Cartoons have been very important to me (and still are, even at age 21). I feel like I grew up in the glory days of cartoons, where the powerhouse shows of the 90’s were still on TV and the early 2000’s era where Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and Disney Channel were all at the peak of their powers with intelligent, witty, and timeless humor and characters. Granted, maybe it’s because I’m older now and my standards for quality TV have a higher bar to clear than that of a 9-year-old, but I feel I speak for the people when I say the amount of decent and fresh cartoons has dipped significantly in the past few years. For example, Spongebob is a show where when I would watch it, my dad or my grandpa or anyone else in the room would laugh too. It was just that funny, and it had the “universal” likeability where people of any age could jump in. Many cartoons I’ve seen now feel solely targeted towards the younger audience, which is understandable; that’s the target market for those TV networks. I don’t mean to sound like an old man yelling at a cloud here, but I lost some hope that in the future, cartoons would work to have that universal element again.
My faith has been restored, though, through Daniel Chong’s creation. We Bare Bears stars three very different brothers in San Francisco who also happen to be a grizzly bear, a polar bear, and a panda bear, Grizz, Ice Bear, and Panda respectively. It chronicles the three adopted bros comically adjusting to life amongst humans in San Francisco. Through the dynamic characters, it has the witty, intelligent, and fresh humor that I had been longing for since the days of early Spongebob seasons. Grizz is the leader whose unconditional optimism is almost a flaw, Ice Bear is a quiet “mom” figure of the group, speaking only in third person and having a mysterious backstory that gives him capabilities ranging from being a masterchef to having skills with virtually any weapons, and Panda is socially awkward and addicted to possibly finding love someday through social media on his phone.
That alone certainly makes for an interesting group, but the supporting characters Chong implemented around them bring out their best chemistry; particularly Nom Nom, the internet-famous, spoiled-celebrity Koala; Chloe, the Korean child prodigy in college; and Charlie, who is actually Bigfoot. Chong managed to create a show that isn’t either too far out there or your stereotypical potty-boy humor that takes place in a sitcom-like setting.
I continued to watch for the timeless humor and great characters. At face value, it was just plainly a new and witty cartoon that I grew to love. But as I began to notice more of the details implemented into the show that could be perceived as minute, I realized it may have been more than that. While it does take place in present-day San Francisco, a city where approximately one-third of the population is Asian, I thought that many of the cultural elements just had to do with providing an accurate setting. The Bears are often seen drinking Boba tea, taking in anime or Korean-dramas, eating traditional Korean dishes, and listening to K-pop; on top of that, there are several episodes where we get to see the bears visit Chloe’s house, experiencing what growing up in a Korean family is like during holidays and birthdays firsthand through their interactions.
Outside of the Asian representation, there are also moments that make it appear to be a very current and with-the-times show rather than one that merely exists in its own universe. There are episodes that have 21st century details ranging from food trucks, reusable bags, the takeover of Google and advanced AI, internet fame, and even rideshare services. It would blow me away how culturally-relevant some of the issues it would cover for a mere whimsical cartoon show about bears in San Francisco.
Then, we get to the “baby bear” episodes that are introduced midway through the show. Rather than expand upon how the bears met, the baby bears episodes are prequels chronicling the brothers travelling the world together, just trying to find a home as infants. They’re treated unfairly and endure many struggles. While this is really comedic because they’re just three adorable infant bears trying to make it and the humans still manage to want nothing to do with them, ultimately it portrays the sweet bond they share in being a family by themselves, because that’s all they wish to be a part of.
The Asian representativeness, cultural awareness, and trials and tribulations the baby bears face from the beginning in terms of fitting into society all seemed to make sense to me when I came across a statement released by Chong. Upon the show’s renewal for another season in 2017, he explained his reasoning behind the making of the show: what it feels like to be a minority in America in the present day. While the plots centered around trending topics may be very on-brand for society, I realized that the impact for this generation reaches larger than that. The highly-representative Asian influences are nice to see as the minority group needs way more opportunities to shine in American/worldwide media, but the familial bonds that Grizz, Ice Bear, and Panda have despite being vastly different characters as they try to assimilate into a society where they’re judged (albeit hysterically) and the importance of the love that they have for one another made me immensely proud to love the show. It’s a representative one that this generation of all ages needs, and I’m thankful that Cartoon Network has given this platform to promote diversity and acceptance.