Whenever we choose it
Care-a-lot is a feeling we all know
We never do lose it"
The Care Bears Movie is the first theatrical film in the Care Bears franchise.
The story is presented via the Framing Device of a man telling the children in his orphanage the tale of three lonely orphans: the siblings Kim and Jason, who are helped by the Care Bears, and an older boy named Nicholas, who is tempted by an evil, sentient book.
The book gives Nicholas magical powers, and then convinces him to turn everyone he sees into hateful people. This damages Care-a-lot, causing earthquakes and threatening to destroy it all. Kim, Jason, and the Care Bears have to go and stop what's happening. Their quest gets sidetracked when they are forced to go to another land, which turns out to be the home of the Care Bear Cousins.
This is easily the darkest of the film trilogy, featuring a spell book with a haunting green face that seems to prefer the world in heavily implied global anarchy rather than just plain Jerkassry towards one's fellow man, eerie rides with creepy clown faces, children put in life-threatening situations and the corruption of a misguided youth into crazed eyed possessed sorcerer. Even the soundtrack can be threatening at times.
This film was a modest success, thwarting Disney's offering, The Black Cauldron, at the box office and becoming the highest-grossing animated film to not be released by the Mouse at the time. The film would, however, nonetheless be bested in this category by An American Tail only a year later. It was also immensely profitable for American Greetings, and led to two more Care Bears sequels and a TV series.
The Care Bears Movie provides examples of the following tropes:
- Added Alliterative Appeal: The Care Bear Cousins live in the Forest of Feelings.
- Animated Musical: A grand total of seven songs.
- Animation Bump: In several spots, going from Limited Animation to having fluid animation and visa versa during the same scene.
- Award-Bait Song: The opening song, sung by Carole King. One thing to note is that Carole sounds bored out of her mind while singing it, as The Nostalgia Critic points out in his review. Strangely, a much catchier and more upbeat new wave song titled "Fantasy" by Helen Christie was recorded to have been used for the introduction (you can still buy the ''45 single on vinyl, which credits the song to "Care Bears Movie"), but the Carole King song was eventually chosen regardless and the Helen Christie song was scrapped.
- Big "YES!": Secret Bear gives one during the "In A Care Bear Family" song.
- Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with Mr. Cherrywood, telling the story of Nicholas, Jason, and Kim to the children in the group home he runs with his wife.
- Care-Bear Stare: Although it's used to stop a monster, even that isn't enough to save the day. It's up to The Power of Friendship for real to do that.
- Chekhov's Gun: The key, which has its importance greatly subverted by the fact that it can be duplicated rather easily.
- Corrupt the Cutie: This is pretty much the book spirit's schtick — turning the kids in the world evil, starting with Nicholas.
- Darker and Edgier: This film is easily the darkest of the trilogy in tone. It has a villain that lacks any funny quirks, children are put in life-threatening situations, Care-A-Lot is slowly wiped out in a gradual apocalyptic manner, and the more frightening elements involve the gradual corruption of youth into a crazed sorcerer.
- Deadly Book: There's an evil book that wants to trick Nicholas into using it to turn everyone in the world into jerks and cause implied dystopian anarchy.
- The Dog Bites Back: Nicholas was picked on for being a bad magician. However, once he gets his hands on the magic book containing the evil spirit...
- That happens again near the end of the film, when Nicholas finally stands up to the spirit (who emotionally abused him into eliminating compassion from the world even when he expressed hesitation) after Kim and Jason manage to talk him down by closing the book and holding it shut with Tenderheart Bear's help until Jason can lock it again.
- The Dragon: Nicholas is this to the book spirit, who is really running the show.
- Follow the Bouncing Ball: "In a Care Bear Family" features a brief sequence that prompts the viewer to follow the bouncing heart with the chorus.
- For the Evulz: The book's motive for turning everyone in the world into jerks is never explained or even hinted beyond sadism. It is implied by Tender-Heart that she deliberately wants to destroy Care-A-Lot for personal reasons, but this is never elaborated on.
- Framing Device: The entire movie is a story being told to the children in an orphanage by their guardian, Mr. Cherrywood.
- Gunship Rescue: Combined with Big Damn Heroes. When it looks like the giant crow spirit is going to make a snack out of a couple of Care Bears and the Care Bear Cousins (who can't do anything at this point in the movie), the Care Bears' flagship comes around the riverbend. Its passengers blast the bird with a Care-Bear Stare siege cannon, allowing the two endangered bears to turn the tables and finish it off.
- Happily Adopted: By the end of the movie, Jason and Kim have become this, sitting in the audience at Nicholas's magic show with their new parents.
