Thursday, May 30, 2019
Obscurity of the Day: Gummi Bears
As an example of bizarrely successful cross-promotion, Gummi Bears is a master's class on crass commercialism and rapacious capitalism. Supposedly it all began when Disney head honcho Michael Eisner noticed his kid eating Gummy Bears candies (note the spelling difference). For some strange reason he decided that the company should turn these squishy, rubbery, tooth-rotting candies into Disney's first foray into TV animation. I'm betting that part of that 'inspiration' was also the success of American Greetings' Care Bears characters. Kudos Disney for piggybacking your new product on the backs of a candy franchise and a greeting card company, yet no pesky licensing fees to pay --- score!
So was born Adventures of the Gummi Bears, a cartoon show set in medieval times and starring a group of bears who, after drinking magic juice, are able to bounce around not unlike Tigger. The plot sounds utterly inane to me, but I've come across plenty of fandom in my little bit of research on the subject, so I gather the cartoons were not completely and utterly without redeeming value.
So once you've created your mildly successful TV kid's show based on candy and greeting cards, what's next? Well, a newspaper comic strip series, of course. But whatever tiny amount of charm and thought might have gone into the animated series, it failed to reach from one division of the company to the next. The Gummi Bears comic strip, which debuted via partnership with King Features Syndicate on September 1 1986, offered incredibly lame one-liner jokes in the dailies, and the Sunday did the same plus added attractions of a "Bear Fact" (pre-school level trivia), and a couple of puzzles or games. None of it exhibited an ounce of creative thought, and managed to annoy even fans of the Gummi Bears by ignoring most of the characters and plotlines set up in the TV show.
The creators of this waste of space, which thankfully found few clients, were probably very happy to be uncredited and anonymous. That is, they would be anonymous if it weren't for Disney researcher extraordinaire Alberto Becattini, who unmasked them as Rick Hoover (writer) and Lee Nordling (art).
The Gummi Bears TV show lasted until 1991, but the comic strip was such a stinker that it fell by the wayside on April 1 1989, a fitting end date for a feature that was a practical joke on the newspaper-reading public.
"The Simpsons" version was slicker and tuned to the show's sensibilities. That appeared to come and go equally quickly, perhaps because they weren't sure whether it was a kid feature or an adult parody.
"Slylock Fox and Comics for Kids" appears to be the hardiest survivor, unless there are others I don't know about.
I liked the show and after having watched it on Disney+ I can say it holds up pretty well and could have turned out much, much worse considering the target audience and what they had to work with. But this comic is just bizarre. I like the art but otherwise it's a pale copy that stripped out just about everything that made the show memorable.