I will preface this review with the statement that I have never seen Cartoon Network’s We Bare Bears series, and I didn’t really know anything about the premise before watching this movie. For years I had seen Cartoon Network’s elaborate displays and booths for the show at San Diego Comic-Con, but I never got around to checking out the series. So when this film arrived at my doorstep for review, I figured this would be a great opportunity to see what it is all about.
Bears Grizzly (Eric Edelstein), Panda (Bobby Moynihan) and Ice Bear (Demetri Martin) have considered each other to be brothers ever since they first met on a train track when they were just cubs. Early on, the bears discovered their ability to stack on top of one another, moving around like a single bear unit. The bears reside in the the San Francisco Bay Area, where they enjoy talking and interacting with humans as well as hanging out with their other animal friends. Grizz is the leader of the trio, and often comes up with ill-conceived plans that end up backfiring and causing chaos. Panda is a wannabe social media star who wears his heart on his sleeve. And Ice Bear is the smartest of the group, but a creature of very few words.
Today, the bears are excited for the launch of a brand new poutine food truck, and quickly make their way through city, not paying attention to the trail of destruction they leave in their wake. The humans are annoyed by the bears and call Officer Murphy (Keith Ferguson) to report a ruined wedding, broken skateboard, and more, which the officer adds to his already over-flowing binder of complaints against the bears. The bears are in desperate need of something to fix this situation with the humans, and inspiration hits when they see internet sensation Nom Nom the Koala (Patton Oswalt) at the food truck. The bears decide that they just need a hit viral video to repair their image. However, things go horribly wrong, and they literally set the internet on fire.
Things escalate, and Agent Trout (Marc Evan Jackson) from the Department of National Wildlife Control arrives to handle the situation. In an impassioned speech (and thinly veiled social commentary on attitudes towards illegal immigrants), he declares that wildlife has overrun the city, and that these bears are a threat to the natural order (they stack!). He wants them captured, detained, and sent back to where they belong…to a Bear Preserve. So, with the help of their bigfoot friend Charlie (Jason Lee), the bears make a run for it, planning to make their way to the sanctuary of Canada, where they can be free. However, they hit several snags and obstacles along their road trip to freedom.
Ignoring the obvious political/social commentary (which fortunately wasn’t over-done), I quite enjoyed this movie. The writing is quite witty and clever at times, and the characters are very entertaining. The film is not only filled with a lot of humor (and some catchy original songs), but it also has a lot of heart. Each of the bears has his own unique personality, and the relationship between them becomes apparent in such a short amount of time—you can tell that they really care for and support one another, and the main reason they are on the run is so that they can stay together. At its core, the film is a fun road trip movie, as these three bears try to make their way across the country to the Canadian border. Along the way things go wrong—there are car chases, cars break down, they need to don ridiculous disguises to get by security checkpoints, and more. At the same time, the evil Agent Trout is always on their tail (so to speak). The trio gets into some hilarious situations and encounter some really odd characters along the way. The highlight for me is easily when the bears find their way to a rave populated by animals who are internet famous. This was such a delightful and clever sequence—the amount of detail that went into populating this party was amazing. It is a feast for the eyes, trying to see how many of the internet memes on display you can identify, featuring characters such as Grumpy Cat, Pizza Rat, Left Shark, knife-wielding crabs, and so many more recognizable animal internet “stars” (though most names are altered for legal reasons). Besides the plentiful humor, the film also has a beautiful emotional arc that follows these brothers as they quarrel and find their way back to one another.
As someone who hasn’t seen the original series, I never felt lost or out of the loop. The film opens with a flashback showing how the bears first met, and the first time they stacked atop one another (though apparently the latter contradicts an episode of the series). That said, I’m sure those who have seen the series will enjoy this film even more, recognizing all of the various character cameos and references to the show.
Warner Bros’ has released the film on DVD and Digital. I normally only watch HD or 4K material these days, but the picture quality on this SD DVD release is fantastic—clean and clear, with beautiful use of color. The audio track is also quite good, with clear dialogue, excellent original and licensed music, and utilizing the surround and stereo channels to provide ambiance and enhance the action on screen. The DVD release contains an excellent assortment of bonus material, including a commentary from the filmmakers, over 18 minutes of deleted scenes, nearly 30 minutes of scene pitches from the writers, early sketches, and nearly 30 minutes of animatics. The disc comes packed in a white DVD case with a cardboard slipcover.
- 480i / Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
- Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH
- Commentary (1:09:11)
Recorded in quarantine, the filmmakers share a lot of fun and interesting behind-the-scenes stories about the production. They talk about adding the original songs, discuss the debate over Trout’s hair color, talk about the character cameos, how the film breaks from the traditions of the series, and more. They also discuss many of the ways in which the script, story, jokes and songs evolved over the course of the production. Participants include creator/director Daniel Chong, co-director/supervising director Manny Hernandez, supervising/creative director Lauren Sassen, head writer Mikey Heller, and writer Kris Mukai.
- Deleted Scenes (18:32)
Series creator Daniel Chong provides introductions to each deleted scene, explaining its context and why it was ultimately cut. Scenes primarily tke the form of black and white animatics, with limited color added. Play All, or select from:
- Diner (5:13)
The bears win over an unruly crowd at a diner by singing “The Stack Song”. (This song did not appear in the movie.)
- Animal Commune (4:04)
The bears get a tour of the animal commune, a retirement home for internet famous animals.
- Memory (4:05)
Grizzly and the other bears have a communal flashback to how they first met and stacked.
- Forest Fire (5:11)
An early version of the forest fire sequence.
- Diner (5:13)
- Movie Pitches (29:43)
Series creator Daniel Chong provides introductions to each of these early pitches for scenes in the movie. The various writers talk to their lightly animated storyboards, acting out the scene for the rest of the writing staff. Play All, or select from:
- Lauren’s Pitch (8:07)
Lauren Sassen pitches the opening sequence of the film.
- Christina’s Pitch (5:36)
Christina Chang pitches the bears running through the city scene.
- Sarah’s Pitch (6:57)
Sarah Sobole pitches the food truck sequence.
- Quinne’s Pitch (5:33)
Quinne Larsen pitches the City Hall sequence.
- Louie’s Pitch (3:28)
Louie Zong pitches the bears head out on the road trip to Canada song.
- Lauren’s Pitch (8:07)
- Early Sketches (2:14)
Slideshow of sketches that auto-advances every 4 seconds. Artwork is presented in the film’s sequential order.
- Animatics & Pencil Tests (29:25)
Animatic versions of several scenes from the film. Play All, or select from:
- Train Flashback (3:04)
- Bears Go To The City (2:09)
- Checkpoint (2:47)
- Animal Commune (7:12)
- Canadian Border (2:38)
- Memory (2:08)
- Back Together (3:26)
- Forest Fire (4:49)
- Pencil Tests (1:11)
Pencil animated versions of some short sequences from throughout the film. No audio.
I quite enjoyed the We Bare Bears movie despite having never seen the series. The DVD release looks and sounds great and contains a wealth of bonus material that gives the viewer a deeper look at how the film evolved. I think this will be a must own for fans of the show, and certainly worth a look for those who are just fans of animation. (At the time of this review, Amazon and several other e-tailers are offering the digital rental for just $0.99, so it’s certainly worth a look at that price!)