Watch on Sunday, 29 November on Cartoon Network (DStv 301) at 16:05
Watch on Sunday, 29 November on Cartoon Network (DStv 301) at 16:05

From human rights to road trips to raves – the We Bare Bears movie journey

We Bare Bears creator Daniel Chong reveals talks about the thoughts and feelings behind creating the Bears’ first movie

When We Bare Bears: The Movie comes out on Sunday, 29 November on Cartoon Network (DStv 301) at 16:05, we’ll get to see bear best bros Grizz, Pan-Pan and Ice Bear go on a rather different sort of adventure. Daniel Chong, We Bare Bears creator, explains, “The thing about making a movie is that the stakes have to be a lot higher and the story is longer, so you have to push and get more emotionally out of your characters than you ever have before. The hope is that it still feels like the show, it just feels as if this is a very big adventure. We also knew that if we're going to make a movie, the world in the show has to change at the end. It can’t be like a regular episode when we kind of re-start where the episode ends and you re-start back from zero. When you make a movie, you need the world to evolve and change because that’s the reason you go on a journey.”

That journey begins when the people of San Francisco become fed up with the cumulative effect of the Bears’ efforts to go viral – which we’ve been watching throughout the series. A town meeting is called, and in steps Agent Trout of Wildlife Control (a stand-in in the story for the US’s ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which has been guilty of serious human rights abuses). He not only believes that bears don’t belong in the city at all, he wants to split up the trio and deport them to more “natural” environments for their kind in China and the Arctic. Sensing cold cages and cruel separation in their future, the Bears decide to escape together and take an epic road trip up to their new home across the border, Canada.

Now Daniel talks about some of the thoughts behind the movie and a couple of favourite scenes…

Unbearable situations

While you were writing, what became the heart of the film?

Daniel: The most important thing that we wanted to do was to really test the relationship of the brothers and put them on a journey and a situation that was really going to call into question their relationship in a big way. One of the questions everyone asks, even the brothers themselves have asked, is: “We don’t even look alike. Why do we call each other brother?” That aspect will be questioned a lot.

When you make an animated show you get away with a lot of logic jumps. For example, why are the bears living among humans? Who allowed that to just happen (Daniel laughs). Why is it normal? Because it’s an animated show, you’re allowed to get away with things like that, we generally go along with it. With the movie, we’re using it to poke holes in this cartoon logic. That's the premise of the movie, which is basically, who allowed this to happen [three bears from different species living together in the city and wandering around stacked on top of each other]? Why is it okay? Shouldn’t we wonder if this is normal? We’re playing with that idea. At the same time, we’re using it as a metaphor for racism and for how people treat each other when they look different. That was the general goal and dramatic theme we were hoping to achieve in the movie.”

Grizz is taken to a camp for stray bears. Does that tie in with immigration issues in the US?

Daniel: Yeah. Definitely, The biggest thing that was happening when we wrote this story was families were being separated at the (Mexico-US) border and it was a terrible thing that was happening. We were already writing towards that direction, so when it started happening in America, we had a choice: We could start backing away and be a bit more careful about it, or we go all in. This is what we’re trying to talk about, to talk about the horrifying truth of this, and then go in for it. It felt disingenuous to even attempt to show these kind of things but not help people to contextualise it in the real world. I don’t think we, at the outset, wanted to make a political movie. What was most important to us was to show that these are just human rights issues. These are things that shouldn’t have to do with politics. It should really have to do with what is the right thing to do as human beings. That’s what we were hoping to tell our audiences.

Stacking up those Bears

Which scene did you end up sending the story artists the most notes on?

Daniel (laughing): Oh wow. We have a very rigorous story process and a lot of that comes from working at Pixar and Disney and in feature animation. Certainly there’s a lot of budget, but what that also allows is you to redo the story many times. And that’s what allows the animation and the movie to get better and better – you’re able to re-storyboard and rewrite multiple times and see it in drawing form. And sometimes that’s something live action doesn’t have or go through or experience. So for us, we did it for almost every sequence! For example, the third act? We re-boarded that many times. We rewrote it, and the artists got lots of notes – and that definitely is tough on the artists.

But the most important thing is that they understand the process, that they become a part of it. We’re also allowing them to put themselves into it. Their thoughts, their writing, their experiences. We have a certain process in our show, too, where we write an outline but we don’t write all the dialogue out. We give it to the story artists to help flesh out a lot of those things and write their own dialogue sometimes, too. We allow the visual artists to go in there and put their stamp on the scene. And it allows us to change a lot because the artist is engrained in every part of the process.

Tell us about a scene that came back from the artists and made you think, “This is even better than I imagined!”

Daniel: Oh yeah, a lot of times that happened! That’s part of the magic of letting the story artists run with it. They’re merging the visuals with the writing on the spot. It has this improvisational aspect of it. A lot of times it works really well when it comes to action sequences. In our third act, there’s a big natural disaster that happens and the Bears are doing a lot of action things where they’re fighting the bad guy. And there are a lot of things that the storyboard artist did that are not in the script, they just added it in and it just came out way better than I thought. I am really proud of the third act. It came together so well because the board artist really expanded on what the ideas were and it made those action scenes really powerful.

Viral at last!

How did you create the viral animal celebrity rave party, Internet Animal Fest?

Daniel: We toyed with internet animals, obviously, in our show a lot, like NomNom who is an internet animal. This was just the opportunity to in a movie, to expand everything. This was an opportunity to go into the world of these animals and get to know them and see their personalities. It came kind of at the midpoint of the movie, which gave them a chance to talk to the Bears and give them a sense of what their lives were like, and show the Bears the life that they could have. It just was just fun to do it for the movie, getting to resurface all those videos. We had some story artists look up as many internet animals as we could, and every animal at that internet rave party is a (real) famous animal that’s on the internet. Hopefully people will have fun identifying them.

PS: How many famous real-life animals can you spot? Take a sneak peek at the Internet Animal Fest scene in the video at around 15:30

Bear with us

While this movie officially marked the end of the We Bare Bears series at the end of S5 (we’re just up to S4 in South Africa), this is not the end of the tale for the Bears. We Baby Bears S1 will be coming to South Africa in November 2021. The prequel-ish series features baby versions of Grizzly, Panda and Ice Bear (drawn in a more anime style), who’re looking for a place to fit in and settle down. Via their magical box, they’ll explore all sorts of fairytale lands and meet famous storybook characters.

Watch We Bare Bears: The Movie on Sunday, 29 November on Cartoon Network (DStv 301) at 16:05

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