When I want a Care Bears Christmas movie...and I do...I want it to actually be about Christmas, not some wishy-washy P.C. "Giving Festival" euphemism. Lionsgate has released Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie, the latest straight-to-DVD toy commercial for the yet-again rebooted Care Bears franchise from the American Greetings card company. And let me tell you, I didn't like it one bit. Oh, the Care Bears are fine; my kids love them, and they're sweet and cuddly and all that. But the "powerful odor of mendacity" permeates this effort, particularly when the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to exactly what holiday the Care Bears are celebrating here. Interestingly, the bonus episodes from the TV series, Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot, are a hell of a lot more entertaining than the main feature; at least they're honest in their aims. Of course kids won't care...but that's why you don't want them watching this phony-baloney movie.
Care-a-Lot cloud city, high in the sky. The Care Bears--Funshine Bear, Grumpy Bear, Share Bear, True Heart Bear, Cheer Bear, Oopsy Bear, and Bedtime Bear--are shifting into high gear for the upcoming "Giving Festival," where festive decorations are displayed, a celebratory meal is eaten, and finely-wrapped gifts are exchanged under a "Giving Tree," while snow falls and bells are rung and toy trains run this way and that (gosh, that sounds familiar...). The snow is a new addition this year, in honor of visiting dignitary, Princess Starglo, who has never experienced the white stuff before. However, a fierce wind is a' blowin' through Care-a-Lot, making it difficult for engineer Grumpy Bear to fabricate his snow-making machine...which brings us to our first unrelated flashback sequence in the movie, where the Care Bears remember how evil Grizzle tried to lasso Care-a-Lot and tow it into space, before he was stopped by love and kindness and belly badges that shoot out tools like lollipops and lightning bolts to stop his evil plan. Flashback number two involves Grumpy's Bumbleberry Delivery system picker which is eventually used to jackhammer the Bears out of a cave-in, thanks to Oopsy's initiative. Back to the "Giving Festival" preparations again. Grumpy's snow machine is ruined by that damned wind, and Princess Starglo is caged up by snotty Whindle, who hates the "Giving Festival" because he's poor and has nothing to give, until he's transformed by love and kindness and belly badges that shoot out an orgy of rainbows and sparkles. But what will the Care Bears Power Team do without snow or decorations for the "Giving Festival?"
Hey, don't email if you don't celebrate Christmas and you think I'm proselytizing for the holiday. I don't care what you celebrate, quite frankly. If you want to have a "Giving Festival," be my guest. For me, Christmas has as much to do with Rankin/Bass as it does anything else (to my personal regret), so I'm not going off on a heavy religious angle here, either. I don't care if the Care Bears are turned into wiccans or devil worshippers, or even god forbid, social workers--if American Greetings can find a market for that, more belly badge power to them. The Care Bears celebrate the "Giving Festival?" Fine. Hanukkah? Cool. Fesitvus? Whatever. But don't "bait and switch" the kids out there by suggesting a Christmas movie that isn't really a Christmas movie at all.
It's bad enough that when you get right down to it, the Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie isn't even about this so-called "Giving Festival." We never learn how it started, or what it really means, or how it's different from other festivals, because the film spends most of its time detailing two flashbacks sequences that don't have anything to do with what the movie is supposedly about in the first place: the "Festival." And the "Festival," when it does finally appear, only occupies the last minute or two of the film, and then the credits immediately roll--that's a lot of misdirected build-up for no payoff (my six-year-old son said quite rightly at the finish, "That's it?"). So much for learning about the "Giving Festival." But worse, there's nothing concrete about the "Giving Festival" because...it's just "Christmas" stripped of any hard-line identifiers. If I tell you about a "new" holiday that involves big ruby red ringing bells tied with holly green ribbons, and small tinkly, jingly jingle bells, and sparkly lights everywhere, and snow falling, and a little toy train, accompanied by a carol that sings about "cheer" and "this season comes but once a year," and oh yeah, there's a tree with gifts under it, you tell me what I'm talking about. The "Giving Festival" in the Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie is "Christmas," no matter how much the makers want to soft-soap its codifiers, and that smacks of the kind of P.C. self-censure and intellectual dishonesty that I despise. I don't know why the makers of Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie want a Christmas movie without the "Christmas" in it...but I can guess. And I think it stinks.
The anamorphically-enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer for the all-digital Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie is pristine, with eye-popping colors, a bright, sharp image and no compression issues. Nice.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is quite expressive, with quite a bit of separation during the action sequences (the rollercoaster ride, particularly), and a hefty recording level. There's a 2.0 stereo track, as well, if you don't want to blast the kids. Close-captions are available.
Two short episodes of the rebooted Care Bears: Adventures in Care-a-Lot are included: Belly Blanked and All Give and No Take. I enjoyed the retro-looking graphics and the energy level is way up over the feature program (they're less mawkish and sentimental, too). Not bad.
Dishonest right from the get-go. Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie wants to trick your kids into thinking they're getting a Christmas movie (just look at the cover art, fercrissakes), giving them all the signals for a happy Yuletide time...just without the faux religious controversies big corporations fear so much (and that 99.9% of Americans laugh at). The movie's not even about the "Giving Festival," anyway. The bonus cartoon is fun, though, but not enough to recommend this crummy dodge. Skip Care Bears: The Giving Festival Movie.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.