a sample of his latest attempt, he is struck by a flash-vision of what we recognize as Dark Heart - a vision Cloud Keeper also senses.

The Bears are dispatched to (using Bedtime's special powers) visit Gerhardt in a dream (they only appear in-person to children) to dissuade him from his research, as he feels that the results could lead to a disastrous drop in caring worldwide.

In the dream, the Bears encounter a child-version of Gerhardt. The boy is sad, toiling in his room with a chemistry-set despite a sunny day outside. The Bears do their usual routine of trying to rouse him from depression with unrelenting positivity, and while the boy is amused (talking bears and all) it doesn't last and is clearly unwelcome. Grumpy opines that they should try to understand his sadness instead of forcing him to ignore it, but is ignored himself. Ultimately, the boy angrily resists and they're thrown from the dream with Gerhardt's mind unchanged - if anything, he's more resolved than ever.

Tenderheart tells Cloud Keeper the Bears can try to "help" Gerhardt again, but he intimates that others plans will be necessary there. Instead, the Bears are immediately dispatched to a seemingly routine visit to a kid with a similar "stays indoors and mopes" disposition to get more practice dealing with that issue - especially Grumpy, whom Keeper instructs Tenderheart to keep a tighter leash on.

Note: Yes, this is what I ultimately came up with: The Care Bears are Archangels, the Cloud Keeper is an Old Testament "god," Grumpy is a sympathetic Lucifer and this is (loosely) "Paradise Lost."

When the Bears take off, Cloud Keeper begins the procedure to create more Care Bears...

Gerhardt gives a lecture to his class on his research into the heart/mind split, explaining some of his rationale: What if a judge is biased because of an emotional trigger? What if a police officer or a firefighter was in a foul mood? What if a doctor... he doesn't finish that one. Unknown to all but the audience, a boy not among the already-seated students has slipped into the room, a red-haired student named KEVIN.

The Care Bears introduce themselves to Carol, a young quasi-"goth" type who has trouble making friends and prefers to stay indoors painting and playing music. She's indifferent to the Bears attempts at happy-making, which only makes them escalate to what soon feels more like "happy" bullying.

Finally, Grumpy get's pissed off and interjects: Maybe she has a good reason to feel bad, and maybe her way of dealing with it via painting etc is working for her - why should she change to meet their version of "happy?" A few of the others seem ready to consider this, but Tenderheart (remembering his orders) gets in his face: Carol is sitting indoors in the dark, her paintings and music are sad/"scary," how could she be happy? This leads to a shouting match and eventually the diminuitive teddy-bear version of a "brawl," which spills (via teleportation - one of Wish Bear's powers) outside.

Back at the College: following, the lecture, "Kevin" ingratiates himself to Gerhardt and is even shown some of the equipment the Professor is using in his experiments, which includes an apparatus containing cryo-frozen hearts and brains which he's nicknamed "The Freeze Machine." Unlike the Care Bears, Kevin listens as the Professor underlines his motivations: as a child, his mother died during what should have been a routine surgery - and Gerhardt had noticed the surgeon having a breakup argument with a nurse only an hour earlier.

Grumpy and Tenderheart, now in a wooded area near Carol's house, are still fighting. Finally, we see what the Bears' powers can actually do in "weaponized" form: primarily the energy-blasts from their tummy-symbols, but Grumpy (for example) causes storm clouds to gather as he gets angrier and can even call down lighting and rain (though this seems to surprise even him.) Outmatched, Tenderheart rallies the others for a "Care Bear Stare" - which they're only meant to use in emergencies, and are clearly reluctant to here. But before they have the chance...

...everything is disrupted by the appearance of two *new* Care Bears: CHAMP BEAR (macho athletic "bro") and SECRET BEAR (mute pantomime). Champ subdues Grumpy, while Secret conjures chains and a lock (a locket is his tummy-symbol) to hold him. Cloud Keeper appears in the sky and orders everyone back to Care-A-Lot: Except Grumpy, who is banished and stripped of nearly all his powers.

In Care-A-Lot, the Bears have mixed feelings about what happened to Grumpy, but dissent is now less welcome than ever. Everyone, including Tenderheart, is curious about their new members, but Cloud Keeper assures them that they are strictly onhand to provide the extra support that Grumpy "seldom did and now cannot."

