By: Roxana Hadadi
There’s one point in “Yogi Bear” where one of the tree-hating, corrupt-government bad guys huffs, “I’m not going to let a bear make me look bad!” Too bad, guy. You’re in “Yogi Bear.” The damage has already been done.
And oh, there’s so much damage in this live-action adaptation of the fictional bear created by Hanna-Barbera Productions. “The Yogi Bear Show” premiered in 1961 and introduced viewers to the perpetually hungry Yogi Bear, who wore a collar, green tie and matching hat and was aided in his plundering of picnic baskets in fictional Jellystone Park by accomplice Boo Boo. Old episodes focused on Yogi’s rivalry with Ranger Smith, who was constantly perturbed by the bear’s hijinks – trading honey for snacks from park visitors, taking money from tourists to buy stuff – but also shared some messages about their cross-species friendship. One time Yogi planned a surprise birthday party for Ranger Smith – that’s camaraderie.
But this version, with the CGI-animated Yogi and Boo Boo voiced by Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake, respectively, and Ranger Smith portrayed by Tom Cavanagh, of TV’s “Ed” and “Scrubs,” saps all that cuteness and turns it shoddy. With unnecessary 3-D and unbelievable plot elements, the film ends up being sadly similar to April’s “Furry Vengeance,” in which Brendan Fraser was a developer who realized that preserving the environment is way more important than making money. There’s nothing wrong with that; I just wish kids’ movies would stop giving us repetitive messages in repetitive formats.
“Yogi Bear” begins with Yogi and Boo Boo, who use an expensive-looking telescope (it’s never really explained how the two get the funds for such pricey accessories) to spy on visitors to Jellystone Park. If they have a picnic basket, Yogi is going after them – a “picnic basket holds dreams,” if you didn’t know, which really means Yogi is hungry and will tell Boo Boo anything he can think of to get the little guy to tag along. The two use a zip line to get the prized food, meaning yet another headache for Ranger Smith, who has been butting heads with Yogi for years about his thieving ways.
Yes, it’s discussed that Yogi is “smarter than the average bear,” but why Ranger Smith is accustomed to him talking, formulating plans and using tools – and why second-in-command Ranger Jones (T.J. Jones) and park guests go along with it without ever notifying someone who could come along and lock Yogi and Boo Boo up or use them as circus attractions or something – is also never explained. Instead, Ranger Smith just struggles with Yogi’s presence, and Ranger Jones struggles with having to stack pamphlets while Ranger Smith gets to drive their all-terrain vehicle, and the city’s Mayor Brown (Andrew Daly) struggles with how to fix the government’s budget deficit. The only solution for how the city will pay for his suits and other expenses? Rezone Jellystone Park into an agricultural area and sell it to logging companies, of course!
What comes next is Ranger Smith’s refusal to accept the mayor’s plan, which will go through unless the park is somehow able to raise the amount it’s in debt – more than $30,000 – in a week, saving it from Mayor Brown’s nefarious purpose. And what comes after that is some snafu that unravels Ranger Smith’s resistance, and then a later change of heart that brings him in cahoots with Yogi, Boo Boo and documentary-shooting hottie Rachel (Anna Faris) to keep Jellystone Park open once and for all.
It’s not necessarily that “Yogi Bear” is horrendously, inexplicably awful – as “Furry Vengeance” was – and it’s not out of the question that young kids will find the talking bears, their constant scheming to get food and some of the physical comedy, like a trip down the park’s rapids and the bears’ adventures flying a glider, pretty comical. (The only parental-guidance-worthy things to note are a kiss between two main characters; a maggot popping out of Yogi’s nose; Yogi’s romance advice, which includes urinating on a woman to mark her as yours; and some usage of the rap song “Baby Got Back.”) But yet again audiences are faced with a revamp that seems to lose sight of, or add additional themes to, an original idea: The “Yogi Bear” cartoon was silly and strictly about the bear’s love for pie, cake and other treats, while this film tries to assign some greater meaning to the goofiness at hand. Everyone needs something to come home to, but when that feel-good message is also packed with a sloppily formed romance, an obvious message about the environment and a formulaic depiction of government cronyism, you’re better off watching “The Lion King.”
And whatever you do, don’t see “Yogi Bear” in 3-D – the extra ticket cost certainly doesn’t justify the few scenes where it’s used, like chips, soda and water droplets flying at your face. Oh, and at one point there’s a flying turtle, just to prove how much the minds behind this film love nature. If only they loved solid moviemaking that much.