Every Trekkie remembers their first Star Trek experience. Whether it’s The Original Series or The Next Generation, you never forget how you felt at that moment when you first saw the Enterprise crest the cosmic horizon. My first Trek was… different. I’m not ashamed, but when I tell people about my first Star Trek experience, they’re often surprised. It wasn’t The Motion Picture. It wasn’t even Voyager. No, in those formative years, my first Star Trek series was The Care Bears Family.
Originally created by Canadian animation studio Nelvana between 1985-1988, The Care Bears Family was an early morning cartoon aimed at preschool audiences. Cute bears learning lessons about friendship and caring was a safe haven for parents looking for a little peace and quiet, and at seven a.m. with a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch sitting in front of me, it was pretty much the best option I had for cartoons before I went to school. As a burgeoning sci-fi nerd, I always looked forward to the episodes set in space. Detailing the voyages of the S.S. Friendship, The Care Bears Family took liberties with the Star Trek formula to say the least.
Which isn’t to say it wasn’t an incredibly smart combination. While Gene Roddenberry’s utopian ideal might not have been as unapologetically saccharine as Care Bears, there are times when The Original Series came close. After all, Star Trek still had its moments of tackling a subject squarely on the nose, and it was a series that featured George Takei shirtlessly brandishing a foil, so you know it had a sense of fun about it too. The sensibilities weren’t a bad match.
Considering these episodes were produced before even The Next Generation was on the air, the Care Bears version of Star Trek was faithful right down to its crew.
- Captain Brave Heart as the James Kirk archetype
- Lieutenant Bright Heart as Spock
- Lieutenant Cheer Bear as Uhura
- Lieutenant Grumpy as Scotty / Bones
- Lieutenant Treat Heart as Sulu / Chekov
There were only eight Star Trek themed episodes of The Care Bears Family produced for Nelvana’s third and final season of this beloved franchise. It’s tough to say whether this journey into parody contributed to the cancellation. Maybe was just its time. But today, I know what I have to do. Bear with me as I go back to childhood and review all eight times the Care Bears have boldly gone where no man has gone before.
The Thing That Came to Stay
(Written by John De Klein)
Of all the episodes Care Bears ever produced, The Thing That Came To Stay captures the spirit of Star Trek best. It succeeds mostly because it’s essentially The Trouble with Tribbles. When the Caring Crystals lose power, the crew head off to the Nelvana Star System to find more. This episode sees Lieutenant Treat Heart smuggling small creature “Nicey Nice” on board the ship against orders, desperately trying to keep the creature secret as it grows to extraordinary size. The Tribbles are one of the most enduring images in Star Trek lore, reminding us all of how silly and campy Star Trek could get. For some, that’s a bad thing, but Care Bears embraces it wholeheartedly.
The Thing That Came to Stay handles the plot effortlessly in this first outing into a sci-fi universe. It marries a classic Star Trek plot with sitcom hijinks in a way that entertained me both as a child and an adult. Lord No Heart seems more like a Star Wars pastiche, reminding us how this sort of grand antagonist doesn’t exist in Star Trek lore. I also love the way Grumpy hates the transporter. It’s a small touch to make Grumpy a little more like Bones McCoy that goes a long way to making the characters feel authentic. When they go to the rocky planet’s surface that looks like a Star Trek world. It might be the first one, but it’s also one of the best.
Lesson: Wild animals are happier in the wild and not as pets.
Cheer Bear’s Chance
(Written by Steve Wright)
This episode is amazing. It’s brilliant. Cheer Bear’s Chance excels in ways that were entirely unexpected as it calls out the inherent sexism in Star Trek’s treatment of Lt. Uhura. As communications officer, Cheer Bear wants to fly the ship, but has to stay at communications because she doesn’t have enough experience? How does she get experience? Brave Heart will get back to her. Brave Heart continually tries to placate Cheer Bear with vague praise, but Cheer Bear wants action. This is a character with dreams and aspirations. Being stuck at the communications station is not an option. She’s unsatisfied with being left out and unaccepting of the excuses her shipmates give.