However, we soon see that there's more to Champ and Secret: They report directly to Keeper for "delicate" missions that are even secret from Tenderheart. Case in point: They're first such mission is to sabotage Gerhardt's "uncaring" experiments before he gets any further.

As night falls on Earth, Grumpy seeks shelter in what turns out to be an old cemetery, but is threatened by a large angry dog. At the last moment he is saved by Carol, who opts to take him home.

Champ and Secret slip into Gerhardt's laboratory after hours and set the Freeze Machine up to break. Their exit is spied, from afar, by Kevin.

In Care-A-Lot, things are beginning to run less smoothly. Funshine is not doing great as Grumpy's replacement as tech-guy, Good Luck and Wish are suspicious of the two new Bears. Tenderheart is wrestling with doubts over his leadership and their mission in general. New orders arrive: Observe Professor Gerhardt's presentation of his latest findings - "IF something were to go wrong," he might be more open to their influence.

Grumpy takes up temporary residence in Carol's room, and they become friends. Carol opens up about her troubles: Her parents have been fighting and may split up, little if any attention is being paid to her and she feels that her "weirdness" isolates her from other kids. Grumpy has an idea from "a place he saw once."

At Gerhardt's presentation, the Freeze Machine breaks down. Champ and Secret look quietly pleased with themselves... until the machine EXPLODES, blasting the lecture hall with energy-waves that flash-freeze chunks of the room into solid ice! Gerhardt takes a direct-hit from such a blast, is engulfed by a strange blue mist and dives out a window! The Bears, along with everyone else, flee - though in retreat they do use a smattering of their powers to help people evade debris and other chaos.

Grumpy ("disguised" as a normal stuffed bear) directs Carol to the "art-scene" area of her city, where they take in everything from street performers to mimes to painters. Carol enjoys herself more than usual, but what *really* perks her up is a cafe where various poets/singer/etc are invited to the stage to perform open-mic style. One performer in particular is a standup-comic whose set segues from furious anger at everyday life to personal dissapointment to self-hatred, but ends on a cathartic note to huge applause. Grumpy explains that he found this place while on a mission once, and that it was the first time he'd seen people "Feel good by being honest about NOT feeling good." Inspired, Carol takes a flyer for prospective performers and signs up for the next available open spot - one week from today.

Back in Care-A-Lot, the Bears are in a state of confusion, panic and paranoia. How did it happen? Should they have done anything? What's more, none of their self-designated coping mechanisms seem to be helping: Wish, Funshine and Cheer can't seem to even brighten themselves up. Bedtime can't calm down. Good-Luck has no pep-talk to give. Birthday can't even manifest a proper cake. Love-a-Lot and Friend can only console eachother.

Tenderheart goes to The Cloudkeeper for counsel, but finds his Master largely indifferent to the event: Gerhardt's research was "uncaring," and could have led to a disaster even greater than this. As he's dismissed, Tenderheart passes Champ and Secret being called to a meeting of their own.

Deep in the bowels of an abandoned series of (now strangely frosted-over) subway passages, we find Professor Gerhardt staggering and lurching around as though severely injured and out of his mind. His body and face have been twisted into a ghoulish form, reminiscent of a troll or goblin, with his skin turned icy blue and his hair scraggly and chalk-white. Every thing he touches ices-over or freezes, and when he finally tumbles face-first into a shallow pool of water it solidifies and he becomes stuck...

...only to be freed, after a tense moment of struggle, by Kevin - who claims to have followed after him. Seeming now more like the teacher than the pupil, Kevin gently prods the Professor to not give up on his work, which is "so important," can "save the world from itself" and "must continue - no matter what!" We now see subtle hints of Kevin being somehow "more" than what he is: glimmers of a red glow in his eyes, an unnatural "hypnotic" deepending of his voice, etc. He changes tactics now, positing that the Freeze Machine has actually given Gerhardt a powerful gift that he can use not only for greater science but to right personal wrongs. "You could even do something, at last, about... him."

