Actually, there were two Care Bears specials. But we’ll – ok, I – won’t forget that one.Anyway, long story short: continuing on with the history of animation production companies of our childhood, the third in the series. During week one, we looked at the short-lived syndication unit of Columbia Pictures (at the time, owned by Coca-Cola Telecommunications), and last week, we explored the incredible world of DIC Entertainment. That brings us to today’s company.
I closed out on that little hint last week that this is not about Nelvana. The neon polar bear (well, he isn’t neon anymore) is still going. But there was this other Canadian animation studio, also based in Ontario, that was successful for some years, before meeting their end under the crush of debt by the end of the 1980s.
The History of Atkinson Film-Arts
Atkinson Film-Arts was established in 1978 by Vic Atkinson, and was based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The company specialized in holiday specials, but also had a hand in several animated series, including Dennis the Menace, COPS, The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, and the first season of The Raccoons (as well as their associated pre-series specials).
In 1982, Atkinson Film-Arts acquired one of Canada’s oldest film studios, Crawley Films, and renamed it to Crawleys Animation in 1987.
As of 1986, they employed 150 animators, and was one of the top ten animation studios in North America.
That One Care Bears Special…
Well, again, there were two…
Atkinson Film-Arts did the animation for the first two Care Bears animated specials.
The Care Bears In the Land Without Feelings (first-run syndication, April 1983), and The Care Bears Battle the Freeze Machine (first-run syndication, April 1984), both of which employ a murky, dark and somewhat more depressing animation style that (thankfully) was non-existent once the show went to series a few years later. By then, it was animated by Nelvana, distributed by DIC Entertainment (ah, a reference to last week’s article as well as that other, still existing Canadian animation studio). It also had a better theme song that could get stuck in your head for days!
Or minutes, but I know I’m not the only person whose brain works that way.
So, why the shift away from Atkinson Film-Arts? Kenner and American Greetings were unhappy with the animation quality of the specials, thus the transfer to other studios. It’s not that the animation was terrible, but Nelvana definitely did a better job with all subsequent series and films.
So, what is it about Care Bears in the Land Without Feelings that gets me? It’s creepy! The part with the green slave creatures (and the boy who gets turned into one) absolutely creeped me out as a kid.
Perhaps it was the animation? I’ve never been able to put my finger on it…
I tried to watch it again in my 20s (figuring it was creepy because I was about 4 years old when I saw it), but nope, still creepy. I just watched that one scene twice a few minutes ago and…my opinion has not changed about this scene at all. I think now it isn’t necessarily just the animation, but also Professor Coldheart’s dialogue – “QUIET…SLAVE!” I know it’s a kid’s cartoon, but whoah!
I was watching a promo for Land Without Feelings, and someone – no lie – wrote in reference to the transformed children, “frog-like freaks.” I’m serious!
To be honest, I don’t even remember the last time I saw Care Bears Battle the Freeze Machine, probably because the previous special was so off-putting.
It’s ok young man. The author really gets antsy about the “frog-like freaks!”
They Redeemed Themselves…
Atkinson Film-Arts actually had better successes with what came next for them. They animated a popular Canadian cartoon called The Racoons.
Title cards…now with fireworks!
The show aired on the CBC in Canada and They Disney Channel here in the states, but I don’t remember it being particularly popular merchandise-wise at the time. I also didn’t have The Disney Channel until it became part of our basic cable lineup in the mid-1990s (I think 1997).
Looking at information about the series, which is plentiful, it boasted a pretty impressive grouping of singing talent (for the time, at least), including John Schneider (yes, Bo Duke), Rita Coolidge, Dottie West, Leo Sayer (you make him feel like dancing) and Rupert Holmes (yes, the guy who wants to know if you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain) for the show’s songs and voice work during the early pre-series specials.
The series itself ran for an impressive five seasons, which is almost unheard of for a cartoon for its time (you know, aside from that one featuring a family with yellow skin whose kids never age).
Upload via Give Me My 80s Cartoons
But the animation is pretty cute, much better than those Care Bears specials.
Atkinson Film-Arts, in addition to those early Care Bears specials and The Raccoons, also did animation for the 1985 film The Body Electric (an animated film featuring the music of the Canadian rock band Rush), provided a segment for the 1981 Heavy Metal segments “Harry Canyon” and “B-17.”
Upload via Rush (This is not the TV special, just the music video for the Rush song of the same name)
As mentioned, they also did the animation for a few notable holiday-themed specials, as well as The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin.
Upload via mschwartz311
They also did an animated version of The Velveteen Rabbit, which I remember seeing years ago (aside from having the book), and it is beautifully animated and well told.
So, what happened to Atkinson Film-Arts?
The Later Years, and The End
Facing massive debt in 1989, Atkinson Film-Arts shut down in 1989, after 11 years in the business, leaving behind a pretty impressive collection of specials and television shows, remembered regardless of being Canadian or American.
CBC Ottawa Profile: Atkinson Film-Arts
This November 1986 profile from CBC Ottawa tells the story of Atkinson Film-Arts, which was at its peak at that time.
Upload via toonguy85
As For the Logo…
Atkinson Film-Arts had a pretty straight forward, short, sweet, and to the point logo, as logos go.
Upload via MachineryNoise
Often, the logo would be combined with that of other production companies, among them DIC Entertainment and any children’s home video label of the time.
There was also another version of the logo:
Upload LogicSmash (and combined with the classic Hi-Tops Video logo!)
I’ve never been a huge fan of logos that had synth-type sounds like this one, but it tends to be the “calmest” synth-based production logo song.
And Now, You!
Do you remember Atkinson Film-Arts and its associated productions? Sound off in the comments below.
Next week, another defunct animation production company as we wrap up this month’s theme.
Have a great day!
In Case You Missed It…
The Time The Coca-Cola Made Television Shows (May 7, 2019) – The story of syndication unit Coca-Cola Telecommunications, who had a brief hand in several animated series, as well as non-animated syndicated programs…as well as an Action Max VHS game.
The Incredible World of DIC! (May 14, 2019) – The story of DIC Entertainment, its well-known cartoons, and its even more well-known production logos.