- Hate Plague: A spell the book spirit teaches Nicholas.
- Heavy Sleeper: Bedtime Bear actually falls out of the boat while the exploration team is working their way through the Forest of Feelings. Even falling into the river doesn't wake him, and it's suggested that he might have drowned if not for the intervention of Cozy Heart Penguin.
- Heel–Face Turn: Nicholas, thanks to The Power of Friendship, makes one of these in the end.
- I Never Told You My Name: Friend Bear addresses Kim and Jason by name without an introduction. Jason asks how the Bears know their names, but never gets much in the way of a straight answer.
- Informed Attribute: On their first meeting, Friend Bear notes that Kim reads a lot.
- Knight of Cerebus: The Spirit is easily the darkest villain in the entire Care Bears franchise. Dark Heart is a Large Ham with sympathetic qualities, who eventually does a Heel–Face Turn; No Heart has Beastly and Shreeky to keep him from being too scary, as does the Vizier with the Mice; the Checkerboard Wizard is a Sissy Villain, aside from his infamous Nightmare Face; and Grizzle from more recent works is about as threatening as Team Rocket. The Spirit doesn't have any of these qualities to tone her down: she's played deadly serious every time she appears.
- To be specific, she's a suave and calm speaking sadist who gradually corrupts the world into implied global anarchy and turning Nicholas into a gleefully evil sorcerer like her. And she gets very close to wiping out Care-A-Lot than any other villain and is able to No-Sell a barrage of the Care-Bear Stare from almost all of the Care-Bears.
- Magic Is Evil: At the very least, the way the Evil Spirit has Nicholas channel magic is portrayed as inherently wrong and unnatural- causing people to become hateful and cause implied global anarchy as an early demonstration and would later summon sentient spells that can turn into animals or possess objects. It also slowly causes Nicholas to abandon his reluctance and engage in psychopathic behavior.
- Narrator All Along: At the end of the film, it is revealed that the narrator, Mr. Cherrywood, is an older Nicholas, and his wife is heavily implied to be Kim.
- No Name Given: The book spirit, which is why we'll just have to go on calling her "the book spirit."
- Orphanage of Love: The Cherrywoods run one of these, as seen in the movie's Book Ends.
- Pink Means Feminine: Kim has a pink sweater and hair bow.
- Plot Coupon: The key that will lock the book; Tenderheart Bear entrusts it to Jason, and it's mentioned a few times throughout the film. Subverted when they attempt to use it and the Spirit manages to destroy it. Secret Bear has to come up with a substitute on the fly.
- Plot-Triggering Book: When Nicholas, the assistant to a stage magician, sorts through a trunk the magician just purchased, which includes an evil, sapient Spell Book, the movie is kicked off into motion.
- The Power of Friendship: Kim and Jason talk Nicholas down by explaining that they want to be his friends so he won't be lonely anymore.
- The Quiet One: Secret Bear has no lines in the film other than the above-mentioned Big "YES!", and Friend Bear has to translate for him.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The book spirit, which Nicholas inadvertently unseals when he first opens the book.
- Shout-Out: The spirit has facial similarities to the Wicked Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- Suddenly Speaking: Secret Bear gets one very brief line when he shouts "YEAH!" during the end song "In a Care Bear Family."
- Tome of Eldritch Lore: A living example in the book's case; she apparently was planning to teach that Hate Plague spell to the first person to open the book, which happened to be Nicholas.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Kim and Jason don’t find anything odd about bears talking to them. Annoying, yes, but not odd.
- Villain Has a Point: Whilst the Evil Spirit's motives and intentions are beyond malicious, she does at one scene make a valid point when Tender Heart tries to intervene: "Where was he when you needed him?". While Tender Heart does manage to back himself up by explaining that he's now with Nicholas when he needs him the most, it doesn't change the fact that neither him or any of the other Care Bears did anything to help Nicholas prior to meeting the spirit as doing so could've likely prevented Nicholas from getting involved with the spirit in the first place.
- Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: The book spirit. Nicholas becomes this in the third act.
- Voice for the Voiceless: Friend Bear for the always silent Secret Bear; she's the only bear who can understand and interpret his body language, and the one to whom he occasionally whispers.
- When Trees Attack: A tree, possessed by a spell from the book, tries to capture Kim and Jason.
- Worrying for the Wrong Reason: A couple of kids and a couple of Care Bears are stuck in a tree and afraid of falling, when Friend Bear points out that they should be more afraid of the lion that's climbing up for them. (Fortunately, the lion turns out to be Brave Heart Lion, who just wants to help.)