The apartment door of an elderly man is blown open by a blast of wind and snow. Into the main room storms Gerhardt, now clad in a ragged blue overcoat and long scarf. Words are exchanged, and while the old man is beffuddled and horrified, it becomes clear that this is the doctor Gerhardt blamed for his mother's death. The Professor freezes him, apparently to death, and storms off down the hall accompanied by Kevin, muttering that they have work to do and gifting himself a new name: "PROFESSOR COLDHEART."

Montage time: Grumpy and Carol get to work on a song and a painted-backdrop for her performance. Grumpy sees news of the frozen doctor on TV, looks him up, notes connection to Gerhardt. Professor Coldheart (and Kevin) reconfigure the Freeze Machine into... something else. The Bears go about their missions effectively, but lacking a certain spark in down-time - with Tenderheart looking weary. A week passes.

Carol performs a song about feeling alone and different at the open mic cafe. After a pause, she receives a standing ovation and the owners gift her with a special trophy given to especially strong first-timers. Excited, she and Grumpy hurry home to tell her parents about it...

...but they are waiting for her in the kitchen with bad news: They are separating. And when she is upset by this, they begin fighting again (over which of them upset her) and soon ignore her again. She runs to her room in tears, sobbing face-down on her bad after hastily locking the door - leaving Grumpy out in the hall, slumping defeatedly against a wall.

Professor Coldheart completes the "new" Freeze Machine, reconfigured into a hovering zeppelin-like aircraft equipped with a "ray-gun" that separates the emotion and logic centers of those hit by it's (otherwise "harmless") rays; effectively turning them into slow-moving, weirdly-reacting "zombies" milling around without purpose. As the Freeze Machine hovers over the rooftops, the city is soon filled with such people...

...unfortunately, the Machine's internal power source causes it to ALSO spread snow and cold air, meaning that the city is also icy and dangerous to manuver - especially for people now divorced from caring about their surroundings. Car-crashes, falls and chaos are soon unleashed, with even police/firefighters unable to care to do anything about it. Coldheart, of course, is by now too far gone to see that his work is having the exact opposite effect he'd wanted.

Hearing commotion downstairs, Grumpy is just in time to see a ray come from the kitchen window and strike Carol's parents, "zombie-fying" them. He races upstairs and forces his way into Carol's room, just in time to help her evade a second ray as the Freeze Machine passes their area. "We've got to get out of here!," Grumpy insists, and they do - with Carol shoving a few items (and her trophy) into a bag.

The Bears observe from Care-A-Lot, distraught at what to do. But before Tenderheart can even try to ask The Cloudkeeper, they see Secret and Champ zooming down to Earth in a Cloud-Car. Tenderheart has had enough. He hurries to talk to The Cloudkeeper, demanding to know why only the two "new Bears" are fighting The Freeze Machine; ultimately revealing that he's figured it out: "It's because that's what you MADE them to do, isn't it!?" Cloudkeeper refuses to answer, and warns Tenderheart from either taking action or making such accusations.

Angry (and not just "for a Care Bear,") Tenderheart returns to the others and declares that even though they're forbidden to fight the Machine, Cloudkeeper didn't say anything about going to Earth and using their powers to protect people from the ensuing chaos. "But that's not what we were made to do!" protests Bedtime. "We're not soldiers or paramedics or firemen or anything like that," observes Wish, "Why do WE go down into that?"

"Because we care."

Out in the collapsing city, Grumpy and Carol move from cover-spot to cover-spot, avoiding violence, falling debris, out-of-control cars and the rays of the Freeze Machine. Meanwhile, Kevin emerges on the roof of the tallest building and watches it all unfold with a smile.

Landing on the "blimp" part of the Freeze Machine, Champ and Secret begin their climb down to infiltrate the main cabin and confront Coldheart.

The Care Bears make ready to (quietly, so as not to alert Cloudkeeper) abscond to Earth in the remaining Cloud-Cars. Before they do, some brief reflections and soul-bearings are had: Love-A-Lot offers gifts to Birthday and Cheer, recognizing that they are celebrators who are not themselves celebrated enough. Good Luck confesses his feelings to Wish, who's wish is "to hear more about that - when we come back from this."

The Bears arrive in the city and begin using their various powers to minimize damage and protect the oblivious citizens. Lives are saved, but they're only holding back the flood, not defeating it.

