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Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears: Volume 1 DVD Review

Buy Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears: Volume 1 DVD from Amazon.com Adventures of The Gummi Bears: Volume 1 (1985-1987)
Show & DVD Details

Producer/Directors: Arthur Vitello, Alan Zaslove

Associate Producer: Tom Ruzicka / Producer: Tad Stones

Regular Writers: Bruce Talkington, Douglas Hutchinson, Mark Zaslove, Michael Maurer, Bruce Reid Schaefer / Story Editors: Jymn Magon, Tad Stones

Voice Cast: June Foray (Grammi Gummi), Lorenzo Music (Tummi Gummi), Paul Winchell (Zummi Gummi), Noelle North (Cubbi Gummi, Princess Calla), Katie Leigh (Sunni Gummi), Michael Rye (Duke Igthorn, King Gregor, Sir Gowan), Will Ryan (Unwin, Gad, Zook, Ogres), Corey Burton (Gruffi Gummi, Toadie [Seasons 2-3]), Christian Jacobs (Cavin - Season 1), Bill Scott (Gruffi Gummi, Toadie, Various [Season 1]), Rob Paulsen (Gusto Gummi), Roger C. Carmel (Sir Tuxford), Brett Johnson (Cavin - Season 2), Brian Cummings (Artie Deco, Various [Season 2]) / Guest Stars: Bob Holt (Dom Gordo, Giant), Pat Parris (Trina), Jim Cummings (Chummi Gummi), Lennie Weinrib (Zorlock), Howard Morris (Sir Paunch), Tress MacNeille (Marzipan, Great Oak), Frank Welker (Ditto, Mother Griffin, Mervyns), David Faustino (Knight of the Gummadoon)

Running Time: 665 Minutes (47 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-Y equivalent)
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English (Enhanced for the Hearing Impaired)
DVD Release Date: November 14, 2006
Original Airdates: September 14, 1985 - November 11, 1989
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s); Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Cardboard box with three clear slim keepcases

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Page 1: Show Discussion, Season 1 Episodes (Disc 1 and Disc 2)
Page 2: Season 2 and 3 Episodes (Disc 2 and Disc 3), Video/Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

In 1985, over thirty years had passed from when Walt Disney and his studio first embraced television and quickly began producing shows in weekly and daily formats. Yet in that time, the Walt Disney Company -- long renowned for animation -- had remarkably never attempted an animated television series. Many other studios had and in doing so, found success with shows like "Huckleberry Hound", "The Flintstones", "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show", and "Underdog."
But during that period, if you were watching a Disney cartoon on TV, it was either a short or feature film that was made for, and already exhibited in, theaters. That changed on September 14, 1985, when Disney debuted a pair of original cartoon series on Saturday morning network television.

One of those shows was "The Wuzzles", a colorful 'toon about a mixed-up island inhabited by winged hybrid animals. Though the characters were marketed into toys, games, and books, the show was cancelled after just 13 episodes and left the air in 1987. The other was "Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears", which would also accrue thirteen half-hours of television programming in its first year, but was successful enough to continue on for five subsequent seasons. "The Gummi Bears", as it is frequently referred to and even occasionally titled, centers on a colorful group of magical bears who secretly live in a forest during what appears to be the Middle Ages. In setting, genre, and character design, the series bears some resemblance to The Black Cauldron, which opened in theaters just seven weeks before "Gummi Bears" took to the airwaves. But whereas Black Cauldron had a dark tone and PG-rated content many deemed too scary for young children, "The Gummi Bears" was warm, colorful, inviting, and well-suited for the kid-friendly domain of Saturday morning television.

The title logo for "Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears", as it appears beginning in Season 2. Left to right: Cubbi, Sunni, Gruffi, Zummi, Tummi, and Grammi. They are the Gummi Bears!

The six central Gummi Bears run quite a gamut in age, personality, and appearance. They are not directly related (though "Gummi" is like a surname to the entire race), but they form a type of family dynamic in which each member has his or her own place. Zummi, the eldest bear, is in charge of the spells found in the Great Book of Gummi; though he is known to jumble his words, he is wise, as underscored by his status as the only bespectacled one in the bunch. Grammi Gummi is a somewhat tough motherly figure who is the designated cook and is also in charge of the legendary secret of Gummiberry juice. Often butting heads with Grammi is Gruffi, the resident technician, who lives up to his name by being gruff and bossy. Tummi Gummi also has an appropriate name, as the tubby, slow-witted bear with a big appetite; he is perhaps the most universally likable character, and serves as a gentle comic relief. Rounding out the gang are the two youngest Gummi Bears: Sunni, an adolescent with a mildly Tinker Bell-esque look, who wants to be a princess (in part because she befriends one) and Cubbi, the adventurous youngest member of the bunch who yearns to be a knight.

