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Annecy: Daniel Chong on Cartoon Network’s Big New Play, ‘We Bare Bears’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Comedy turns on people’s “desire to fit in, for a place to belong’

ANNECY – Riding a ratings surge, Cartoon Network has scheduled just two new broadcast shows. There’s now a fast gathering visibility on one, “We Bare Bears,” which launches on Cartoon Network in July and will screen exclusively at Annecy during a Thursday panel, Cartoon Network: From Short to Series.

From a pilot short, plus an exclusive interview with director Daniel Chong in the build-up to Annecy, “We Bare Bears” looks set to weigh in as a gently-humored take on desires and challenges in a dislocated high-tech world – people’s “desire to fit in, for a place to belong,” how technology links them, and keeps them apart, Chong said. That is seen through the quirky prism of the life of three bear bros: Grizzly, Panda and Ice Bear.

The bears, at least in the short, made by Chong under the aegis of Cartoon Network Studios Global Artists Program, which CN will also talk up at Annecy, live in a nicely appointed copse in the San Francisco Bay Area. The first scenes detailing their habitation – a kind of three-bedroom cave-apartment – delineate both their characters and their common quandary.

Grizzly surfs the Internet, laughing at a live-action vidcam shot of a real-life bear dancing in the woods. “Check this out guys, you’ve got to see this,” he says, swigging on a bottle of Soda Light. But nobody’s listening. Ice Bear’s sitting in the ice-box of a very large fridge, making a model of a polar bear. Panda is love-lorn, moping in the cave’s closet, strumming his guitar, singing “Why did you sit on my heart and hurt me so bad,” after being dumped by his Internet girlfriend. Grizzly tries to cheer him up: “Panda, you’ve got to let that go. You’re cute, you’re cuddly, you know Kung Fu.” Actually, Panda does not.That joke typifies the short’s bathetic humor.

At once part of human society – they catch a train to go get some chocolate-scoop ice-cream – the three bears are also three bears.

“The joke is that the bears are trying to fit into human society but they don’t really. People don’t freak out when they see these bears but they can’t deny that they are bears,” Chong commented. “The bears can’t hide it, they still have animal instincts, still want what bears want. In a way, that’s an analogy for our lives, our desire to fit in and a place to belong.”

On the way to get icecream, the bears stumble on a kids’ party. A Bouncy House! But, bouncing up and down, the bears destroy the castle, eat nearly all the food, scare the children, and then drop the birthday ice-cream cake, to the young partygoers’ chagrin. All the while, Panda’s only half enjoying the festivities, still pining for an email from his Internet g.f.

Chong commented: As in the real modern world, “technology becomes a big part of the bears’ world and as much as technology can bring us together it can also makes us feel very isolated and creates a distance between people in a lot of ways. That’s another obstacle that the bears try to deal with in the journey to find a place in the world.”

The contrast between the warm rounded colors and natural lines of the bears and their natural habitat and unnatural contours of manmade objects – at home, the fridge, computer, cell phone – form part of a “combination of softness and cuteness in the design with the kind of modern stories which we wanted to tell which have a slightly more adult edge,” Chong said.

Chong highlights the bears’ eating some Asian food as an example of the short’s global influence. In artistic terms, one of his biggest influences is Aardman Animations. “One of the most influential shorts I’ve ever saw was ‘The Wrong Trousers I remember watching that when I was just a kid with my Dad, when we went to an animation festival. It was just something I had never seen before, that kind of humor.”

He argued: “There’s a transformation in taste and the Internet has a big part in this for sure. It has broken down the wall of accessibility. If you ask a lot of creators, I’m pretty sure they’d say they were influenced by Japanese animation or something international on top of things they grew up here in the U.S..”

The pilot, slightly shorter than a regular series episode, was developed as part of the Cartoon Network Studios Global Artists Program. “Cartoon Network has a very organized way of helping artists nurture their ideas,” said Chong. “They have a great in-house team of artists to help you execute your pilot, make the animation great. It was really smooth process.”

Series will feature three secondary characters, per Chong: Chloe, a 12-year-old prodigy who’s already attending the local university and studying animal sciences; Nom Nom, a koala Internet celeb, who everyone loves and adores but is “a real diva, really mean”; and Charlie, aka Big Foot.

Said Chong: “The joke is that Big Foot is a character that the human world has never seen or can’t seem to find but the bears can’t get rid of him. He likes to stay in their house, taste their stuff, watch their TV, borrow things without asking. He’s kind of the character of Kramer on the show.”

“We Bare Bears” launches as key kid, boy and girl demos in a sellable day are currently up between 3% and 25% for the year-to-date.

Moderated by Rob Sorcher, Cartoon Network Studios’ chief content officer, the From Short to Series panel will feature Elizabeth Ito, director and storyboard artist on the network’s global phenomenon “Adventure Time” and creator of the brand new short “Welcome to My Life”; George Gendi storyboard artist on “The Amazing World of Gumball” from Cartoon Network Studios Europe and creator of the brand new pilot “Apple & Onion”; and Chong himself,

On Friday, a second panel, The Making of Cartoon Network’s ‘Adventure Time,’ presents an opportunity to hear from the key creative and production team behind the show. Focal points will include recent guest-directed shorts, including the Annecy-nominated Food Chain, and an exclusive sneak-peek of an upcoming episode by guest director Kirsten Lepore rendered solely using stop motion animation – a first for the series.

Per Sorcher, the Annecy Festival essentially marks the start of “We Bare Bears’” content roll out.  The summer linear TV U.S. premiere, followed by Cartoon Network around the world- starting in September in Europe – will “see some unusual approaches to the linear premieres, such as an ability to view the premiere on VOD platforms in advance of the linear premiere.”

One major challenge for Cartoon Network is merchandising & licensing. “We Bare Bears” has some obvious business opportunities. Grizzly, Panda and Ice Bear move about town in a singular three-bear tall bear stack (pictured). “We Bare Bears” was met with an enthusiastic response at a Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, Sorcher said

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