‘We Bare Bears: The Movie’ Review: An Incredible, Topical End to an Amazing Series

To celebrate Labor Day this weekend, Cartoon Network aired a marathon of every episode of We Bare Bears’ complete four seasons, leading up to the broadcast premiere of We Bare Bears: The Movie. The movie previously was released on digital earlier this summer, but now has its broadcast debut with limited commercials. Cartoon Network aired the last episodes of We Bare Bears last year and this movie functions as the series finale of the show.

We Bare Bears follows three bears, Grizz (voiced by Eric Edelstein), Panda (Bobby Moynihan) and Ice Bear (Demetri Martin) who are brothers. They live together and try to fit into a world full of humans in San Francisco. Grizz is outgoing and loud and often causes the bears to go out of their comfort zone. Panda is shy, addicted to his phone, and often neurotic to the point of losing his mind. Ice Bear is quiet, rarely speaks and when he does, speaks in the third person to hilarious results. Throughout their adventures in the human world, they’ve interacted with many townspeople and have made friends with people like Chloe (Charlyne Yi), a brilliant bookworm who has a deep bond with the bears, Charlie (Jason Lee) a bigfoot who lives in the woods and can get on their nerves for being so friendly, Ranger Tabes (Cameron Esposito) the park ranger and Lucy (Ellie Kemper) who works at the farmers market. They also have a complicated relationship with internet celebrity, Nom Nom (Patton Oswalt), who is famous for being adorable, but we learn is anything but nice when he’s not performing.

The movie begins with a young Grizz walking around trying to find a home. In this flashback we see the origins of how he first met Panda and Ice Bear. Grizz rescues Panda whose foot is caught in a train track. Ice Bear joins in and they are suddenly faced with an oncoming train. They begin to run and form their first bear stack, a position where they stand on each other They stack and run. Grizz suddenly awakens from his dream and realizes they’re late for the opening of a new food truck in town. Grizz gets Panda and Ice Bear and they race to the truck. As they run through town with the opening theme music playing (performed by Estelle), they cause classic mayhem and chaos. As they run by we see characters like Chloe, Charlie, Ranger Tabes, and more wave as they see them. They reach the food truck and as they are about to enjoy some Canadian poutine, the people in town descend on the truck to complain to the bears about all the damage and destruction they caused. Fed up, they file complaints with Officer Murphy. The bears become upset that they unintentionally caused everyone to be upset. Nom Nom then shows up and everyone is drawn to him. The bears complain about how Nom Nom can get away with anything

Back at home, the bears attempt to go viral using every old meme which they will perform live and will beam directly to everyone using an over the top set up with wires everywhere. At first, their stream goes well but after a while the wires become overheated, causing a fire, and destroy every device and the entire power grid in town. The townspeople hold a town hall over the outrage, saying they have gone too far. Suddenly an agent from the Department of National Wildlife Control enters the meeting and says they have a bear problem. He puts on a presentation vilifying the bears and saying that the bears are a threat to the natural order. He sneers as he talks about the way the bears stack. He tells the angry crowd they have to  “send these bears back to where they belong”. They become an angry mob chanting “no more bears”. Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear become scared by the mob and get shoved into the back of a police van. Ranger Tabes, Chloe and others protest their apprehension and tell the agent that he can’t do that to the bears but fail to get him to stop. The van drives off, and Agent Trout realizes a cop isn’t driving the van. Charlie has stolen the van and he has a plan to hide the bears from the government using disguises.

The bears realize Charlie’s plan won’t work but then Grizz gets the idea to go to Canada because they love bears in Canada! Panda begins freaking out about leaving their home and their entire lives behind. He tells Grizz it’s too risky and they get into an argument. Panda tells Grizz and Ice Bear to go without him. They drive off and Charlie tells Panda he’s glad they get to hang forever and ever. Panda’s eyes widen and he begins to chase after Grizz and Ice Bear in the van. Grizz tries to keep everyone’s spirits up by calling it a road trip to Canada and tells them not to think of it as them on the run. Panda wants to lay low but Grizz sings about making the most of the road trip and convinces them to go see places on the way. Before they get far, they get stopped at a checkpoint with agents looking for them. Using Charlie’s disguises in the van, they dress up as hippies. The agent doesn’t fall for their disguises and calls Agent Trout. The bears manage to slip away as the agent is on the phone.

