In my previous post, I mentioned that Cubbi, one of the kid bears in the Gummi Bears cartoon, annoyed me. The pink scamp, always armed with a wooden sword, dreams of a life of swashbuckling adventure, and his hyperactive antics just rub me the wrong way. Here’s a Cubbi-centered episode, however, that I like – if only because the cheeky brat gets hit with something uncommon in kid’s cartoons: disillusionment.
Duke Igthorn hires Flint Shrubwood, an emotionless bounty-hunter, to capture a Gummi Bear, promising twenty gold sovereigns as pay. The job turns out to be pretty easy for Shrubwood, as he tracks and snatches Cubbi with little trouble. When Iggy welshes on the fee, though, Shrubwood decides to take the duke captive as well. Thus one of my favorite cartoon scenarios is spun: a threat from outside the usual formula interferes, forcing the good guys and bad guys to work together to defeat it.
Shrubwood is a terrific threat, too. The show introduces him with some badass acoustic guitar strums, cues that are never used anywhere else in the series. As his name and the episode title suggest, he’s a squinting, soft-spoken caricature of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, and he has the quick draw to match. Even a platoon of Igthorn’s massive ogres can’t stand up to him. He flutes a signature four-note theme to announce himself, and to inspire panic in his quarries. To put it simply, he’s a far more competent villain than Igthorn could ever be, and that’s bad news for everyone.
What really makes this episode stand out, however, is the forced cooperation of Igthorn and Cubbi, who are chained together like The Defiant Ones. Amid the context of their mutual hate and distrust, they have conversations about where Igthorn went wrong as a knight, and the talent of Cubbi’s animators registers that a lesson is being learned: the world is not as simple as the little bear thought it was. At the climax, Cubbi has to make a big decision, and the scene is admirably subtle in its power and sentimentality, an impressive achievement for a Saturday morning cartoon. It still moves me when I watch it, and that’s why this is one of my favorite cartoons ever.