The conflict of this episode comes when Shrieky brings a metal on board and proceeds to trap the crew of the S.S. Friendship inside. Like… seriously. That’s the plan. Imagine if The Cage was just literally the crew stuck inside a cage with metal bars. Would that have been too cerebral for NBC? I don’t know whether this was a deep lore joke or merely a coincidence, but if what I’ve seen so far is any indication, the Trekkers on the Care Bears writing team deserve some recognition.
Lesson: Everybody deserves a chance to succeed.
A Hungry Little Guy
(Written by Dennise Fordham)
In the opening sequence of A Hungry Little Guy, The crew is picking up supplies for the Igwag homeworld, and we get a scene on the loading dock where you can practically see the green screen magic that would make it work in live-action. I love how hokey this looks. It feels like shoddy effects work ripped straight out of The Next Generation before it even existed. I may be reading way too much into this, but it’s “How to Nail Star Trek Parody 101” for me.
At first glance, this seems to be a second shot at the lighting-in-a-bottle that was The Thing That Came to Stay. To the untrained eye, A Hungry Little Guy is even more Tribble-like than Care Bear’s first sci-fi outing, as a stowaway creature (the Gobblegurt) causes more havoc than Nicey-Nice could ever imagine by eating an entire planet’s worth of food. Is this Nibbler? Yes. Yes, it has to be. Now, I don’t want to point fingers, but pretty much the entire crew of the S.S. Friendship are straight up jerks in this episode. I mean, you think Treat Heart ate an ENTIRE PLANET’S worth of food? Some friends. Eventually the truth comes to light, but not before they treat Treat Heart so badly that she flees the ship in exile. Nice, guys. Nice.
Lesson: Always believe people are innocent until proven guilty.
The Secret of the Box
(Written by Thomas J. King)
The crew has picked up a box with mysterious contents that has to be delivered to Gamma One. Entrusted by the president of Gamma One, the crew is forbidden from opening it. We get a nice scene with the crew theorizing what’s inside the box that you could see happening at Ten Forward in The Next Generation. This results in a bit of heist episode that sees the crew completely abandoning their duties as officers and essentially mutinying against their captain. When up against Shrieky and Beastly, they don’t come back to their senses and instead release presumably deadly space bees into the ship.
How many Star Trek episodes had bees? None. Okay. How many should have? Seriously, tell me Space Seed wouldn’t have been better with Khan frantically running away from a swarm. Tell me Bones wouldn’t risk it all for a taste of some delicious honey. Just try to tell me that with a straight face. He’s a Doctor, not a monster! Give the man his honey!
Lesson: Everything is better with bees.
(Written by Atul N. Rao & Alex Boon)
For the first time in this watchthrough, I can safely say I found an episode that doesn’t feel like Star Trek. It starts out harmlessly enough when the crew investigate a strange signal. Brave Heart and Grumpy go on a spacewalk to the seemingly abandoned spacecraft and encounter an alien entity. This is where it gets weird. This is where it gets very weird. Because the alien they encounter… is a clown.
There are no clowns in Star Trek, at least none that I’ve seen so far. The closest I can come to picturing one is Q. Characterwise, it’s all there. The clown is a set up for Grumpy to be annoyed and frustrated, and that’s a Q plot if there ever was one. This guy spends nearly the whole episode pulling pranks like spraying people with ink, heckling them, and entrapping them in a bear-sized bubble. Although the idea of John DeLancy jumping around blowing bubbles is an intriguing one, I don’t think that’s what the writers were going for in this episode.
When captured by Shrieky and Beastly, the clown turns the pair against each other with his heckling jokes and eventually teams up with Grumpy to save the day. You almost sympathize with the villains. It’s not Star Trek, but it sure does entertain.
Lesson: It’s not nice to make fun at other people’s expense.