The bears try to pick a route to Canada on their GPS but disagree on the exact path. They begin to argue and suddenly get run off the road by the Mystery Machine (what a cameo!) and crash at the bottom of the hill. They get out and see lights coming from afar. They meet a cow and get freaked out when she addresses them. She knocks on the door where the source of the lights is coming from, gives a password, and they all enter a giant animal rave. They see that they have entered the “Internet Animal Fest” which is for all internet famous animals. They all party, but they quickly find out the bears are not internet famous. They threaten to call the cops, but Grizz tells them about how they got chased out of their home and are trying to make it to Canada to hopefully find a place where they’ll accept them for who they are. The rest of the animal begin to get emotional talking about how people only see them for their memes, and not who they really are. They apologize for judging the bears unfairly

Grizz has dream again where he is on the bridge with Panda and Ice bear. This time he’s an  adult and Pan Pan and Ice Bear are kids. As the train approaches, it turns into the face of Agent Trout and chases them down the train tracks. Grizz wake up from the nightmare and see that the agents have them surrounded. The other animals come to their rescue and start another rave blocking the agents from getting to them. The bears get into their van, which is now fixed by the racoons at the rave. They speed away, but the agents end up catching up to them. Panda discovers that the raccoons have supercharged the van with lava lamp power and a defense system. Panda accidentally fires lava lamp fluid at the cop cars, forcing the cars to stop the pursuit. Agent Trout remains and rams the van, knocking Panda out the back along with his cellphone. Grizz grabs Panda and pulls him back into the van and they manage to get away.

The van breaks down for good near the border of Canada. They stack and run towards the border. The border guard tells them they love bears in Canada and Ice Bear tells the guard, “Ice Bear ready for universal healthcare.” Oh Ice Bear! The guard asks for their passports and Grizz asks why they need them because they are bears. The border guard says up there in Canada they need them. They get denied and Grizz pleads for entry, but Panda tells him to give up. It begins to rain, and Panda says he’s over this whole situation. He begins to blame Grizz for everything and shouts that they’re not wanted anywhere, and they’ll never find a new home. Panda begins to walk off but Grizz tells him they have to stick together because they’re brothers. Panda yells back that they’re not brothers. He says they just made up a story to make themselves feel better. The agents now surround the bears and reveal that Panda’s cellphone and GPS history gave away their location.

Things begin to get very real from here on out. Police vans roll into a fortified animal reserve center with electric barbed wire surrounding it. Agent Trout separates the three bears and puts Panda and Ice Bear into cages. Agent Trout tells Grizz to watch as he sends the “beasts” back to “where they belong.” The agents slap labels saying, “Ship to China” and “Ship to Arctic” on their cages. Officer Murphy asks Agent Trout if he can legally do this and pleads that he can’t separate them because they’re brothers. Grizz gets taken to another section with other sad looking bears already locked in cages. Grizz asks Agent Trout why he’s doing this. Agent Trout replies, “Humans have been nature’s dominant predator since the beginning of time. And this is the closest I will ever get to hunting you.” Wow.

Grizz cries in his cage and another young bear offers him a dirty tissue. Grizz comments on how he’s never seen so many bears in his life. The young bear begins to talk back to him in “bear” and Grizz apologizes, saying he never learned to speak bear language. He suddenly sees a younger version of himself appear in the cage with him. Grizz begins to blame himself for the whole mess they’re in. Young Grizz asks him what about the promise they made to each other when they first met. We flash back to the train tracks again, but this time we see how they managed to survive the train. They have managed to slip through a broken piece of wood on the bridge and Grizz holds on, preventing them from falling. He pulls them all up after the train passes and they introduce themselves and realize they make a great team. They decide to be brothers for life, even though they don’t look alike. No matter what happens, they’ll always be there for eachother and support each other. Back in his cage, Grizz finds the confidence to get up and says he’s going to save his brothers. All the bears in their cages begin chanting as Grizz tries to pry open the cage bars. He bends them enough to slip through and opens the cages of the other bears.

