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Review: We Bare Bears: The Movie

June 30, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

I first discovered the Cartoon Network series We Bare Bears last summer when I came across an episode entitled Shush Ninjas in which the show’s three protagonists, a trio of adoptive bear brothers named Grizz (Eric Edelstein), Panda (Bobby Moynihan) and Ice Bear (Demetri Martin), go to a movie theatre and try to quiet unruly patrons disrespecting the movie-going experience.

Needless to say, I was hooked, and started watching more of the show. The characters are very cute and endearing, the stories are charming, the 2D animation is quite appealing, and the series is also filled with movie references that are fun to pick up on. And now, the Bear Bros have a whole movie to call their own.

The feature length We Bare Bears: The Movie, which dropped on digital platforms today, is perfect for fans of the series. Directed by the show’s creator Daniel Chong, this well-paced 69 minute film unfolds as a road trip adventure, offering the same mix of wacky high jinks the bears are known for, as well as a ton of heart and a moving message about acceptance. It’s also adorable, and I kinda loved it.

The movie opens with a flashback to the bears as cubs, with them first meeting on a railway bridge in a sequence that pays homage to the train scene in Stand By Me. From here, we cut to them as adults, well established in their lives in a cave near San Francisco, and getting perhaps a bit too comfortable in the human world they have adapted to. The bears are already on thin ice after wreaking havoc on their way to try out a new poutine food truck, and things get worse when they accidentally cause a massive outage in the city while drawing a huge amount of power trying to go viral on the internet.

Residents quickly turn against them, and at a town hall meeting, the bears are ordered to leave. They become fugitives, and decide to flee to Canada, spurred on by the hope that “Canadians love bears” and that they will be accepted into our country. But they are being pursued by the mean Agent Trout (Marc Evan Jackson) from the Department of Wildlife Control, who views them as a “threat to the natural order” for their ability to talk, walk on two legs, and stack on top of each other. In essence, he doesn’t like them because they are different, and wants to capture them and send them back to the wild.

What worked about the show is that each of the three main characters have such unique, well-defined personalities. Grizz is an outgoing grizzly bear who just wants to fit in and make new friends; Panda is somewhat insecure, seeking popularity and hopefully a girlfriend; and Ice Bear is, well, Ice Bear is a fiercely independent and highly self-sufficient polar bear with a limited vocabulary who always speaks in third person and is, above all else, very loyal to his brothers. The movie does a nice job of building upon this character development, and serves as a fitting finale to the series, which ran for four seasons.

The show is known for having a modern edge to it and being highly internet-literate, and this pop culture savviness carries over to We Bare Bears: The Movie as well, including an amusing sequence where the bears end up at a rave for viral animal stars. There are also appearances from many of the show’s recurring characters, including Charlie the Bigfoot (Jason Lee), the koala Nom Nom (Patton Oswalt), Korean girl Chloe (Charlyne Yi), and Ranger Tabes (Carmon Esposito). There are some funny sight gags sprinkled throughout, as well as plenty of amusing one-liners, many of which come from Martin’s perfectly deadpan, monotoned delivery of Ice Bear’s dialogue.

The show is often quite funny, but also grounded in something real, having been inspired by Chong’s own experience growing up as an Asian-American kid in San Francisco, being largely accepted but also constantly having the feeling of being seen as the “other.” This balance between the amusing and the bittersweet, which makes the show so appealing, is nicely pulled off by Chong and his team of writers and animators in the movie as well. When you get right down to it, this is a film about the immigrant experience, following a group of outsiders being told, essentially, “you are no longer welcome here.”

Even a precursory glance at the plot will tell you that We Bare Bears: The Movie functions as a political allegory, with many powerful allusions to what’s been happening in America over the past few years, and the rising tide of bigotry and discrimination towards immigrants and newcomers to the country. The film also serves as a nice love letter to Canada and what it represents on the world stage, (I like to think the fact that it is being released the day before Canada Day was intentional), while still acknowledging that we, as a country, also have room to do better.

This is in many ways the completion of Grizz’s story arc, with him learning to embrace his role as protector to his brothers. These bears are a family. They are brothers, even though they look different and don’t share parents, and watching their bond be tested and reaffirmed over the course of We Bare Bears: The Movie is quite satisfying, especially for those of us who are fans of the show.

The finale of the film is surprisingly suspenseful and emotional and very well done, culminating with a series of touching images over the credits. This is a wonderful, heartwarming, and inclusive animated film, guided along by a very timely message about acceptance and embracing differences.

We Bare Bears: The Movie is now available to purchase on a variety of digital platforms in the United States and Canada, including iTunes.

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