Unlike many of Disney's subsequent cartoon series which operate in purely anthropomorphized animal worlds, "The Gummi Bears" finds its titular protagonists interacting with human characters on a regular basis. Most of mankind considers Gummi Bears to be mythological in nature, which ensures that the Gummis keep a low-key presence, out of sight in their extensive tree house Gummi Glen and traveling (by foot or log flume) through a series of underground caves and tunnels. But two humans meet the Gummis and develop a secret rapport with the group. They are Cavin, a skinny royal page, and Calla, a princess who on occasion gets fed-up with her royal life. The two kids find themselves in the midst of adventure due to their alliance, and both protect the Gummi Bears' secret from Dunwyn's Triton-like King Gregor and his various guards.

One other human who knows of the Gummis is Duke Iggy Igthorn, the series' regular villain. Igthorn's knowledge of the Bears leads him on one of two eternal wild goose chases; the other pursuit, sometimes related, has him thirsting to take over the Castle Dunwyn. Though not the most inspired antagonist, Igthorn is serviceable to the show, albeit all too commonly resorted to in order to provide some conflict. Igthorn's own Castle Drekmore is expectedly drab, but it is here where he rules over his minions, who happen to be dense ogres, with assignments such as licking the castle clean. Most prominent among Igthorn's henchmen is the diminutive Toadie.

Duke Igthorn has ogres for thugs, but his right-hand minion is Toadwart ("Toadie"), held here in Iggy's left hand. The Gummis team with human friends Cavin and Princess Calla to protect Castle Dunwyn.

Of course, the show is called "Gummi Bears", and even integral human characters remain peripheral, as do other fantastic creatures that turn up including dragons, trolls, and griffins. It is the Gummis and their way of life that defines the series and engages its viewers.
The extremely catchy theme tune by Silversher & Silversher states, "magic and mystery are part of their history, along with the secret of Gummiberry juice." Drinking Gummiberry juice gives the Gummis more bounce than a bouncy ball. Its effects are short-term but its applications endless, which explains why the Gummis are so protective of the Gummiberries from which the drink is made. It also sheds light on why Igthorn often sees the berries as a key to his fantasized widespread domination; though for humans, the potion yields strength (most of the time), not bounce. The fabled berries are only one element in the Gummis' rich tradition; fulfilling the magic quotient is the Great Book of Gummi, which is opened in the debut episode by a special Gummi medallion needed to operate it. The Great Book presents opportunities for spells that sometimes wrap lessons in them.

As one of the first ventures for what was initially called the Walt Disney Pictures Television Animation Group, "The Gummi Bears" is not merely a fun show, it's also an influential one. The series' skillful storytelling paved the way for many hits to come, like "DuckTales", "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers", "TaleSpin", "Darkwing Duck", "Gargoyles", and so on. "Gummi Bears" is actually a bit more creative than many subsequent Disney cartoon series, as it doesn't so heavily rely on formulas and doesn't hedge upon reawakening and reinventing vintage characters. Beyond Disney, "Gummi Bears" also contributed to a television landscape that offered youngsters no shortage of animated delights in the 1980s. Many were more commercial in nature than it and a number do not hold up so well.

The animation of "Gummi Bears" obviously employs some cost-cutting, but it looked good then and it holds up pretty well today. A satisfactory number of domains are explored in each episode, so that the innovation does not feel limited. The design of the characters is interesting. The Gummi Bears are hardly bear-like; they're basically the quintessential cuddly animals and almost animal-humans, fully anthropomorphized down to family archetypes, only with more color to distinguish them.

The cast is marked by two voices familiar to viewer of '80s TV cartoons: Paul Winchell (Tigger in "The New Adventures" and everything before it) plays Zummi, while Lorenzo Music (Garfield of "Garfield and Friends" and Peter Venkman in "The Real Ghostbusters") is Tummi; the way their "Gummi" personalities sound and act reminds readily of the actors' more familiar gigs. (Sadly, both passed away earlier this decade.) The voice cast also includes the accomplished June Foray (Rocky J. Squirrel and hundreds of others.

Look closely! There are six Gummis in that shrubbery. Zummi has a good idea. Just you keep him near. He'll be so good for the Gummi Bears!

