Is there any other way to start this review than, “Charles Barkley magically comes to life from a trading card”? No, this isn’t a lost 90’s kids movie ala Sinbad’s Shazam. It’s the newest episode of We Bare Bears and it is as delightful and heartwarming as any 90’s kids movie.
The plot of the episode has the Baby Bears fighting over who gets to play with a basketball until a rogue pizza lands in their laps. Before the always-hungry Bears can chow down, the pizza is snatched by a ragtag group of kids who challenge the Bears to a basketball game. Whoever wins gets to keep the pizza.
Along the way they get help from a Charles Barkely trading card. Does it make any logical sense? No, but neither did Bill Murray randomly showing up in Space Jam. Just enjoy Barkley and giving the Bears some teamwork advice.
The whole thing sounds like the plot of a movie you’d rent from Blockbuster in the 90’s and that’s not a dig. In fact, Barkley’s appearance is the series’ ultimate culmination of its 90’s love.
Many episodes of We Bare Bears have contained 90’s references but this might be the greatest one of all. The Baby Bears episodes seem to take place in the 90’s so of course they’d love Charles Barkely. It makes the guest appearance feels natural, not too gimmicky, and shockingly grounds a scene that should be one hundred percent absurd.
Being an eleven-minute episode, “Baby Bears Can’t Jump” wastes no time in making full use of its premise. Grizz is a ball hog, Panda can barely stand up for himself, and Ice Bear is… well, Ice Bear. It’s all super adorable and there’s some killer one-liners but when you realize that they’re playing for food, it reminds you just how melancholy We Bare Bears can be without descending into sadness.
The episode (and the series itself) never stops to question things like the Baby Bears barely getting to eat, not having a home, or Charles Barkley magically appearing from a trading card (it really is amazing people, trust me.) It doesn’t need to. No one wants to sit around and watch the Baby Bears be hungry and cold week in and week out or get a super deep reason why magic somehow exists in this world.
We Bare Bears just takes the sad and the absurd and meshes them together to create hilarious outings that can unexpectedly punch you in the gut. You feel for the Baby Bears not just because they’re adorable (although that helps) but also because you know the world is against them.
They don’t have a crew like the ragtag kids. They don’t have money. They live on the streets. All they have is each other and as they constantly (and hilariously) screw up they realize just how important their bond is.
“Baby Bears Can’t Jump” is a loving tribute not just to classic 90’s kids movies but a reminder of just how important the bonds of brotherhood are (related or not), especially when you have nothing.
It also has Charles Barkley saying “turrible” so it’s a win for that alone.
“Baby Bears Can’t Jump” premieres Friday, Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. (ET/PT) on Cartoon Network.
Shamus Kelley is a pop culture/television writer and official Power Rangers expert. He’ll be there with a big bear hug and a smile. Follow him on Twitter!