Good and Misunderstood Pop Culture Bears
Whether you grew up on Winnie the Pooh, Paddington, Corduroy, or the Berenstain Bears, everyone has at least one good pop culture bear that holds a special place in their heart, but what about the lesser known bears, those just as deserving of a good bear stamp? What about the ones often mislabelled as bad bears—the ones just misunderstood?
We're here to shine some spotlight on those good bears audiences often brush under the rug or ones who, despite their standoffish exterior, are deep down (some deep deep down) good bears.
Spark – “Courageous Good”
Let’s start with our best and bravest bear, Spark from Robert Repino’s Spark and the League of Ursus. Though she’s literally full of fluff, this teddy bear’s metaphorically stuffed to the brim with guts and heart. A steadfast member of the League or Ursus, Spark cleverly sneaks through the house unseen, battles with interdimensional monsters, and continually risks it all for the sake of her girl Loretta and Loretta’s kidnapped brother. Though she may seem a bit tough on her fellow toys, especially less brave ones like the sock monkey Zed, she’s a natural leader that brings out the best in others.
Buy the book:
Ted – “Inappropriate but Misunderstood”
Ted from Universal’s 2012 Ted and 2015 Ted 2 may be a rude, blunt teddy bear with magical sentience, but just because he lives a hedonistic lifestyle and has no filter doesn’t mean he’s a bad bear. Despite his poor influence on his human best friend, John, his personality was assigned to him by John and seems to develop as John’s does. When John is ready to grow up and commit to marrying his long-term girlfriend, Lori, Ted (eventually) gets over it and ends up catalyzing the couple into reconciling after their break up. Despite this jumbo-sized teddy bear’s foul-mouthed nature, when you get down to it, he wants what’s best for his friend.
Iorek Byrnison – “Tough Love Good”
He may be grumpy and rough and yeah, a bit violent at times, but Iorek’s heart is as strong as his panserbjørn (armored polar bear) claws. If you know nothing else about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, you most likely will think of this series as the one with the girl riding the polar bear, as this image is often featured on the cover of the first book, Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in North America) as well as in the promotion for the 2007 The Golden Compass movie and the more recent HBO’s His Dark Materials TV show. More than for the sheer aesthetic of it, Iorek is a core character of the series, bonding closely with the protagonist Lyra, so much so that he allows her to travel his back as they pound through miles of snowy landscapes. Like Spark, he’s protective, loyal, and basically impossible to lie to, which is just cool.
Buy the book:
Freddy Fazbear – “Murderous but Misunderstood”
There is a lot to unpack in the Five Nights at Freddy’s (FNAF) game franchise, especially as creator Scott Cawthon gives away tidbits of information at a time and often leaves things open for fan theories. One thing we do know is that the animatronic Freddy Fazbear is one of the frighteningly murderous robots possessed by the ghosts of children who were horribly killed and had their bodies stuffed into the animatronic suits. When this bowtie, top hat wearing bear comes alive at night and continuously attempts to kill the protagonist, security guard William Afton, it’s really in a vengeful attempt to find their murderer and protect other children as William is the son of the serial murderer Michael Afton. There is much more to Freddy’s backstory, which you can explore via US Gamer’s breakdown of the FNAF lore, but when you get down to it, can you really blame a butchered child for seeking revenge?
Buy the book:
Grizzly, Panda, and Ice Bear – “Silly Good”
Looking for fun-loving, good bears? Look no further than the adoptive brothers from Cartoon Network’s We Bare Bears. For the more extroverted viewers, there’s Grizz with his genuine love of people, overly friendly and socially awkward personality, and hyperactive tendencies. For more tender-hearted individuals, there’s Pan-Pan’s relatable anxiety and loneliness, endearing obsession with anime, and impressive capabilities with tech. Lastly, the most eclectic of the brothers and a bit of an enigma, there’s Ice Bear with his introspective attitude, insane array of skills, and overall chill vibes. Although these brothers make some mistakes and regularly get into shenanigans, they are three solid, good bears who just want a family and who adorably stack together like Lego pieces when enjoying a night on the town.
Lotso – “Evil but Misunderstood”
For those who’ve seen Pixar’s Toy Story 3, it may seem like a stretch, calling Lotso misunderstood. As the main antagonist of the film, Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear is all pink, huggable fluff and strawberry scent on the outside and bitter, spiteful prison warden underneath. Yes, Sunnyside Daycare is basically a prison for toys, run by Lotso and enforcer Big Baby, and no, Lotso doesn’t earn his redemption when he refuses to save Woody and the others from the incinerator, but his accidental abandonment by previous owner Daisy and him learning of his replacement Lotso bear left him with some trauma and self-hate. Maybe there aren’t toy therapists in the Toy Story world, but if there are and Lotso had gotten some help, the hole in his stuffing-packed heart could have stitched up and he could have ended up a better bear for it.
Muk and Luk – “Pure Good”
The young polar bear pair of Muk and Luk from Amblin Entertainment’s Balto are carefree, childish, and a bit zany in a sweet way. They hold so much love for their goose Uncle Boris underneath all their layers of warm fur, and their small pranks and dramatic “woe is us” phrase adds lighthearted humor to the movie’s narrative. If that doesn’t earn them the title of good bears, the irony of the two never learning to swim and the courage they show when jumping into a frozen lake to save a drowning Balto sure does. Also, they’re both voiced by the legend Phil Collins, so there’s that.
The Bear from The Revenant – “Vicious but Misunderstood”
The bear from Michael Punke’s The Revenant may be known for violently mauling and tearing at the story’s protagonist Hugh Glass, but can you blame her when she’s a mother, just protecting her territory and cubs? Can the audience really call her a bad bear when she’s only doing what many bears do, protect their own? If the tables were turned and we saw this story from her point of view, she’d be doing what needed to be done for the sake of her and her family’s survival, and Glass and his fur trading team would be the bad guys.
Buy the book:
Fisherbear – “Fatherly Good”
The unnamed fisherbear from Ryan Andrew’s middle grade graphic novel This War Our Pact is the goodest bear for Studio Ghibli fans and fantastical adventurers. On a quest to collect fish for his hungry family, this bipedal, talking bear is polite, insightful, and a generous mentor and guide to Ben and Nathaniel, even lending his insanely long scarf (that his wife knitted for him!) to Nathaniel in a time of need. If you’re planning a bike ride adventure along the river, a meditative swim in a starry cave, or a gondola lift ride through chilly mountain tops, you’ll want this fatherly fisherbear along for the journey.
Buy the book:
Beyond the literary classics listed earlier, there’s Yogi the Bear, Koda from Brother Bear, Po from Kung Fu Panda, Baloo from The Jungle Book, the bears from Erin Hunter’s Seekers series (especially shape-shifting Ujurak), Hei Bai from Avatar: The Last Airbender…the list goes on and on…
Gabrielle likes a lot of things and dislikes very little. Retired ice cream cake decorator, occasional farmhand, and reminiscing library worker, she spent her childhood dreaming of fighting fires and her college days writing about Bong Joon-ho before he was cool. Now, she preaches the importance of dental hygiene; chats up books, movies, and comics via the Quirk blog; and legally climbs silos. Whether the legality of the silo climbing makes her more or less interesting is up for debate. Email [email protected] if you want to review our titles or feature our authors.