Following the success of their first big franchise (Strawberry Shortcake) back in 1979, American Greetings introduced the Care Bear characters in late 1981 through a line of greeting cards. Children’s book illustrator Elena Kucharik did the original artwork for the cards. The line was a joint development by Those Characters from Cleveland, AGC’s licensing division, and MAD (Marketing and Design Service of the toy group of General Mills).
As they had done with Strawberry Shortcake back when it was called “Project I,” AGC called the Care Bears franchise “Project II” as they strove to make the character program secret until advertising was ready. At the start of the franchise, Care Bears was already established as its working title.
In 1982, the Care Bears were announced as a toy line for production by Parker Brothers and Kenner the following spring, as well as pre-licensed characters and media stars. In 1983, they were introduced to the general public, and starred in their first television special, The Land Without Feelings, which Kenner produced and sponsored.
1984 saw the release of another special, The Care Bears Battle the Freeze Machine; a miniseries based on the toys was distributed by Lexington Broadcast Services Company in syndication. A spin-off line, the Care Bear Cousins, was introduced the same year.
In 1985, the Bears and Cousins starred in their first movie, The Care Bears Movie, produced by Nelvana Limited and released by The Samuel Goldwyn Company. It became the highest-grossing animated film made outside the Disney market at the time of its release. Later that autumn, a television series from DIC Entertainment which was co-produced by Nelvana and based on the characters was made, and it ran for 22 episodes in syndication.
The following year, Nelvana completely took over the animation rights for the franchise with a second movie entitled Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation. Released by Columbia Pictures, the film featured a new villain, Dark Heart, and introduced more of the Care Bears and Care Bears Cousins.
Later that fall, The Care Bears TV Series (also from Nelvana) premiered on the ABC network, lasting two seasons and consisting of over 70 episodes. The Bears’ last theatrically-released film, The Care Bears’ Adventure in Wonderland, debuted the following summer. The Care Bears Nutcracker Suite, the last ever Care Bears movie made in the decade (and was the last movie of the franchise right up until 2004), premiered on the Disney Channel in 1988. Originally planned to be a feature film, it was decided to launch the film as a direct-to-TV movie after the previous film flopped at the box office.
As with many other animated franchises of the 1980s, the Care Bears movies and TV shows were designed and created primarily to sell the pre-licensed characters and related merchandise. This has been noticed, more or less, by the franchise’s long-time aficionados, and have also been acknowledged by the writers and producers of the shows and movies. Over 40 million Care Bears were sold between 1983 and 1987, and during the decade, American Greetings printed over 70 million of their cards. In whole, the sales of their merchandise reached over $2 billion during the 1980s. This made them one of the most successful toy lines of its time, alongside “My Little Pony” and “Transformers.”
As the 80s came to an end, the Bears’ popularity faded away. At the start of the 1990s, an attempt to relaunch the phenomenon came in the form of Environmental Care Bears. Only a few select Bears from the 1980s line were used, with some changes (for example, Proud Heart Cat was released as a bear, sporting the symbol of a heart-shaped American flag).
During the late 1990s, another two revivals were attempted, but both failed to match the success of the original toy line. In 1996, retailer ShopKo released only Tenderheart, Cheer, and Bedtime Bears, and during 1999, in an imitation of Beanie Babies, Kenner made six “beanlings” based on Tenderheart, Share, Friend, Cheer, Bedtime, and Good Luck Bears.
The same year the beanlings were made, Jay Foreman, president of current distributor and manufacturer of toys for the franchise, Play Along Toys, bought the rights to the Care Bears franchise for just under $1 million. Three years later, the Bears came out of hibernation to celebrate their 20th anniversary. A big event was planned for that year as Play Along began to roll out the new product lines; thus began a major trend as the toys became popular once again.
In 2002 American Greetings relaunched the Care Bear brand as part of the Bears’ 20th anniversary celebration with a series of dolls, toys and movies. The artwork and design of the bears were changed for relaunch. Also, Funshine Bear’s gender was changed from female to male, Champ Bear’s colours were changed from tan to true blue, with his tummy symbol changed to a winner’s cup with a star, and Share Bear’s tummy symbol was changed from a milkshake with two straws to two lollipops crossed. The change to Share Bear’s symbol stems from Play Along Toys’ suggestion of the change on the grounds that sharing a milkshake may spread germs. Apart from that, many other minor changes were made to the designs, mostly involving lightening the colors of the bears and minor redesigns to the tummy symbols.