Secret and Champ enter the Freeze Machine's main cabin and attack Coldheart. They put up a good fight, but his freezing powers are too much for them: They are zapped into blocks of ice and dropped out into open-air, falling to Earth. Overwhelmed by their own work on the ground, the Bears realize too late that their two (sort of) comrades are the ice-blocks falling to the ground nearby...

...but Grumpy comes running in out of nowhere, using what remains of his powers to create a small gray cloud which cushions their fall, saving them!

The others use their powers to thaw Secret and Champ, and Grumpy leads them all to an old garage where he and Carol have taken shelter. The "originals" have it out with the two newbies, who admit that Cloudkeeper made them specifically to do "the hard jobs;" but that they didn't know tampering with the Machine would have the results it did and now want to join their brothers/sisters and stop Coldheart and make ammends.

Tenderheart has a plan: They'll get to a roof and goad Coldheart into direct confrontation, not to "beat" him but to distract him while Grumpy ("the mechanic") can slip onto the ship and disarm it. Despite Grumpy's protest, Carol demands that she come along, too.

The Care Bears emerge onto a rooftop, not knowing that it's the same one Kevin is occupying (he ducks into hiding as soon as they arrive, watching.) They fire energy-burts toward the Machine, drawing the attention (and ice-beam attacks, as the ray-gun doesn't seem to effect them) of Coldheart.

Just as planned, Grumpy (Carol remains with the other Bears, though out of sight, because the Cloud-Cars cannot hold even child-sized humans) sneaks onto the ship and begins to dismantle its engine systems.

Down on the rooftop, Carol's hiding place is discovered by Kevin, who covers her mouth and pulls her into the shadows while the Bears are distracted. They struggle, but she pulls away and manages to knock him out (or, at least, knock him down for a bit) with a whack on the head from her trophy. She dashes out onto the main roof with the others just in time to see a series of sputtering explosions erupt from the Freeze Machine, which stalls and hovers in mid-air - unable to fire more rays!

Coldheart realizes what has happened just in time to see Grumpy escaping on his Cloud Car. As the blue Bear rejoins his friends, Coldheart leaps from the Machine and lands on the roof - enraged and ready for battle.

Grumpy confronts him. He says he knows who he is and why he's doing this, and that this isn't the answer. Coldheart doesn't want to hear it, and tries to blast him with ice - narrowly missing him.

The Bears attack, but the enemy moves with alarming speed to dodge their tummy-blasts. They try hand to hand, but he swats them away easily with the aid of his ice and snow-making powers. An all-at-once rush seemingly overwhelms him, but does manage to tear his coat - revealing that he's wearing a suit of powered-armor (similar to the makeup of he new Freeze Machine) underneath. Soon enough, the Bears have been bested - all either beaten or partially-frozen. He prepares to finish them off... until Carol comes forward.

Carol puts herself between Coldheart and the Bears, begging him to stop. She explains that Grumpy told her what he'd figured out, and passionately tells him that she understands feeling hurt and angry and needing to let it out. But also that she's learned you don't share bad feelings to spread them, like a disease - you share them to let people know who you are, and that you could use help or a friend. This seems to be reaching him, somewhat...

...until Kevin emerges. He snaps his fingers and a red glowing energy takes hold of Coldheart, moving him to blast Carol's legs - freezing her to the roof! He makes ready to freeze the rest of her... but he's stopped (and the red-glow "broken") after being hit in the face with a birthday cake! Birthday Bear, having summoned the last of his strength to do this, falls unconscious.

Champ, Good Luck and Tenderheart overwhelm Coldheart, with Secret Bear generating locks and chains to hold him down. This fight finished, the Bears help eachother to their feet and/or back to consciousness; as Tenderheart turns his attention to Kevin, whom he finally identifies: "Dark Heart."

"Kevin" vanishes, replaced instead by a huge churning red cloud (with glowing yellow "eyes") that hovers over the area, its booming voice laughing down at them. Tenderheart calls for a "Care Bear Stare" and the others all line up for it... but Dark Heart cuts off the call, noting that he *would* have had the power necessary to be a threat to them if he'd been able to spread Coldheart's "uncaring rays" beyond a single city, but that has been thwarted... "for now." The cloud departs, laughing.

