SINGAPORE — The We Bare Bears series ended last year, but there’s a new movie centred around the three beloved bears that will really bring the show to a close (well, there’s a spin-off series, but we’ll have more on that later.)
In We Bare Bears: The Movie, the bears face their biggest threat thus far – a wildlife control agent named Agent Trout who is determined to capture the bears after they’re deemed a nuisance by the city. Running from this sinister villain will test the brotherly bonds of Grizz, Ice Bear and Panda.
Cartoon Network released the movie in the US in June early, ahead of the original global schedule, because everyone needed some content to cheer them up while staying at home amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, Asia and the rest of the world get to say farewell too, as the We Bare Bears movie is set to debut across Warner Media’s network of channels simultaneously this Saturday (12 Sept).
We had an exclusive interview with the creator of We Bare Bears himself, Daniel Chong, and talked about what the popular cartoon represents for audiences, what fans can expect from this movie send-off for the bears, and what it means for him as a creator.
One of the major themes of We Bare Bears was the idea of making a home around people who are not like you, a situation which the Bears often find themselves in. This theme came from Daniel’s experience as an Asian-American – his parents are from Singapore. We asked him how he felt as an American born to Singaporean parents who has “lots of family” in Singapore.
A spin-off series, We Baby Bears, is in the works that will feature the Bears as younger cubs. What can you tell us about the spin-off?
I can't really talk much about it, unfortunately, but I am an executive producer on it. It's in development. I've also moved on to a different project now, and I'm working on something else, but I think the team is in good hands. They'll probably make announcements down the line, but it's being worked on right now.
But you’ve left Cartoon Network, isn’t it?
I've left the studio, that is correct. I'm still an executive producer on (the spin-off), but I'm not going to be in charge of that show.
Why the decision to end the We Bare Bears series, or change the format? Do you think your audience grew out of the original show or had you said everything you wanted to say with the Bears?
The honest answer to that was when we were making the movie; we did not know that was gonna be the end of the show. I didn't know what kind of episodes we would make after the movie because so much of the movie changes the world of the show, but I guess we've been doing it for so long, we just assumed we'd just keep going.
The studio decided to end the series and then move on to a spin-off. Your guess is as good as mine; maybe they also did feel that we had done enough. I mean, we definitely did four seasons, which was quite a bit, you know. To end it with the movie, I think, in hindsight now, it was a good call.
Going into a spin-off now is probably a smart thing to do because it gives a refreshed sort of setup for the show. I am totally fine with it. I think the movie does create a nice bookend for the series and says everything we want to say.
What’s that other project that you mentioned you’re working on?
I can’t answer that (laughs). I guess what I can say is that it's a much bigger project, and it's something that is requiring all the sort of experiences and skills that I've learned on Bears, to pull this off. Like a lot of things in animation, it’s gonna take a very long time to make. But I feel more prepared to take something like this on, and I'm excited to share it, but I'm gonna kind of disappear for a little while, while I make it.
Are you still interested in the themes in Bears, such as the parallels to Asians within American society and our relationship with social media?
You know, it's interesting; Bears is the first thing I ever made (as a creator). And I think, in some ways, I couldn't have planned all the things that were in that show. A lot of it comes out as you're writing it and I couldn't have planned from the beginning that this is what I wanted to say, and these are the themes that I care about—you kind of figure that out as you go.
So now that I’ve finished (Bears), I’ve just got to make sure I don't repeat myself. I’ve got to make sure that I don't just do the same thing twice, you know. I have to find a new avenue and new kinds of characters and different kinds of themes and all that stuff. So I think that the goal creatively is always to make sure that you’re pushing yourself and taking yourself out of that comfort zone. You do carry with yourself a lot of the skills and experiences, and the leadership and the work process. You bring that in so that you can work a little smoother.
What can fans expect from We Bare Bears: The Movie as a final story for the series?
I would be the first to say; it's probably not going to answer every question that every fan has had. And one of the reasons for that, as I just mentioned, is that we didn't know this was gonna be the ending (when we were making it). So we weren't trying to tie a bow on every single thing.
Definitely the biggest (question) that we answer is how the bears met, and that was a critical thing for the show that fans have always wanted to know, and that is really at the core of what the movie is about. But to me, what the show is doing is taking this really much bigger theme of acceptance and tolerance and equality, which is what the Bears show has always been about, especially for me, and pushing that idea and making that the forefront of the show, and showing the bears being tested.
This is the most they've ever been tested with that idea. And maybe the fans don't know that that is what they wanted, but I think when we came down to write it, we realised that this is us taking the core of the show and blowing it up and testing it as hard as we can. So I'm hoping that fans will at least feel that catharsis when they watch it.
I understand that your parents are Singaporean, although you were born in the US and you’re a US citizen. Have you ever felt that Singapore was a second home?
I am Singaporean Chinese, and it is special to know that the place where my family is from has embraced the show so much. Weirdly, it sort of creates this connectivity; that I’m kind of connected with, but I'm not, at the same time. But the fact that they have understood and related to my show and embraced it, there's something kind of beautiful and special about having that experience. I'm just really grateful to the Singaporean fans for falling in love with the bears and letting them be a part of their lives.
It's been a couple years since I travelled to Singapore (to promote We Bare Bears), and it was great. I felt very loved and welcomed (by fans of We Bare Bears). My parents, my sister and I used to travel to Singapore during the hot summers. That's what I remember about Singapore the most. We have lots of family there. I have lots of memories of Singapore.
I don't know that I have the right to say that (Singapore is my second home). But I guess it feels that way when you go somewhere, and you see your extended family there. I think there is a level of familiarity. But Singapore's changed so much. It's also unrecognisable, in some ways, when I come back.
Even though it’s a cartoon, We Bare Bears also appeals to adults, because it deals a lot with social media and becoming popular on social media. Were you speaking to a generation that wants to be influencers?
My take on this show was always that it was gonna be a modern show. It was always gonna be a reflection of today, of the world that we live in now and it's something that not a lot of animation shows do. Part of it might be because they don't want to age, or they don't want to show something that's going to be outdated. It is risky for us to go so far in on everyday stuff and things that are happening right now because they could get obsolete pretty quickly.
But the real answer to the ability to cross over to adults and children comes down to this: when we write the show, we try to make it about the things that we find interesting and funny and compelling and meaningful and emotional; the things that we, as artists in my crew, who are all adults, relate to. They're things that we find funny and the things that we are compelled by. So, in a way, we're lucky that what we find interesting also happens to be things that kids can grab on to, and something that adults grab on to.
I don't think that I can take credit for saying that I masterminded who our audience would be. I think it just happened to be that what the crew that I built, and myself, found interesting, just happened to relate to people of all ages and I'm very grateful for that. But it was not planned.
We Bare Bears: The Movie will debut in Asia on 12 September at 11am (SGT) on Cartoon Network as well as these other Warner Media channels: Boomerang, Warner TV, Oh!K, and HBO.