Animator Chuck Jones introduced the trio in the 1944 cartoon Bugs Bunny and the Three Bears. In the short, Papa Bear tries to feed his starving family by having them act out their roles in the traditional fairy tale from which they derive their name. Unfortunately for them, when they were out of porridge, Mama substitutes carrot soup for it, and the "Goldilocks" they lure turns out to be none other than Bugs Bunny. For the bulk of the series, Voice actors Billy Bletcher, Bea Benaderet, and Stan Freberg played Papa,
Mama, and Junior, respectively. However, in the initial entry Mel Blanc played Papa, and Kent Rogers played Junior (Freberg assuming the role after Rogers's death in World War II). After the classic shorts, Will Ryan and Joe Alaskey play Henry and Mama. Jones' bears as introduced in the short are perhaps the first filmsatire of the American nuclear family and how its traditional roles were coming under increasing scrutiny in the 1940s. Papa is a loud-mouthed, short tempered know-it-all shrimp, while Junior is an oversized, bumbling buffoon who is seven years old and still in diapers. The two are constantly at each other, leaving Mama Bear as the innocent (and deadpan) middle-bear, although she often resorts to thwacking one of them with a rolled-up newspaper to keep the peace. As Jones himself was never shy to point out, this cartoon and others in the series anticipate the failings and foibles that would later make the sitcom All in the Family such a success.
Jones brought back the Bears for his 1948 cartoon What's Brewin', Bruin?, this time sans Bugs. Here, alpha-male Papa Bear decides that it's time for the Bears tohibernate. Like any good family should, Mama Bear and Junior Bear obey, but Mama's snoring and Junior's creaky cradle keep Papa from getting the sleep he himself advocated. Junior's voice is here supplied by Stan Freberg, who would retain the role for all future Three Bears cartoons, including Bee-Deviled Bruin andBear Feat, released on Looney Tunes Assorted Nuts, both in 1949. Mama Bear made a cameo appearance in the 1950 Daffy Duck short The Scarlet Pumpernickel.
1951's A Bear for Punishment, the last film in the series, is often considered the funniest, and it is perhaps the most satirical. This time, it's Father's Day, and Mama and Junior's well-intended gifts do nothing but dishonor the perturbed Papa. Jones later stated that many of the scenarios in the short were derived from his own experiences.
Jones retired the Three Bears in 1951. The influence of the series would linger, however, as other studios copied or altered the idea. Aside from Norman Lear's aforementioned All in the Family, Famous Studios repeated Jones family scenario in their Baby Huey series of cartoons. The Bears' cartoons most significant impact was perhaps on Jones himself, as these films (along with the Hubie and Bertie and Charlie Dog shorts) represent some of Jones's earliest work.
Mama Bear of the Three Bears can be briefly spotted in a brief headshot during the final scene of the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
In the early 1990s, the Three Bears were brought back and featured several times in the TV series Tiny Toon Adventures. Most famously, they appeared in an updated "90's version" of the classic Three Bears fairy tale (with Elmyra Duff playing the part of Goldilocks), which parodied suburbia and the mass commercialismprevalent in American society. Papa Bear also appeared as the vendor in "Garage Sale of the Century."
The Three Bears make a cameo appearance in Space Jam, watching a basketball game.
In Looney Tunes: Back In Action, the Bears are tourists in Paris. They run into DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser), whose trousers have rocketed off into the air leaving him in his underwear. DJ steals Papa Bear's trousers so he can save Jenna Elfman from a villain.