The series' run is impressive in several ways. The final episode tally comes to 65 half-hours, a pretty standard run for today's Disney Channel comedies, many syndicated cartoons, and subsequent entries to The Disney Afternoon.
But "Gummi Bears" was not mass-produced the way that later Disney cartoons would be. It ran for six distinct seasons, being selected for renewal each year through 1990. Such endurance is no small feat in the world of Saturday morning cartoons, as not even '90s successes like "Batman: The Animated Series" and "X-Men" can claim as many seasons. Although, next to the adult-friendly primetime mammoth "The Simpsons" (which has amassed nearly six times as much programming), it doesn't seem as big of a deal.

One year after Buena Vista Home Entertainment began releasing Disney's fondly-remembered cartoon series of the '80s and '90s on DVD, "The Gummi Bears" has been tapped for a Volume 1 - Seasons 1-3 release. The three-disc box set comes in the mold of earlier packages given last fall to "DuckTales" and "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" and last summer to "TaleSpin" and "Darkwing Duck"; it's packed to the brim with episodes, completely barren of bonus features, and boasting spotty picture and sound. Volume 1 holds the first half of the 95-episode series. The 47 episodes -- 11 half-hour and 36 quarter-hour -- are apparently arranged by production order.

Early episodes find a shortage of new characters being introduced, which is fine, since the regular and recurring cast is already bigger than most cartoon series' rosters. Later, new creatures and characters are introduced on a fairly regular basis. A stretch in the middle of Disc 2 (including the Season 1 finale and Season 2 premiere) underscores the Gummis' feelings of isolation from others of their kind. Season 3's stories are a bit more substantial and its animation appears to be a bit improved too. This year, however, phases out Cavin and employs the imaginative artist Gusto Gummi on occasion. Gusto, introduced at the end of Season 2, lives outside of Gummi Glen with his toucan friend Artie Deco; while their presence changes the make-up of the show, it is not easy to determine if it's good or bad, since the improvement in scripts and visuals seems more noticeable. Through it all, there is a respectable amount of chronology for a non-serial cartoon series, though naturally the events of most episodes are self-standing and never again referenced.

Synopses of the 47 episodes on Volume 1 follow, with a star () denoting fifteen standout episodes in this collection. (Note that reliable air dates are hard to come by, since not many were keeping track of such a thing on Saturday mornings two decades ago. While the consensus seems to be that quarter-hour episodes were mixed and matched to fill half-hour timeslots, some of the reported airdates predate the production year in the end credits, which is why they are punctuated with a question mark.)

Disc 1

Season 1

Gummi medallion-wearin' Cavin surprises the Bears in the premiere episode. Angelo Davini is "The Sinister Sculptor." Rated PG-13. Starts Friday. This friendly dragon chats with the Gummis in "Someday My Prints Will Come."

1. "A New Beginning" (23:07) (Originally aired September 14, 1985)
Cavin meets the Gummi Bears, who return to greatness when their book of potent spells opens again. Together, they stand up against Igthorn and his newly-built catapult.

2. "The Sinister Sculptor" (11:40) (Originally aired November 2, 1985)
Four of the Gummi Bears get trapped by Angelo Davini, a conniving sculptor who uses magic powder instead of clay,
leading the bickering Gruffi and Grammi to the castle to try to save their friends. (This episode is one of a few which contain brief cameos by Disney's most famous mouse and duck, usually in statue form.)

3. "Zummi Makes It Hot" (11:10) (Originally aired December 14, 1985)
With the Gummiberry juice supply dwindling, the Bears' efforts to fix the problem lead them to their water source in the ogre-filled land of Drekmore. There, Zummi faces his fear of heights.

4. "Someday My Prints Will Come" (11:39) (Originally aired November 30, 1985)
After discovering a secret passageway, Tummi ends up in a runaway mechanical leg, which leads the townspeople to fear a dragon on the loose. The Gummi Bears do encounter a dragon, but she is a friendly one.

5. "Can I Keep Him?" (11:10) (Originally aired November 23, 1985)
During their reluctant playtime, Sunni and Cubbi summon a dragon with a flute. Things get dangerous when the dragon flies them to Igthorne's castle.

Seeing double? One of these Princess Callas is actually a Gummi Bear. Igthorn makes an offering to "The Oracle." Cubbi adopts this wolf cub in "Loopy, Go Home."

6. "A Gummi in a Gilded Cage" (22:49) (Originally aired September 21, 1985)
When Sunni gets captured by a vulture, the rest of the gang naturally tries to rescue her. Meanwhile, she's got to sing around the clock to please her captors.

