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, Mama substitutes carrot soup for porridge, and the "Goldilocks" they lure turns out to be none other than Bugs Bunny. Voice actors Billy Bletcher, Bea Benaderet, and Kent Rogers play Papa, Mama, and Junior, respectively.
Jones' Bears as introduced in the short are perhaps the first film satire of the American nuclear family and how its traditional roles were coming under increasing scrutiny in the 1940s. Paw is a loud-mouthed, know-it-all shrimp, while Junior is an oversized, bumbling buffoon. The two are constantly at each other, leaving Maw Bear as the innocent middle-bear. 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 to hibernate. 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" and "Bear Feat", both in 1949.
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 signficant impact was perhaps on Jones himself, as these films (along with the Hubie and Bertie and Charlie Dog shorts) represent some of Jones' earliest work that was intended to be funny rather than cute and Disney-esque.