I am not ashamed to admit my best friend as a child was a stuffed toy. His name was Baby Swift Heart Rabbit, and he and I went everywhere together, including our Thelma and Louise-esque attempt to climb over the rails of Cumberland Falls and jump in before my mom grabbed us and screamed at me (us) with a mix of fear, anger, and concern for a good 20 minutes.
I am a little ashamed to admit as an adult I have recently been re-watching some of the cartoons my best friend was featured in during the mid-80s, as one can try and explain why a seemingly stable adult in their 30s with no children of their own is watching Care Bears on YouTube, but is there really anything I can say that isn’t going to sound weird?
So, let’s just set pretense aside and explain for whatever reason I was editing some copy and had the third feature-length Care Bears film, Care Bears in Wonderland, playing in the background. The title tells you pretty much exactly what the concept was. Instead of coming up with new characters, plots, and mythology, why not just take your popular characters and insert them into a popular story that just so happens to be in the public domain so it doesn’t cost you anything to license it?
How did the Nelvana production company manage to come up with a reason the Care Bears needed to go to Wonderland, you ask? Well, it starts with the March Hare showing up in the home of the Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins (aka the non-bear Care Bears like the lion, monkey, rabbit, etc.) and asking to see his niece, Swift Heart Rabbit.
Woah. WOAH. Woah. Woah woah woah.
I played it again to make sure I heard it correctly because I was absolutely floored to discover that, for basically a quarter of a century, I apparently did not know the correct gender of what I considered to be my best friend.
The inner monologue kicked in. “I mean you were little, but even in the 80s you knew that just because something was blue doesn’t necessarily mean it is a boy…You could have asked, but, you know, s/he was a stuffed animal, so that wouldn’t have helped much.”
But still, as a kid, I lived Care Bears. I had at least a dozen of the full-sized grown up CBs and a couple of the “Baby” versions from the second Care Bears movie, which was essentially a prequel before prequels were even cool, and featured all of the Bears and Cousins as infants. I watched the movies to the point where even today, I can probably (definitely) sing some of the songs them without missing a word.
Which gets me to the heart (ugh, what a dreadful pun) of the matter: How did I miss that Swift Heart was a girl?
Hours of time wasted down the Wikipedia rabbit hole, my world was as upside down as Alice’s. Turns out that, thanks to some plot inconsistencies, carelessness (again, the inadvertent puns, I really can’t help myself), and attempts to try and remedy some of the “pink = girl, blue = boy” mentality which was so prevalent in the early 80s, this cartoon managed to be just about the most gender-progressive animated series of the decade. Caitlyn Jenner could travel back in time and create a cartoon about herself and it *still* wouldn’t be as advanced in its presentation of gender as the Care Bears, who were totally doing gender reassignments long before any Olympians were.
The more I read, the more I realized there is just too much to suss out in a single blog post. Plus, some of you (ahem, Jan Fisher) have informed me my blogs can often be a little tl;dr. So, now that my life stuff is settling back into a category we’ll call noraml-ish, get ready for a series looking at how this crop of adorable fluffballs accidentally(?) set up Society of the Serpent-ers and Snake People to be more open to concepts like gender fluidity, transgender people, and gaping plot holes in nostalgia-filled movies because hey, if there are cute animals, catchy songs, and a multi-million dollar merchandising opportunity, we all should learn to be a little more open-hearted (okay, this last one was on purpose).
Get ready to care a lot…about the Care Bears and gender.