Cartoon Network has had a history of cutting edge kids’ programming, stuff that’s way smarter than anything parents had to endure when they watched preschool dreck with their kids. But the shows that stand out are the ones with real heart, like Daniel Chong’s We Bare Bears. In 2020, CN aired the conclusion to the bears’ story in We Bear Bears: The Movie, which now arrives on HBO Max. Read on for more.
WE BARE BEARS: THE MOVIE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: We Bare Bears: The Movie continues the story of brother bears Grizzly (Eric Edelstein), Panda (Bobby Moynihan) and Ice Bear (Demetri Martin), who live in a cave right outside of San Francisco. The brothers, whom we see in Grizz’s dream meeting for the first time when Baby Grizz (Sam Lavagnino) saved Baby Panda (Max Mitchell) from the train tracks, with the help from a ninja-like Baby Ice Bear (Mitchell).
The grown-up bears barrel their way through the city to a new poutine food truck, disrupting things and pretty much ticking everyone off. When they get to the truck, they take a selfie for social media but get no likes. When they see internet animal star Nom Nom (Patton Oswalt) get cheers and his own Nom Nom-shaped poutine.
Determined to become internet famous, they arrange a livestream of the three of them inserting themselves in every meme from the past ten years. It takes over people’s screens and everyone laughs… until the feed overloads and blows devices and power across the city. People are tired of the bears and their hijinks — it’s especially troubling to them when the bears stack on top of each other — and they want local Officer Murphy (Keith Ferguson) to do something about it.
But Murphy isn’t in charge of bear control anymore; in busts National Wildlife Control Agent Trout (Marc Evan Jackson), who wants to send all city wildlife to a reserve (read: prison)… or worse. The bears are loaded into the back of a police van, but soon find out that they’ve been sprung by their bigfoot buddy Charlie (Jason Lee).
That’s when Grizz hatches a plan: They should make a run to Canada! “They love bears there!,” which is what he learned when they went to the poutine truck. They do some sightseeing, and have to escape Trout and his minions’ clutches at least once. Along the way, the bears plunge to the bottom of a ravine, but end up going to a rave chock full of internet famous animals, who almost kick them out for not having any followers (even Pizza Rat (Fabrizio Guido) has a million).
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: This may be a cheat, but since this is more or less the conclusion of the We Bare Bears series, which aired on Cartoon Network between 2015 and 2019, we’ll go with that.
Performance Worth Watching: All of the voices in this movie do a great job, but we’re partial to Demetri Martin’s Ice Bear, who is a bear of few words but lots of action. “Don’t shove Ice Bear. Ice Bear knows where to go,” he confidently says as he gets loaded into the police van.
Memorable Dialogue: “Ice Bear ready to do or die.” Did we tell you how much we liked Ice Bear?
What Age Group Is This For?: Like the series, We Bare Bears: The Movie will likely go over the heads of kids that are under 8 years old.
Our Take: We Bare Bears, created by Daniel Chong based on his webcomic The Three Bare Bears, has a heart to go along with the funny moments where the bear brothers try to fit in with the humans they live with, and the movie that concludes their story has the same heart. Unlike most Cartoon Network productions, it’s not trying to blow viewers out with rapid-fire jokes or meta references — though there are still a bunch of them, like when The Mystery Machine runs their van off the road. No, the story is about how these three bears became brothers as kids and how they stay brothers as grown-ups.
For some reason, we can’t get enough of bears who act like they’re human, from Winnie The Pooh to Yogi Bear to the Bare Bears. What’s funny about Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear is that they’ve spent so long in the Bay Area that they act more human than bear; they couldn’t even speak bear if they tried. But since they’re, you know, bears, they still scare and disturb the humans, even when the bears just want to fit in.
But seeing the bears work together — and fight, as brothers do — on this road trip to Canada was a lot of fun… until it wasn’t. Once Agent Trout gets them and brings them to the reserve, the show suddenly gets depressing and dramatic, especially as Grizzly surveys all the downtrodden bears he is locked away with. It brings the story to a good conclusion, but Agent Trout is a touch too sadistic and the conditions in the reserve a bit too depressing for a show that’s supposedly for kids.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Despite the bleak last 20 or so minutes before the inevitable happy ending, We Bare Bears: The Movie is a fun watch, whether you were a fan of the original series or not.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.