Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Some Thoughts After Watching 29 Episodes of "Gummi Bears"

There is a wonderful, crazy rumor about "Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears" that's worth recounting before we get rolling bouncing here.  The origin of "Gummi Bears" supposedly involves Michael Eisner in one of his most deeply Michael Eisnery moments.  He is said to have pitched one of the two first television animated series ever produced by Disney thus: "Hey, my son really loves those Gummy Bear candies.  Make a show about that!"

It is a testament to how awesome Disney can be in a pinch when the animators heard that command, looked at each other, said "okay" to Eisner, and came up with this.*

As I said in the previous post (which you should pause and read right now if you missed it), Disney had entered the wilderness of animated television cartoons with two series produced for the autumn of 1985, "The Wuzzles" and "Adventures of the Gummi Bears".  And in America, and I mention this again because I cannot emphasize how astonishing this fact is and how unthinkable this would be now, these two series aired on two different channels in the exact same time slot. "Gummi Bears" was much more successful and went on to become one of Disney's longest-running animated television series ever, surviving even into the early '90s.

Full confession: I wasn't really into this series as a child.  Remember, I was watching "The Wuzzles" on a competing network; I had no idea what I was missing.  And it turns out that I was missing something really special.

The thing that struck me the most about "Gummi Bears" is how much more care obviously went into it compared to "The Wuzzles".  Yes, it's a series with cute colorful funny animal characters living in a magical tree in an enchanted forest.  But the writers made an effort to give them fairly complex personalities and a well-established world to live in.  And, on top of all that and most impressive of all, a fairly elaborate mythology.

The idea is that we're seeing the final remnants of an ancient advanced civilization, one that is just starting to rediscover its heritage, magical powers, and lost technology.  (As far as the aforementioned lost technology goes, the Bears rediscover such items as what is basically a mech suit and a long-distance communication device/laser canon, neither of which I expected to see in a show like this and my goodness is it ever all the more awesome for it.)  Up until the end of the first season, the residents of Gummi Glen have no idea that they are not the last of their kind.  There's an underlying poignancy here that you aren't going to get in "The Wuzzles".

The setting of "Gummi Bears" is developed enough that I could do yet another parody of the "Game of Thrones" opening with its various locations if I had a penchant for stop-motion animation (and any desire to send yet another damn "Game of Thrones" opening sequence parody out into the world).  The visual design appears to take some influence from "The Sword in the Stone", especially in Dunwyn Castle and its residents.  But I detected an even stronger visual similarity to "The Black Cauldron", especially in the forests, Castle Drekmore, and the Quick Tunnels (a very cool device in their own right and I suddenly long for a dark ride based upon them).  I want to buy a round of pints for whatever layout artists designed Gummi Glen itself because it is just wonderful; you want to walk around inside it and explore every corner.

But the characters really drew me into the series.  There is not a single dud character in the main cast.  I could gush about them all day but I'll keep this quick: the characters are awesome.  Even the human characters are awesome.  Hell, even the younger characters are reasonably awesome!  (For the most part.  There aren't a lot of episodes centered on Sunni and Cubbi, and thankfully those are mostly okay.  Even so, by the end of the DVD set, I still wasn't completely sold on their voices or designs.  Dig Sunni's 80's hair.)

There is a noticeable bit of a dip in quality in the third season.  The writers focused less often on the high concepts introduced in the first two seasons.  They also break out in chronic new characters, including a very obnoxious "LOL, aren't artists random?!?" type. That said, the show is still, if you'll pardon the phrase, leaps and bounds over much of what it was competing with at the time.  I am very happy that I gave it a try.

So what does Calla have to do to be part of the Princess line already?

* - There is another crazy-awesome rumor about "Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears" that links it with another Disney animated television series with a slightly larger fanbase.  Very early on in "Gummi Bears", there is an episode where an evil gargoyle who wants to hurt people comes to life at night and makes mischief in the castle.  The rumor insists that this episode may have inspired a later series about good gargoyles who want to help people and who come to life at night to protect the castle.  Yes, "Gargoyles" supposedly started life as a "Gummi Bears" spin-off.  If that's true, especially when you consider how many spin-offs they had in mind for "Gargoyles", then that is amazing.

Addendum: The wonderful Total Media Bridge agrees with me here, and goes into a little more detail regarding the history of the show and it's subsequent seasons.


Sketch of the Day! This was a pretty big hit on Twitter, if I do say so myself:

8.20.13 - Dino Doodles


kjohnson1585 said...

Hi, me again. We should talk more!

Anyway, I JUST finished all 95 (depending how you count them) episodes of Gummi Bears. I loved them, a lot more than I would have every expected. (Review should be coming in about a week or so).

You're right - around the 3rd season they seem to kinda hit a wall after all the really deep stuff happens with the missing Gummis. I think there might be some confusion over the order of the episodes after they introduced Gusto (technically, he didn't live with them, so he wasn't on as many adventures, but sometimes he's just missing for no reason. There's also a not-at-all-subtle "sex" scene between Gusto and an older Sunni, which is hilarious, but also, ew).

That all being said, they DO push past the rut by introducing Lady Bane, Ursula, re-introducing the trolls, and the Barbic Bears. The series finale two-parter really puts a nice cap on it, even though it could continue for another 65 episodes, definitely.

This is all a round-about way of saying it's a heck of lot better than it has any right to be.

Trish said...

"...a heck of lot better than it has any right to be" is a damn good summary of the series and my heart aches that Disney won't get off it's duff and release the rest of the episodes on DVD already (that goes double for "Gargoyles" - which I still have never seen in its entirety - and "The Muppet Show" - which I have oh, just a TINY bit more nostalgia for).

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I do remember watching this show. OMG THEME SONG. For some reason I really remember the episode where they are trying to figure out how to make the bouncy taffy stuff, and throwing it across the kitchen walls...? I don't remember much beyond that, but while other kids were watching Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain (not that those weren't awesome), I was watching this (and Darkwing Duck, and Duck Tales, and TaleSpin and Gargoyles). For some reason I was a Disney kid all the way, although I think my mother seriously considered stopping me because Donald Duck was too mean (?!?). Kind of like I couldn't watch Rugrats because the parents were terrible at parenting? But then they couldn't have adventures...? I DON'T EVEN KNOW.

Anyway, will definitely be off to the Nostalgia Mobile to revisit this series.

Anonymous said...

Also also, have you seen this article ( about how Duck Tales, for which Gummi Bears laid the groundwork, was responsible for revolutionizing TV animation? Before that it was pretty much all product placement shows and shoddy shortcuts. It's pretty fascinating.