Q&A: ‘We Bare Bears’ creator Daniel Chong on how the show keeps pushing its storytelling
Wherever Grizzly, Panda and Ice Bear are, there’s definitely some fun to be found.
Created by Daniel Chong, “We Bare Bears” is an animated show following the antics of tech-savvy brothers Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear (a polar bear) as they try to navigate love, friendships and integrating into human society.
Loosely based on Chong’s original web comic featuring the stackable bear siblings, the family-friendly comedy recently kicked off its fourth season on Cartoon Network.
“Now that we’re in our fourth season, the show is really a combination of me and the artists that I work with,” Chong recently told The Times. “They add so much of themselves into [the show] and they push the concept further.
“I really think that’s how you’re able to get over 100 episodes of something. You have to let other people take the reins and push it to places you probably didn’t think of,” he added.
In July, “We Bare Bears” picked up its first Emmy nomination for short form animated program. The show also won an Annie Award earlier this year in the animated television/broadcast production for children category.
For the first set of “goofy” Season 4 episodes, Chong said the crew wanted to emphasize the baby versions of the brothers a little bit more.
“There’s a couple of really cool Baby Bear adventures in addition to just a lot of Bear-centric stories showing the Bears just getting into more antics and trouble,” said Chong.
He recently discussed the fourth season of his hit series, its guest stars and that Emmy nomination.
How did the celebrity cameos for these new episodes come together?
T-Pain posted on his Instagram over a year ago almost that he tattooed Panda on his hand. It kind of blew us all away, so I messaged him on Twitter and was like, “Yo, man, do you want to be on an episode of ‘Bears’?” And he was like, “Yo, man, I’m watching it right now.”
He was totally down to do it, and we basically wrote an episode around him. He was so much fun to record.
As for Leslie Odom Jr., we have a musical episode we did. This is our second one, and it’s kind of like you’re watching YouTube and you just click on different videos and the Bears are singing.
One of the artists, Louie Zong, had just seen “Hamilton,” so he made a “Hamilton”-like rap for the Bears. And we just thought it would be really cool to get someone from “Hamilton,” so we reached out to Leslie and he was totally game.
What made you decide bears were the best way to explore family, community and the human condition?
The nice thing about animations is that you can use anthropomorphic characters. Animals or objects can come alive and they can be a way for people to put themselves into a story regardless of race or something else specific.
We’re using that to our advantage and using the bears as placeholders that everyone can identify with. Even if your story isn’t quite like theirs, where they’re outsiders trying to fit in with humans, you understand that they also have other things that they deal with in trying to navigate the world.
Asian pop culture is seamlessly integrated into this world. What made you decide to include that element?
I think that’s intrinsic to my taste and the things that I grew up with and the things that aesthetically I really liked.
Cute culture is a thing that’s permeating a lot these days, but I think it has influenced a lot of the way I draw, the things I find appealing and things like that.
It’s also my crew. A lot of them grew up on anime and they love Asian food. Even the people who aren’t Asian on my crew, they keep going back to Japan or love eating Korean food and things like that.
Everyone had a lot of appreciation for Asian culture, whether they’re Asian or not, and it kind of just found its way into the show.
What was your favorite part of the Emmy-nominated episode “Hurricane Hal”?
I would say the third act, when all the stories came together. It was very unexpected. A lot of that I attribute to the two story artists Louie Zong and Sang Lee.
The nice thing about our process is that we’re story driven. We work hard on the outline, which is just three pages laying out without too much minute detail what the broad strokes of the story are. Then the board artists, as they’re drawing it, improvise as they go and they find different ways to stylize the story.
That third act came together so powerfully.
I kind of knew when, I think Louie Zong was the one who pitched that version, I could tell that it had this weight to it I just didn’t expect the story to have. Those guys just really knocked it out of the park. That to me is my favorite part for sure.
“Hurricane Hal” just had this bigger statement about storytelling and there was a lot of ambition to it. I just felt like it was something that should represent us this year.
How do you and your writers still keep things fresh four seasons into the show?
It’s hard. Definitely as we got further into the season we started running into that problem.
We have all the episodes on a wall, so there’s always a reminder of what we’ve done before. There were so many times we were writing and said, “Oh, no, we already did it in that episode” and we had to rethink the way to tell the story. It can get a little frustrating.
It just takes more work and time to break a story these days. But the writers constantly are surprising me, and the story artists have become very involved too, in helping to pitch ideas. We all work together to try to push the storytelling as much as we can.
The nice thing is that after getting to this point, the show, even though it’s episodic, we still have some continuity that we’re playing with here and there.
Those areas that are kind of being pushed a little more and relationships that are slightly different now can create new ways or directions for stories that I wouldn’t have imagined in Season 1.
In a way the storytelling after 100 episodes kind of takes you to different places. So in some ways it hasn’t been as difficult. It’s a little of both.
Did you expect the Baby Bears to take off the way they did, with a whole life and story line of their own?
I always thought, and I think even the writers that I had at the time also thought, it would only be maybe one or two episodes per season that we would do the Baby Bears. The main focus would definitely be the adult bears.
Then the audience liked it, but we also started to really love their adventures too.
The nice thing about the Baby Bears is that they can kind of be anywhere. You can almost push their adventures a little bit more outlandish because they’re babies and we can put them in more ridiculous situations. For some reason, it feels a little bit more doable than with the adult bears.
And I love working with those kids. They’re so funny, listening to them record.
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