In the midst of this revival, Play Along released brand-new toys based on the newly-redesigned Bears, sold at stores such as Wal-Mart, KMart, Toys “R” Us, Target, K•B Toys, and Mervyns. The new merchandise included the Bears doing aerobics; Tenderheart Bear as a patient (casting the child that is playing with the toy as the doctor); Champ Bear as a fireman; and the Care Bears themselves as Cubs. Over 70 million 13-inch plush Bears have been sold since the re-launch. In addition, Lionsgate Home Entertainment and subsidiary FHE Pictures, in association with Nelvana, have made two direct-to-DVD computer-animated films, Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-lot in 2004 and The Care Bears’ Big Wish Movie. in 2005. Also worth noting is that the role of unofficial leader was apparently temporarily transferred from Tenderheart Bear to Champ Bear shortly before the 2005 movie, and it is unknown if the role was returned to Tenderheart after the movie. Various other music CDs featuring the bears and video games were also produced. No Care Bears movie was produced in 2006, but hints of the second revival and the upcoming movie, Oopsy Does It!, started circulating among fans in the Internet towards the end of 2006.
It is also interesting to note that an attempt to relaunch the Care Bear Cousins was made a little later after the 2002 relaunch of the bears. New versions of the various cousins were produced (with Proud Heart being changed back into a cat, albeit in a different color and with a different tummy symbol). However the revival of the line was not as successful as that of the bears’ revival. The cousins were not relaunched in the 2007 relaunch of the franchise.
In 2007, American Greetings relaunched Care Bears again, first with a series of dolls, then a new movie (Care Bears: Oopsy Does It!) and immediately after with a new TV series (Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot). The animation and artwork is completely different than the originals giving the Care Bears have smaller body structures and redesigned tummy symbols (now called belly badges). Also, instead of Nelvana, the film and the animated series are once again produced by DiC.
As part of the franchise’s 25th anniversary celebrations, the Bears have been redesigned by the AG Properties illustration team, and the logo of the franchise was redesigned to provide a more whimsical feeling. The new line consists of fifteen of the thirty-nine bears (as seen in the recent film). Five of the bears were chosen to be the focus of the franchise: Oopsy (a brand new bear who debuted in Oopsy Does It!), Cheer, Funshine, Grumpy, and Share Bear. The other bears include Amigo Bear, Wish Bear, True Heart Bear, Bedtime Bear, Surprise Bear, Love-a-Lot Bear, Harmony Bear, Superstar Bear, Heartsong Bear and Hopeful Heart Bear, although the remaining 24 of the bears are also stated to have a release in the near future according to Play Along Toys.
The role of unofficial leader was re-transferred, this time permanently, to Cheer Bear. Their brand-new theme song is performed by former Letters to Cleo member, Kay Hanley, and the music video premiered on FOX and Nickelodeon. In August 2007, they appeared in 20th Century Fox’s theatrical release of Care Bears: Oopsy Does It!. This was followed by the television series from DiC Entertainment, Adventures in Care-a-Lot. The series premiered on CBS’ KEWLopolis block on September 15, 2007.
The Care Bears universe was rebooted upon the 2007 relaunch. Prior plot devices like the Cloudmobiles, Caring Meter, the Cloud Keeper and even Care-a-lot castle were not referred to or mentioned as of the new series (indeed, Care-a-lot castle doesn’t even appear to exist after the relaunch, as seen in the aerial shots of Care-a-lot shown at various points in various episodes of Adventures in Care-a-lot). In its place is the gathering tree, which is where the Care Bears now gather to meet or hold festivities. Also, the Care Bears have never made contact with humans (although this is set to change with the upcoming DVD release Grizz-ly Adventures, which will introduce the first human to enter the new Care-a-Lot), and a new villain named Grizzle (who seeks to conquer Care-a-lot and nothing else) was introduced. The February 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal states that in the new version, “they live in a village, centered on a big tree—with no castle in sight.”
Information courtesy of Wikipedia