7. "The Oracle" (11:40) (Originally aired November 30, 1985)
Tummi's diet and Igthorn's yearning to take over Castle Dunwyn collide when Tummi convinces the Duke that he is an all-knowing oracle in order to score some sumptuous food offerings.

8. "When You Wish Upon a Stone" (11:10) (Originally aired October 21, 1989)
Discouraged by his stature, Cavin hopes the Gummi Bears and a granted wish will make him bigger and things better. But after he comes face to face with a giant, he feels differently.

9. "A Gummi By Any Other Name" (22:51) (Originally aired November 9, 1985)
Zummi gives Sunni a changing hat which she uses to become Princess Calla. Meanwhile, the real Calla, disenchanted with royal life, tries her hand at peasantry with help from Cavin. Confusion ensues when Igthorn and his ogres kidnap Calla...twice!

10. "Loopy, Go Home" (11:40) (Originally aired October 19, 1985)
Cubbi adopts a wolf cub and names him Loopy. Gruffi doesn't approve, until he comes face to face with the poacher who trapped Loopy's mother.

11. "A-Hunting We Will Go" (11:11) (Originally aired November 11, 1989)
With the men busy cleaning the tunnels, Grammi and Sunni team with Calla to protect the woods from a giant boar.

Happy Monarch's Day, King Gregor. Hope you like ugly stone creatures! The words "please" and "thank you" have dramatic effects on Gruffi in "Sweet and Sour Gruffi." Dom Gordo of Gent clashes with Duke Igthorn in "Duel of the Wizards."

12. "The Fence Sitter" (11:40) (Originally aired December 7, 1985)
The Gummi Bears try a number of methods to get rid of a big bird whose presence threatens their Gummiberry supply. While the rest of the gang tries to sway Tummi's tie-breaking vote, Cubbi formulates a plan of his own.

13. "Night of the Gargoyle" (11:11) (Originally aired November 23, 1985)
For Monarch's Day, King Gregor receives a tiny gargoyle statue that is supposedly from the Gummi Bears. It's not, but they're the ones who come to his rescue when the malicious gargoyle comes to life at nightfall.

14. "The Secret of the Juice" (22:50) (Originally aired November 16, 1985)
Iggie and his ogres make repeated efforts to kidnap Grammi as part of their plan to begin producing Gummiberry Juice. Grammi also tries to pass down the secret recipe to Sunni, with some difficulty.

15. "Sweet and Sour Gruffi" (11:40) (Originally aired September 28, 1985)
Gruffi's bossy leadership in response to storm damage leads the other bears to put a kindness spell on him, only the words "please" and "thank you" have drastic effects on his behavior.

16. "Duel of the Wizards" (11:10) (Originally aired October 12, 1985)
The famous wizard Dom Gordo of Gent, in Dunwyn for some unique herbs, has his magic key stolen by Igthorn. While Gordo is destroying the forest, Zummi tries to out-spell him, with some help from Gruffi.

"What You See Is Me" finds Tummi making a human friend of the visually impaired variety. Talk about indigestion! This baby cliff dragon has some major "Bubble Trouble." Grammi and Cubbi try to reason with a slumber sprite. When in Drekmore...

Disc 2

17. "What You See Is Me" (11:39) (Originally aired October 14, 1989)
Tummi befriends Trina, a friendly blind woman who helps keep him hidden while Igthorn and his ogres search for Gummis.

18. "Toadie's Wild Ride" (11:10) (Originally aired December 7, 1985)
Toadie gets catapulted by Igthorn and ends up in the Gummis' picnic.
But everyone thinks Tummi's lying when he blames the little ogre for a string of mishaps.

19. "Bubble Trouble" (11:40) (Originally aired November 1, 1986)
In trying to live down a reputation for thoughtlessness, Sunni cares for Bubbles, a baby cliff dragon named for the explosion-causing bubbles his hiccups produce.

20. "Gummi In a Strange Land" (11:11) (Originally aired October 5, 1985)
Grammi and Cubbi brave danger in Drekmore while tracking down the slumber sprite who has put a sleeping spell on Gruffi.

21. "Light Makes Right" (22:52) (Originally aired December 21, 1985)
Excited by Zummi's story of the ancient Gummi Bears who fled Gummi Glen long ago, the gang pursues contacting the Gummis across the ocean. However, Igthorn learns of the Great Gummi-Scope (the requisite communication device) and sees it as his ticket to the Dunwyn throne.

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Page 1: Show Discussion, Season 1 Episodes (Disc 1 and Disc 2)
Page 2: Season 2 and 3 Episodes (Disc 2 and Disc 3), Video/Audio, Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

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Reviewed November 13, 2006.