Why Is Yogi Bear?

12/16/2010 3:30 PM |

Yogi Bear
Directed by Eric Brevig

The most depressing thing about Yogi Bear is that it’s not an anomaly but a business model: Warner Brothers, a studio that usually at least sort of knows better, is nakedly emulating the quickie talking-animal factory at Fox that scored a ridiculous amount of money with the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies (and tested the limits of what non-beloved cartoon characters parents will endure in faux-live-action form with the less lucrative Marmaduke). Like its Fox cousins, the new Yogi Bear movie makes computer-animated, celebrity-voiced versions of not-particularly-classic cartoon characters Yogi (Dan Aykroyd) and Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake), adds some slumming human actors so the expensive effects don’t have to appear in every scene, and imagines a story with all of the scope, wit, and imagination of a ten-minute Yogi Bear cartoon from 1961.

Tom Cavanaugh joins the NBC star relocation program as Ranger Smith and appears on the verge of giving up and going home in every scene; his dialogue may indicate that he wants nothing more than to save Jellystone Park, but his sad eyes say otherwise. The park is on the verge of being seized by the greedy mayor played by Andrew Daly (Eastbound and Down), assuming the David Cross role of the villain whose jerky insincerity mocks and improves the movie to marginal but appreciated degrees. Anna Faris, on hand as a nature filmmaker and love interest for Cavanaugh, is too sweet-natured to perform such near-sabotage, but at least she’s on screen with her ditzy rasp, occasionally breaking into animal roars, intact.

Faris’s voice was pointlessly sped up and rendered unrecognizable as one of the Chipettes in last year’s Squeakquel, perhaps the most puzzling facet of this sub-genre: hiring star voices to then render unrecognizable via a close impression of the faceless Saturday morning artists they’re replacing. Hence, Aykroyd does a pretty decent Yogi Bear imitation, and Timberlake adds to his list of semi-pointless skills with an even more impressive Boo Boo (at least given that Aykroyd has less sexiness, not to mention burgeoning movie cred, to repress).

Anyway, this isn’t just an assignment for some intrepid and/or foolhardy performers who should be making sharp comedies; it’s also a feature film with a story, kind of. To keep Yogi at odds with Ranger Smith even while they both want to save their park, he’s ordered to act more like a real bear and stop causing trouble by scheming to steal pic-a-nic baskets. Never examined in the struggle to attract visitors to Jellystone with discount season passes and daytime fireworks displays is the notion that perhaps tourists would, in fact, be drawn in by the noticeable presence of talking bears, which are, as Faris notes with amusing nonchalance, “very rare.”

Perhaps sensing that few remember or care much about Yogi’s persona, nor his side career as some kind of a spaceship captain, the screenplay mostly just hammers home catchphrases: “pic-a-nic baskets,” “smarter than the a-ver-age bear,” cut to listless humans trying to look interested, repeat. If Yogi causes moderately less pain than a Chipmunks outing, it’s because of a trim running time and a general harmlessness — by which I mean, no pop hits are harmed by animal-sung remakes, although the opportunity to have Yogi and Boo Boo dance to “Baby Got Back” for a few seconds could apparently not be allowed to pass through the writer dungeon without implementation. If you have kids, and those kids have already seen Tangled, Harry Potter, Megamind, and, oh, hell, Unstoppable, you might think for a minute about taking them to see this. Or maybe you could make some sandwiches, put in a good DVD, and have a living room pic-a-nic.

Opens December 17