We Bare Bears – Daniel Chong (Q&A)

This week, Cartoon Network UK unveiled all-new episodes of We Bare Bears which follows three bear brothers, Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear, who crave nothing more than to be “Internet Famous” and would give today’s internet stars like Zoella and Joe Sugg a run for their money. Here’s an insight into the show’s creation with showrunner Daniel Chong.

Tell us about your new series We Bare Bears. Where’d you get the idea for a tech-savvy trio of Bear brothers?

Sure! The show is about three bear brothers (Grizzly, Panda, and Ice Bear) trying to integrate into human society. They live in the forest and trek over to the city to mingle. People don’t freak out at the sight of them, but don’t really enjoy their presence either. The show takes place in the (San Francisco) Bay Area, and it felt appropriate that they would be heavily involved in tech culture. It was also a way to isolate them more from the world, as technology can sometimes do, which would be another obstacle for them.

Why were you interested in making a show about bears?

Living in the Bay Area really affected my appreciation for bears. Living in East Bay and living by [University of California, Berkeley], you see bears everywhere. So I think it just gets into your system.

Technology plays a large role in We Bare Bears. Why the decision to set it in contemporary times?

Because the bears are outcasts, I wanted to put them in a situation that would alienate them as much as possible, and I felt that the modern world would accentuate that a little bit. Everyone’s on their phones. Everyone’s involved in their own thing. So I felt like [the modern world] would be a good antagonist for the bears, having to deal with the technology and the modern world around us.

What is the relationship like between Grizzly, Panda, and Ice Bear?

The best way to sum up their personalities is in their stacking order. The bears stack on top of one another and they get around that way, and they stack (top down) from the oldest to the youngest, because they’re siblings. Grizzly is the oldest brother and he’s more of the leader, and he’s the guy that goes out there and takes charge and tells the brothers where to go and takes care of things. Panda is the middle child, so he’s in the middle of the bunch, and he’s the more emotional, introverted type of person, and in a middle child position. And then Ice Bear is the youngest child, where he’s more the wild card: not quite sure what to expect from him. He’s ignored a little bit by the two older brothers, but he’s also full of different talents and able to do a lot of different things that his brothers might not even acknowledge.

You have such a great cast with Bobby Moynihan, Demetri Martin, and Eric Edelstein. Can you talk about the casting for the bears? How did they come to be a part of the show, and how do they relate to their personalities in the bears?

The bears are exactly like the actors who play them. Eric is this really big guy who is super lovable and really outgoing. The first time I met [Eric], the first thing he said to me was: “How’s it going brother?” and it was exactly like Grizzly. He’s a guy who has his arms stretched out and just wants to embrace the world. That’s exactly who Eric is and that’s exactly who Grizzly is. Panda was the same way. [Bobby Moynihan] came through auditions, and he definitely had the sweetness and gentleness to his voice. And we found that he was a match for [Panda’s] personality. Ice Bear was definitely the hardest person to cast, and we got very lucky in getting Demetri [Martin]. He’s perfectly fit for that role, he is able to deliver lines really succinctly and very quickly, and very pointedly, and Ice Bear is the same way. He doesn’t say a lot, but for what he says, it’s very on point. So that’s the great thing about each bear and how they relate to their characters. With Charlyne [Yi], we knew we wanted her immediately, and we got her. She fit the role perfectly.

Are some of the characters based on people you know in real life?

The bears are all different variations of my personality depending on the circumstance I’m in. I relate to all of them in different ways. Chloe is based on my girlfriend’s niece. She’s much older now, but when I created the show, she was much closer to [Chloe’s] age. She’s a, very responsible, very smart, young Korean girl. That’s why Chloe is Korean. Chloe was based on her, and the name Chloe is actually her younger sister’s name. Charlie is based on a guy from high school who would always steal our fries during lunch. Nom-Nom is based on my girlfriend’s experience in the publishing world. She would work really hard a blog that she created, and she got her book published and she would see how hard it was for her to sell her book and get the word out there. Then she would see how quickly people just taking pictures of their animals could become viral so quickly. Nom-Nom is kind of based on that idea. It doesn’t matter how much work you put into something. Sometimes it’s just an animal picture, and it becomes huge.

Is there a favorite episode that you’ve written so far? Or a favorite character that you enjoy writing for the most?

I think Panda is one of the most fun characters to write for. Just seeing him deal with the world around him and be so vulnerable, has been really fun to work on and to write. One of my favorite episodes is an episode where [Panda] meets a girl at a farmers market and, because he has an allergic reaction to nuts (I actually do have allergies to nuts), he passes out. Luckily, this girl saves him and gives him an epi shot. [Panda] really wants to date her, but when the bears want to join him, they cramp his style a little bit. So, [Panda] really wants to get to know this girl better. It’s a funny episode!

What sets We Bare Bears apart from other animated comedies? Why do I need to watch it?

There’s a definite emphasis on storytelling and telling a more emotional side of the bears. It’s the relationship of the bears, and how much they care for each other and how genuine and sincere they are, that will definitely separate the show from other characters. I think they have good intentions and want to do the right thing. They can’t always [do the right thing], but I think viewers will find characters behaving that way to be honest and real.

Can you tell us a little bit about how We Bare Bears developed into a series?

When we created the series from the original short, we had to basically flesh out the world, and expand [the bears’] living space. We had to set up what the house would look like more correctly, because the pilot really didn’t take place in their house that much. Then, we had to flesh out [the bears’] personalities a bit more and define them a little better. The hard thing about going into series is figuring out, tonally, what stories are you going to tell? What different kind of stories are you able to tell? And exploring those paths, I think, is one of the challenging things about jumping into series.

Describe the design and style influences of We Bare Bears.

There was a very conscious effort to soften the world and make it feel very friendly and sweet. We definitely were referencing a lot of children’s book illustrations and illustrators, a lot of things like Winnie the Pooh. I knew I wanted a storybook feel and painterly quality, something that felt very natural and not too graphic with the design. Our art director Tony did a great job of really finding our style and helping it feel very lush and comforting. With the character design, it’s a lot of the same ideas—a lot of round characters. I wanted to feel the characters very tangibly, so I didn’t want there to be a lot of sharp edges and wanted it to feel very squishy almost, so that the bears would be huggable.

What were some of your favorite cartoons growing up that influenced you or inspired you?

One of the things that I grew up with was the Peanuts cartoons. I think those always struck a chord with me with their simplicity and also in their sweetness and genuineness. The way that people talked to each other and the timing of it all really appealed to me. The Wrong Trousers (Wallace and Gromit) was a very important short to me. I saw it when I was probably about 13, and it just made me laugh so much. It just had this charm and whimsy to it that I’ve always tried to put in my work.

What can kids (and their parents) expect from the new series?

Hopefully something they’ve never seen before! Our visual style is simple and a bit of a throwback, but we focus on strong characters and storytelling- a sensibility instilled in me at my time working at PIXAR. We never set out to make a show for just kids, but a show that all ages will love and appreciate. The combination of cute/simple designs with more complex and modern stories will help relate to anyone who’s willing to check the show out. We also have episodes where we see the Bears as little babies struggling to find a home- and if that can’t win you over, we can’t help you.

Catch We Bare Bears on Cartoon Network UK