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CGI animation never had so much heart...or so much torture.
(OK, sorry I haven't reviewed any movie for a really long time at IMDb--not since "Holes" last Independence season--but, here goes...)
In 2004, audiences were enchanted by one of the best animated sequels of all time, "Shrek 2", and later were wowed by the action-packed power of the superhero family, "The Incredibles"--and both were made in CGI. But in between, and a little after, these two blockbusters, a series of unfortunate events (not the Lemony Snicket kind) became stumbling blocks in the industry: among these mediocre messes came "Pride", "Popeye's Voyage: The Quest for Pappy", "The Polar Express", and now this--the most recent, most hilarious, and most horrible attempt at a comeback--"Care Bears: Journey to Joke-a-lot". (A really good thing "The Princess and the Pauper" and "Twice upon a Christmas" managed to escape so far...)
Everyone's favourite bears are back, and at the beginning of this new DTV movie, they are all preparing for their annual fair when, all of a sudden, something goes wrong: as Grumpy Bear's newest carousel invention goes out of control, Funshine Bear's jokes about the mishap are sent the wrong way, and at once he decides to run away from the magical land of Care-a-lot. His travels soon take him to a land where humour is king, and laughter is nonstop: Joke-a-lot. But, upon being crowned King of the land, Funshine soon realises that keeping the title will make him stay here forever...or will he ever have a chance to return to where he really belongs?
Some aspects of the film are really horrible: to ever think of Funshine being a male bear is an embarrassment to true fans of the 80's franchise who grew up enjoying that character as a girl! Too many elements of the original franchise are missing here too: near the film's end, there is a scene in which the bears could have used their Stare on Funnybone, the half-villain of our story; it's too bad you never see it activated. The new faces in Joke-a-lot are so scary and not that familiar to look at, not to mention the small, pink Gig. And, even more shamefully, some of our favourite bears are missing from the adventure: Baby Hugs and Tugs, Proud Heart Cat, Swiftheart Bunny (the cutest one, and personally my favourite), and Grams Bear. There are no human characters anywhere within the plot. To top it all off: no real villains are present, which makes Funnybone the rat ever so close to the likes of Nicholas and Dark Heart...
But, fortunately, the five songs are nothing short of delightful. For those who have seen the trailer at amazon.com and the official Care Bears web site, the Joke-a-lot anthem is a worthy, congratulatory sing-along (when the movie premiered on Disney Channel on December 12th, I had a great time singing along with it). Otherwise, the rest are somehow forgettable.
So, in the end, "Journey to Joke-a-lot" is a somewhat above-average comeback of a well-known toy franchise from well over two decades ago, and only if fans and kids alike can ever survive its creepiness (and honestly I have). Bottom line: it's funnier than the Shrek films, but scarier than the Polar Express.
That being said, and the fact that I still love the Bears as a 18-year-old, gives this fourth instalment my most solid vote of 7 after "Jetsons: The Movie" and "Hocus Pocus". Yet I am still hoping for better to come when another movie is made.
To quote the amazon.com review by A. Wagner: "This movie had great potential - it's too bad they blew it."
ALSO RECOMMENDED: Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, Finding Nemo, the Toy Story and Shrek films, The Incredibles, and (of course) the original Care Bears Movie from 1985.
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