When I reviewed the superb Over The Garden Wall earlier this year, I spoke of the renaissance that has been occurring with Cartoon Network originals in recent years. While original programming has always been one of the network’s strong points, the current crop have hit a new stride with some great creator driven content that manages to offer something for all ages without having to use the ‘wink wink, nudge nudge’ style of coded humour that shows like Dexter’s Laboratory or Powerpuff Girls had to back in the 90s. We Bare Bears continues this positive trend.
Based on creator Daniel Chong’s webcomic ‘The Three Bare Bears’, the series focuses on the daily escapades of a trio of English speaking bears who live in the forest outside an American city whose search for companionship leads to awkward collisions with human culture. Griz (Eric Edelstein) is the over enthusiastic leader of the group, eager to follow trends. Shy, artistic Panda (Bobby Moynihan) is easily intimidated and prefers his personal online space. Lastly, Ice Bear (Demetri Martin) speaks only in the third person, often only to emit a muted threat. The personalities are all distinct but not pushed to such an extreme that you’re tired of them by the end of your first watching, leaving plenty of room to explore these characters and the comedy that can be generated from them in an ongoing series. Part of that can be credited to the vocal performances of the aforementioned actors. If you watch enough mainstream animation you’ll probably be familiar with a stable of consistent yet omnipresent voice actors in near everything. While these recurring talents will often have the skill to maintain such a presence, it’s welcome when a production breaks away from that and casts different vocal talent. The current Cartoon Network productions have been very consistent with exploring this option. Edelstein portrays Griz akin to a loveable goofy uncle you see every so often, while Moynihan brings a similar charm to the more reserved and honest Panda. I think Martin’s Ice Bear is probably going to be the breakout character for this show given the air of mystery coupled with the delivery of one liners as cool as his own name.
Episodes of the show are split into two 11 minute shorts each. The first of these, ‘Our Stuff,’ sees the bears misplace a backpack carrying a personal possession from each of them. Written and storyboarded by Chong, it’s a fun and hilarious introduction that doesn’t waste time pulling over to spoon feed exposition, explaining the characters while the plot is advancing. The three bears all come across naturally and amusingly from their actions and a mystery plot is always a good way to grab audience attention. The story does hit some mild clichés of ‘hunt for lost property’ stories, but the beats are overall fresh.
Secondly we have ‘Viral Video’, in which the trio become aware of the concept of Internet fame and attempt to grab a piece. The presence of the Internet really has changed conventions of story telling, and the idea of Internet fame is no stranger to productions that are nominally aimed at children. However, this episode avoids some of the more ‘on the nose’ satire of the concept while still making some great strikes and highlighting what a silly quest it can be (but please like, comment on, and share this review!!). Comedian Patton Oswalt (Remy in Pixar’s Ratatouille) even makes an amusing guest appearance as a character that I won’t spoil.
If I was asked to make a comparison to existing shows for those curious about giving it a chance, I’d probably suggest a cross between the daily misadventures of Regular Show and the hypnotising, relaxing charm of Steven Universe. The latter is emphasized by Garnet voice actress Estelle singing the catchy opening theme for this show. The show isn’t saccharine but it certainly isn’t trying to be as blunt and obnoxious as many other animated shows out there. I think that’s rather welcome in the face of other outlets believing cartoons should be about yelling and fart jokes.
We Bare Bears gets two thumbs up from me. It’s a charming, cute show with original wit and spark sure to be a hit with all ages.
Ice Bear doesn’t want to hurt you for not watching…
We Bare Bears premieres on Cartoon Network UK 6pm Monday 7th September. New episodes air weekly as part of Mega Mondays.