Agent Trout is about to send off Ice Bear and Panda in a helicopter when the ground begins to shake. The freed bears charge the electrified gate, breaking it. Grizz confronts Agent Trout who tells them to get back to their cages. Grizz tells him what he’s doing is wrong. They’re a family and he can’t separate them. The helicopter begins to take off and Grizz throws an axe at Ice Bear’s cage. He catches it, breaks free, frees Panda and the two jumps back down to safety. Agent Trout is now surrounded by all of the bears and tells them to get back. Grizz says “These cages, this reserve, everything. You’re doing all of this because you’re afraid of what’s different, not because it’s right. And we’re not gonna stand for it.” They corner Agent Trout into a cage and close him in it. The electrified fence the bears broke down has now started a fire, blocking the exit. Officer Murphy flies in on a helicopter, but he can’t land due to the fire. He tells them they need to find a way to come to him. Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear realize what they have to do. They begin to stack and tell the other bears they have to stack with them. They all help each other stack.

A news helicopter arrives to report on the fire and captures the bears leading a stacking operation to get to safety. The entire city watches everything unfold on their TVs in horror. As Grizz is about to reach the helicopter at the top of the stack, Agent Trout steps on his face, having climbed on them all and jumps into the helicopter. He taunts Grizz and Officer Murphy punches him and handcuffs him to a rail. Grizz reaches the helicopter and they all hold on to each other, while Officer Murphy flies them all to safety. Back on solid ground, they all get tended to their injuries and Agent Trout gets hauled off by the cops in handcuffs. Panda asks what they’ll do now and Grizz responds “I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out together.” They put their hands in and each say “Bros for Life” and hug. News vans arrive and begin asking the bears how they pulled off the rescue and how it feels to be heroes. Officer Murphy tells them he’s going to make sure the bears come home. They celebrate being able to go home, but they wonder what will happen to the other bears now. Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear fly home on an airplane and are greeted at the airport as heroes. Chloe, Charlie (in his human disguise), Ranger Tabes, and Lucy all hug them, happy they are safe and home.

In town, Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear share an order of poutine in the shape of the three of them which is now a special on the food truck menu. As they pan out, Grizz notes how things have changed and Panda says that the three of them are fitting in more these days. We see they’re no longer the only bears in town. We see all the bears they rescued have integrated into the rest of the human’s world and are all happy. Ice bear says “Ice Bear welcomes change” and the movie ends. 

What an incredible story they created for this movie. It was truly scary how timely it felt and it was extremely fitting to craft this story in an animated medium for children. I can’t imagine how impactful it will be for children to see that people not willing to accept people for who they are and being close-minded is wrong. I had to pause my viewing of the movie in the final act because of how powerful of a statement it made. I got emotional seeing Pan Pan and Ice Bear thrown into cages with labels on them to be sent “back to where they came from”. The coded language which echoes words we hear in our own society stung hard. Separating families, throwing them into cages, and threatening to physically move their lives to some place they have never been to before or have any knowledge of is just plain wrong. We Bare Bears: The Movie did now shy away from this fact and made sure everyone knew.

There was so much of this movie they got right as a way to make a statement, and to give the fans of this long running series some closure and feel good saying goodbye to these lovable characters. There was so much heart put into this movie and series as a whole which came through each and every time. Grizz trying to make the best of their situation by trying to get his brothers to appreciate their trip across the country on the way to Canada was classic Grizz. Panda being worried the whole time, then coming to see they can still find the best in a bad situation was classic Pan Pan. Ice Bear exclaiming his excitement to get universal healthcare in Canada made me crack up. I will miss Ice Bears deadpan, third person statements so much.

While I would love to watch more of Grizz, Panda and Ice Bear’s adventures, see more of Yuri, and follow all of these characters forever, we have reached the end. There is a bright spot though! There is currently a spinoff series which will focus on the younger versions of our lovable bears in production. It is from a different creative team so it won’t have the same voices behind it driving it forward, but it will be fun to see the bears again in that form.

Creator Daniel Chong and the entire We Bare Bears team did a phenomenal job at not only crafting a fitting way to send off Grizz, Pan Pan and Ice Bear, but made an impactful and memorable statement that will resonate with both kids and adults alike.

You can stream We Bare Bears on hulu (Season 1-2), Netflix (Season 3-4) and HBO Max (All). We Bare Bears The Movie is available to rent or buy on Digital.

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About the Author

Lee Arvoy joined the TV Source team in the summer of 2020 as a TV Writer.