"He's telling the truth."

It's the voice of The Cloudkeeper, who materializes (in "human" form) on the roof. He gravely informs the Bears that this is why all threats need to be neutralized before they are out of control, and orders them (in the spirit of this) to "destroy" Coldheart. But the Bears refuse to take a human life.

Cloudkeeper "powers up" to a glowing, giant-size form (think 25-30 feet) and vows that he'll kill Coldheart himself, but the Bears resist - even as their onetime Master tells them that they have no right, that they were made to serve and that they'll never manage without him. Tenderheart's response is to call for the lineup once again: "Care Bears... STARE!"

This is it: Our final battle, the Care Bears versus The Cloudkeeper - a revolt of The Angels against their self-appointed creator-god.

It's a titanic struggle - the Bears are almost pushed off the roof as Cloudkeeper resists the concussive blast of their group-spawned rainbow blast... but ultimately they prevail, with Cloudkeeper blasted into a non-corporeal cloud form of his own and dissipating into the wind - an immediate result of which is that Grumpy finds his powers restored. The day is saved, now for the cleanup.

The chained/unconscious Professor Coldheart is deposited at a police station.

The Bears reconfigure the Freeze Machine's ray-gun to instead project energies from Bedtime and Wish, which put the population of "zombies" to sleep with happy-dreams that will cure them of the original ray's effects.

"We could use this," observes Champ. "Put the whole world of humans to sleep, give them whatever dreams we wanted, make the whole world happy." Tenderheart says no, that's what Cloudkeeper would do - "...and that's not our way, anymore. If we care, that means we care enough to let people choose for themselves." He says this while laying a hand on Grumpy's shoulder, giving him an apologetic look.

The Bears drop Carol off at her home. Grumpy says his goodbye. Secret (silently) observes that both are smiling, but also crying, and makes a questioning gesture to Champ. "I think, sometimes... when something makes you sad, you can be happy to have cared about it enough in the first place."

Inside, Carol confronts her now-awake (and confused) parents. She tries to be indignant with them about not listening to her, not paying attention, being self-involved... but ultimately she breaks down and embraces both, begging them not to break up. They console her, and explain that they DO need to divorce, but NOT because of her. In fact, they now realize that they're bickering has made them neglect her, and that they need to "fix themselves" to stop hurting her and eachother. As the Bears quietly depart outside, the family sits down to talk it out - together, for eachother.

Back up in Care-A-Lot, Tenderheart presides over a ceremony (in the heart-shaped Great Hall building) wherein he reaffirms the Care Bears new mission, independent of Cloud Keeper. Grumpy calls for a leadership vote, and each Bear rises to unanimously elect Tenderheart to the post. Humbled, Tenderheart accepts - on the condition that Grumpy join him as second in command.

Grumpy accepts, and joins Tenderheart at the head of the table to massive applause as a party breaks out among the assembled bears: Birthday conjures an array of cakes and decorations, Cheer fills the hall with music. Good Luck and Wish embrace and begin to dance together. Friend and Champ begin a game of limbo, which others soon join, and so forth.

Tenderheart and Grumpy walk out to the balcony, looking at the stars and down at the faint glow of Earth's horizon below. Tenderheart reveals that as his first order of business, he wants Grumpy to figure out the workings of Cloud Keeper's creation-machines. "It's a big world down there. And it's going to need a lot more care. And we're going to need a lot more Care Bears."

ROLL CREDITS.

Post-Credits Stinger: At a run-down amusement park, a DELIVERY MAN (seen from the back) approaches a (currently closed) midway booth marked "The Great Fettuccini: Magician Extraordinaire!" at it's rare door, which is answered by the (sleeping) magician's gangly teenage apprentice - who is perplexed to receive a package for himself rather than his boss. He signs his name, NICHOLAS, anyway.

Inside the booth, Nicholas removes the packaging to reveal a large, old BOOK with a diary-style lock. Hearing something hard and metal hit the floor, he looks down to see the KEY - which gives off a faint but unmistakable red glow...

Outside, the Delivery Man walks away, a smile slowly creeping across his face - it's "Kevin."

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