9 Furry Facts About Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears  

Amazon
Amazon

Before DuckTales, Tale Spin, and House of Mouse, Disney’s first foray into television animation was Adventures of the Gummi Bears, a 1985-1991 series that aired Saturday mornings and featured a troop of benevolent bears with magical powers—very loosely based on the popular German candies—who help a young human boy oppose a tyrannical duke looking to seize their potent “Gummiberry juice.” Running for 65 episodes, the series helped usher in an era of Disney-produced television that would later help populate their growing Disney Channel programming block.

Like most ‘80s toons, it took plenty of cues from The Smurfs. Unlike those knockoffs, it retained much of the Disney touch. Check out some facts on the show’s origins, its controversial animation techniques, and why executives didn’t have much respect for the candy that inspired it.

1. IT WAS ONE OF DISNEY’S FIRST ANIMATED TV SERIES.

When Michael Eisner was brought on as Disney's CEO in 1984, one of his first official acts was to revisit the company’s longstanding policy of staying away from television series animation. Eisner believed that exposing the Disney brand on broadcast networks would be instrumental moving forward, so he started up an official television animation division. The first two projects were Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles, the latter based in part on a Hasbro toy concept about cross-breed animals like a Bumblelion (a bumblebee-slash-lion). While Wuzzles fizzled after one year, Gummi Bears aired on NBC, ABC, and in syndication through 1991.

2. EISNER PICKED GUMMIS OVER MICKEY.

During brainstorming sessions for potential series ideas, Eisner waved off any suggestion of bringing Mickey Mouse to Saturday mornings. The mouse was deemed too special to put on TV, according to Disney animation employee Tad Stones. Instead, Eisner pitched a mythology involving the Gummi (nee Gummy) Bears, a candy Eisner’s kid enjoyed. Although Eisner felt certain anything with the Gummi Bears label would be a hit, his creative team wasn't so sure ...

3. THE CREATIVE TEAM WAS A LITTLE WEIRDED OUT BY THE IDEA.

When Eisner assembled a creative think tank to ponder series ideas, Gummi Bears co-creator and former Disney recording studio staffer Jymn Magon admitted to being a little perplexed by Eisner’s insistence on developing a cartoon based on a candy. “We went into a coffee shop and kinda looked at each other and scratched our heads and said, ‘He’s crazy,’” Magon told the Great Big Beautiful Podcast in 2016. “Well, I mean, you know, it’s like, here’s your main character and we eat him every week, you know. That’s stupid! You know? ... So I went back to producing records, and I get a call on the phone, and it’s the president of the company: ‘Hey Jymn, it’s Michael.’ ‘Oh, hi.’ ‘Where’s my show?’ I thought, Great, you know, and I instantly start typing some of the worst ideas on the planet. We had a bad guy named Licorice Whip. We had a villainous, traitor gummy called Scummi Gummi. Oh, it was horrible.”

4. THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT LICENSING THE CANDY.

As a kind of public domain treat, Gummy Bears didn’t come with the burden of trying to negotiate a licensing fee from any candy manufacturer. Much like "jelly beans," “gummi bears” is a generic term with no central ownership, meaning Disney could bank on a child’s familiarity with the name without having to pay for the rights. This wasn’t a total net positive, however: Critics, like Peggy Charren of the Action for Children’s Television (ACT) group, chastised Disney for creating a show that might encourage kids to eat sugary candy.

Outside the scope of the show, they were doing everything but. Jon Lang, a marketer for the series, once told press that Gummys were like “a cross between three-week-old Jell-O and flavored rubber bands.”

5. IT WAS ONE OF MANY BEAR-ORIENTED CARTOONS ON THE AIR.

For reasons that may never be entirely clear, Saturday morning television in the mid-1980s was very preoccupied with the adventures of anthropomorphic bears. At the same time Gummi Bears aired, CBS was broadcasting The Berenstain Bears, an adaptation of the popular book series; ABC had landed The Care Bears, who used love and hugs instead of mauling their opponents; and Ewoks, a spinoff of the Star Wars franchise that featured the furry Endor creatures, who bore a heavy resemblance to teddy bears.  

6. IT WAS DISNEY DONE ON THE CHEAP.

Unlike the labor-intensive animation process of Disney’s feature films, Gummi Bears marked the company’s foray into the kind of time-conserving limited animation needed to meet a television production schedule. Animation was done in Japan and featured what was considered dialogue-driven scenes, with minimal movement of character faces and limbs as opposed to the conventional Disney technique of animating the entire body. While it was more impressive than most Saturday morning content, Disney purists still complained it was diluting the company’s famous devotion to quality cell animation.  

7. THEY CONSIDERED LEAVING THE DISNEY NAME OFF.

Because it was so difficult to do Disney-level animation on a television budget, there were occasional suggestions that the company could save itself some headaches by leaving the Disney brand off the series. Both Eisner and fellow executive Jeffrey Katzenberg disagreed, believing that the Disney theme parks would need a stream of new characters to use and that, regardless of what the title of the show was, a Disney-produced program couldn’t go on the air “and look like trash.”

8. IT INSPIRED GARGOYLES.

The 1994-1997 Disney animated series Gargoyles, about a band of stone-encased warriors from Scotland who reawaken in modern New York City, drew critical raves for its mature tones. Oddly, it came about because co-creator Greg Weisman was a big fan of Gummi Bears. “So we set out very consciously to create a show like Gummi Bears with that kind of rich backstory and mythology to it, but that would get more respect, honestly,” Weisman said in 2015. “So we did a couple things right off the bat with that in mind. One was, instead of cute little multicolored bears, we did cute little multicolored gargoyles!”

9. IT WAS PART OF A PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDY.

The impact of violent imagery in children’s entertainment has been a perpetual topic of debate. In a 1993 Australian psychology experiment, researchers Ann Sanson and Christine Di Muccio observed behaviors in preschool children following exposure to one of two series: Gummi Bears and the comparatively violent Voltron. The authors then gave the children toys from each series. The group that watched and was then handed Voltron toys seemed to engage in more aggressive play than those who were exposed to the Bears. The apparent moral? Gummi Bears may have promoted cavities, but at least kids would keep their teeth on playgrounds.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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