Hey, Boo Boo! Zzzzzzzz . . .
By Dan Kois
Friday, December 17, 2010
An uninspired studio product that demands as little from the audience as it did from its writers, directors and actors, the 3-D "Yogi Bear" mixes anodyne live-action nature with animated animal hijinks. The result? As is so often the case, the satirical newspaper the Onion's sight-unseen take is as incisive as any review could hope to be: " 'Yogi Bear' Movie Introduces Boring Cartoon Character To New Generation," a recent headline proclaimed.
Of course Eric Brevig's film, attempting to make Jellystone Park's resident pic-a-nic basket thief more fun, ticks the boxes on some Warner Bros. memo titled "Things Kids Today Like." Fart jokes? Check. 3-D spit takes? Check. Yogi shaking his ursine rump to "Baby Got Back"? Dear Lord, check.
An engaging storyline or jokes that go deeper than the hoary lines parents remember (or, y'know, don't) from the Hanna-Barbera cartoons of their childhood? That's hard work, buddy, and, canny filmmakers know, essentially irrelevant to the box-office potential of a family movie dropped in the marketplace once frigid weather and school vacations set in.
Yogi is a computer-animated brown bear who walks on his hind legs, wears a tie and hat, and speaks with the voice of Dan Aykroyd (channeling the late, legendary voice actor Daws Butler's familiar tones). Yogi's pint-size life partner, Boo Boo, is voiced by Justin Timberlake, who displays neither his golden pipes nor any of the spark he brought to his role in "The Social Network." Mostly, Timberlake's mushmouthed Boo Boo just plays the nervous scold to Yogi's free spirit.
The film's plot has Yogi and Boo Boo helping Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) defend Jellystone from a rapacious mayor (the funny Andrew Daly), who wants to sell off the park's logging rights to bail out the city budget. The ranger doesn't want to hear about Yogi's schemes, of course. He just wants Yogi to act like a bear - rather than water-ski, steal vending machines and build a contrabulous fabtraption of a flying machine for high-tech picnic-grabbing. (The Baskit Nabber 2000, as it's called, has no seat belts, and its safety information card is just a hand-drawn picture of passengers screaming.)
The one real bright spot in the film's cast is Anna Faris, who plays Rachel, a documentarian who arrives at Jellystone to film its rare subspecies of walking, talking bears. Faris, long a critics'-favorite comedian, is best known for playing dumb (in "The House Bunny" and "Observe and Report"), but in "Yogi Bear" she transforms her standard cluelessness into sweet science-nerd awkwardness.
Of course, Ranger Smith, Rachel, Yogi and Boo Boo team up to foil the mayor's plans, delivering a timely lesson on municipal budget short-sightedness - and a timeless one on staying true to yourself, or whatever. While children younger than 8 should enjoy Yogi's antics, everyone older than 8 - pre-tweens, tweens, teens, young adults, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and adult bears - will just be grateful that, at 80 minutes, "Yogi Bear" is shorter than the average barely-there family movie.
Contains mild rude humor.