What Happened To Care Bears?

If you grew up in America during the 1980s-1990s, you couldn't miss the colorful Care Bears adorned with symbols on their bellies. The original 10 Care Bears were Good Luck, Love-a-Lot, Funshine, Birthday, Grumpy, Cheer, Friend, Bedtime, Funshine, Tenderheart, and Wish Bear, according to HuffPost. For nearly four decades, the bears were a hit with kids and adults — but are the Care Bears still popular today?

As Cleveland Magazine reports, the idea of the Care Bears was inspired by the success of the Strawberry Shortcake franchise released in the 1980s. The Care Bears were first painted by artist Elena Kucharik and cartoonist Dave Polter. As Kucharik recalled in a 2017 interview, she was a freelance artist for the American Greetings card company at the time. She said she faxed the primary Care Bears sketches to executives at Those Characters From Cleveland. The executives loved the simplistic symbols that could be recognized by kids and parents alike.

Hundreds of designs

Kucharik said after some drawing design tweaks, like making the bears "shorter and pudgier," the bears then went through hundreds of prototypes (via Cleveland Magazine). They placed a heart-shaped button on the back of each bear, and a distinct design like a shamrock or rainbow on every bear's tummy. No one had thought to design a teddy bear this way before, making the Care Bears a unique product. 

The designers had a goal in mind. As one of the cartoonists, Dave Polter, said about the Care Bears, "Their appeal went up and down the age range. They look really young, but at the same time, you could have them say almost anything. You could have them be funny. Bears are the ultimate anthropomorphic character."

The company worked on the bears for years, coordinating with big-name retailers like Kmart, Woolworth, Walmart, and Toys R Us to ensure they would carry Care Bears products once they launched in 1983 (via Cleveland Magazine). As IMDb reports, the bears starred in the animated adventure "The Care Bears in the Land Without Feelings," their 30-minute television debut, on April 22, 1983. The Bears help a young runaway escape the evil Professor Coldheart.

Care Bears on the big screen

As Cleveland Magazine reports, the Care Bears were an immediate hit. They sold $40 million in greeting cards in just their first year. As Care Bears Toys reports, the toys were set to star in their next animated special in 1984, "The Care Bears Battle the Freeze Machine." As the toy line grew, the "Care Bear Cousins" were introduced the same year.

Per Kingdom of Caring, 1985 was a big year for the Care Bears. First came the release of "The Care Bears Movie," another animated project, featuring actors like Georgia Engel and Mickey Rooney (via IMDb). The movie had an estimated budget of $2 million, and quickly recouped that amount, earning $3.7 million in the opening weekend and more than $22 million worldwide. The same year, per Kingdom of Caring, the Care Bear Family got its own TV series in September 1985. The show had more than 45 episodes and ran for three years (via IMDb).

Merchandise for every product

Building off the hype of the previous movie and show, "Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation" was released in 1986, bringing in about $8.5 million at the box office, as IMDb reports. The year was a great one for Care Bears merchandise: as Ralph Shaffer, the co-President of Those Characters from Cleveland, the Care Bears' parent company, said, they began to license anything they could: "You could license some of the weirdest things: kids' suspenders and shoelaces," he told Cleveland Magazine

But when a third movie, "Care Bears in Wonderland," was released in 1987, it was a box office bomb, making only $2.6 million worldwide (via IMDb). A fourth movie had been in the works, but it was pivoted to a straight-to-video release in 1988, after the failure of the third film. The charismatic Bears sold $2 billion in merchandise within the first five years of their release (via Cleveland Magazine).

As HuffPost reports, over 70 new bears have since joined the Care Bears family. Per Kingdom of Caring, the Care Bears were featured in lots of merchandise for kids, like books, stickers, cereal box toys, bedding, dishes, clothes, and comic books.

Celebrations for their 35th anniversary

In 2012, the bears were animated with CG technology in "Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot" on The Hub (per Entertainment Weekly). And Netflix brought the Care Bears to life once again with a new show, "Care Bears and Cousins," which ran from 2015 to 2016 (via IMDb). (The trailer is on YouTube.)

The Care Bears celebrated their 35th anniversary in 2017 (via Walmart). They introduced a new plush animal to the collection, a dark purple bear named Rainbow Heart Bear, with a glitter rainbow belly heart. The following year, the Bears took a new form with a trendy line of Funko Pop dolls revealed at the London Toy Fair (per Funko).

So what's next for the Care Bears? According to Attractions Magazine, in 2020, a Care Bears-themed kids' experience opened in Shanghai. The attraction offered lots of games, shopping, activities, and dining experiences that suit kids and the whole family.

Bears with 'retro appeal'

As Business Wire reports, in 2021, the Care Bears brand signed a multi-year deal with RECUR to create digital collectibles, NFTs, and other digital products. A new plush animal, Togetherness Bear, was released around LGBTQIA+ pride month in June 2021 with the motto "Love all," reported "Today." And, as found on the Walmart website, a Care Bears special edition collectors set of plush toys were released in 2022 for a new generation of kids to play with.

How do the Care Bears maintain their appeal year after year? As Cleveland Magazine reports, the plush animals have a "retro appeal" — adults who remember playing with the bears as children pass on their enthusiasm to their own kids. As cartoonist Dave Polter said, "We had a very successful run with products like Madballs, Lady LovelyLocks and My Pet Monster. But none of the others have been as evergreen as Care Bears."