Chinese-American We Bare Bears creator says cartoon is about being an outsider

Mr Daniel Chong (above) taps his own experience as an Asian-American in the US for We Bare Bears, which is centred on three bear siblings trying to assimilate into society
Mr Daniel Chong (above) taps his own experience as an Asian-American in the US for We Bare Bears, which is centred on three bear siblings trying to assimilate into societyPHOTO: CARTOON NETWORK
Mr Daniel Chong taps his own experience as an Asian-American in the US for We Bare Bears, which is centred on three bear siblings trying to assimilate into society.
Mr Daniel Chong taps his own experience as an Asian-American in the US for We Bare Bears, which is centred on three bear siblings trying to assimilate into society.PHOTO: CARTOON NETWORK

Creator of We Bare Bears says the hit children's series is a reflection of society, where the bears are a minority trying to fit in

Hit children's cartoon series We Bare Bears is beloved for being silly and cute, but on a deeper level, the show's themes of tolerance and diversity are more relevant than ever today.

That is according to the creator of the series, Mr Daniel Chong, who is Chinese-American and the son of Singaporean immigrants to the United States.

Speaking to The Straits Times over the telephone from Los Angeles, where he is based, the 38-year-old says: "I don't want to put unnecessary importance on our show because it's still a comedy where people can just watch and enjoy it.

"But the way I come to understand why someone like me would create a show like this is that I always felt like an outsider because I'm American, but I'm also Asian- American.

"There's a cultural difference to the way I look at the world and so I created this show about outsiders. To me, the bears operate like a minority in America - they're just finding a way to assimilate and be a part of society. Given the political climate in America now, I think that this definitely hits home a lot."

We Bare Bears is centred on three bear siblings - a grizzly bear, a panda bear and a polar bear - and how they awkwardly try to fit into human society.

Much like the humans, they face modern dilemmas such as dealing with online dating and getting as many "likes" as possible on social media, on top of the fact that they are, well, an entirely different species from everyone else.

Mr Chong says: "Some people are nice to them and some people are mean to them. But they just want to find their place, like all of us.

"Hopefully, that's something universal that people can relate to and see value in."

The series, which debuted in 2015 and is in its third season, has been a hit for television network Cartoon Network and once ranked among the top shows on the network's video app.

Even though it is mainly targeted at kids, it has won over many adults as well.

"Kids love the physical humour of the show, but I think the adults embrace a lot of the dialogue," Mr Chong muses.

"We are also very detail-oriented on the show, which adults like. The story artists will put little things in the corner of the frame and make very specific references that will fly right over kids' heads - but adults will get them."

The animator, who previously worked at film studios Disney and Pixar, is flying into town this week to front the Imagination Studios workshop, a partnership between Cartoon Network and the Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore to groom aspiring animators.

It will be his first trip to Singapore in almost 16 years, he says, so he has "no idea" which places he should visit.

"But I will definitely visit my parent's childhood home because they grew up there. I don't remember the name of the place, but I've connected with my aunts and uncles there, so they'll show me around," says Mr Chong, whose Singaporean parents moved to the US in the early 1970s.

Given that he created a popular kids' cartoon, does that make him the coolest uncle around?

"Well, my niece does not like the show at all. Maybe she's a bit too young and she's a hyper kid who wants to watch more hyper stuff.

"Bears is a bit more laid-back, so it's not quite her style," he says with a laugh.

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•We Bare Bears airs on Cartoon Network (StarHub TV Channel 316, Singtel TV Channel 226) on weeknights at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2017, with the headline 'Bear facts of life in a hit cartoon'. Print Edition | Subscribe