King of the Moon
(Written by Atul N. Rao)
Now here’s an episode that would really get trippy if we stole the plot for an episode of Star Trek. Feeling unappreciated by his own crew, Captain Brave Heart abandons the S.S. Friendship to becomes King of a small species of Moon Dots. I could see the crew of the Enterprise performing at peak efficiency enough to make their Captain bored, but an episode where Kirk himself becomes King of the Moon? It’s just slightly too out of character… but I kind of really want it to happen? Imagine William Shatner sitting on an ant hill with a crown on his head sculpting sandcastles for his subjects. Actually, scratch that. It’s easy to picture Shatner doing that. It’s Kirk doing it that’s the problem. This is a Captain gone AWOL. This is treason.
Both Space Bubbles and King of the Moon were written by Atul N. Rao. Neither one properly feels like Star Trek, instead trying to bring the typical Care Bears plot into a sci-fi setting. Rao only wrote these two episodes, but they’re also his first two credits listed on IMdB. It’s possible as a new writer, Rao didn’t want to stretch the formula too much and provided Nelvana with episodes he felt were safe enough within the parameters of the series as it stood. Whatever the motivation, they provide a brilliantly surreal narrative.
Oddly, this episode ends with the Captain shouting excitedly while he drives an all-terrain vehicle over the surface of a moon. You’re not going to get quality Star Trek content like that again until Nemesis.
Lesson: Work as a team and appreciate each other.
(Written by Marjorie K. Olmsted and Marjorie E. Olmsted)
Starting out on another exciting mission, the S.S. Friendship picks up two children (Hugs and Tugs) who need to get to their grandmother. Captain Brave Heart is warmer to the children than Picard would ever be towards Wesley in their first encounters, but they’re unfortunately not as useful as Wesley would ever be either. What this episode is really about is how easily Treat Heart gets distracted. While the navigator is playing a video game, the ship has a head-on collision with an asteroid.
This episode is honestly pretty dull. The lush alien world where the majority of the episode takes place is gorgeous, but standard, and although the giant fruit is interesting, I’m not a fan of the way Treat Heart is so easily distracted from babysitting by gorging herself on food. Yes, she’s a pig, but she’s also a lieutenant! The kids wander off. I guess they get found. Wesley would have done so much better.
Lesson: Umm… Don’t let kids on the bridge?
The Frozen Forest
(Written by Steven Rauchman)
Finally an episode that tackles genuine space exploration! The Frozen Forest has the S.S. Friendship visit the planet Periwinkle, a usually green planet that has recently turned completely white. I sat on the edge of my seat as the crew looked at the planet through their viewscreen. What would this episode bring? A Trek-esque commentary on global warming? Unfortunately, no. An alien has a freeze ray. By the antennae, we might believe him to be an Andorian, but it’s likely he’s simply “alien” in the way children’s TV typically depicted them at the time. Brightheart is frozen solid, and the score becomes a haunting collection of strings.
Melvin is the caretaker. I can hardly count the number of caretaker entities the Star Trek crews have encountered over the years. Melvin freezes his friends so they’ll never leave. It’s a distillation of the Star Trek formula. With a little more nuance, and perhaps an altered motivation for the antagonist, you could see this plotline working for an actual Star Trek episode as the crew navigate the planet’s suddenly changing landscape.
Lesson: If you love something, set it free.
Final Thoughts on Care Bears & Star Trek
You know, I made some jokes along the way, but Care Bears holds up way better than actually I thought it would when I started this journey. The characters are surprisingly strong with solid casting of the preexisting Care Bears in Star Trek roles. Only Bright Heart seems not to fit the Spock model, but a show about love and friendship was always going to have issues in adapting a character of cold logical reasoning as a major player. It wasn’t perfect of course. For the most part, Shrieky and Beastly are superfluous to each episode. Their subplots fill out the runtime and add some tension, but it’s downright draining to see the crew of the S.S. Friendship be threatened by the same villain week after week, especially one with Beastly’s horrible chuckle. But overall, it works. The values Care Bears represents are essentially the same as those at the core of Star Trek.
Work together. Believe in each other. Give everybody their fair chance.
Don’t allow children on the bridge.