(by Dustin Putman
Following the box-office successes of 2004's "Garfield," 2007's "Alvin and the Chipmunks," and 2009's "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," "Yogi Bear" continues the fad of resurrecting beloved animated characters from generations' past in big-screen, live-action movies targeting modern kid audiences. Most of the innocence of pic-a-nic-loving Hanna Barbera creations Yogi Bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and small-fry partner-in-crime Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) remain intact, but it's exceedingly clear that not much thought was put into the story and screenplay once the mere idea was greenlit by studio Warner Bros. Director Eric Brevig (2008's "Journey to the Center of the Earth") and a ridiculous three writers—Brad Copeland (2007's "Wild Hogs") and Jeffrey Ventimilia & Joshua Sternin (2010's "Tooth Fairy")—have concocted a clichéd, cut-rate plot, tossed in a lot of lame hijinks, fashioned it in tiresome 3-D for theatrical distribution, and now hope that they all make a mint from their uninspired work. What's interesting to note, however, is that Yogi Bear and Boo Boo are virtual afterthoughts in their own film; the humans get just as much, if not more, screen time, and the outcome is actually more tolerable because of it. Article continues below
Bankrupt and in need of balancing his budget so that he can run for governor, crooked politician Mayor Brown (Andrew Daly) is informed that closing nearby Jellystone National Park and cutting down its trees will rack him up the necessary funds. This is awful news for Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh), a forest lover and avid conservationist who faces losing his job if he doesn't come up with a way to raise $30,000 in a week's time to save the park. With the help of cute nature documentarian Rachel Johnson (Anna Faris) and talking bears Yogi and Boo Boo, Ranger Smith is not about to give up his park without a fight.
The sight of Yogi Bear and Boo Boo dancing to Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" could have been something worth living without, but otherwise "Yogi Bear" is surprisingly light on crass humor and pop-culture references (though a tired ode to 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey" still sneaks through). The film is innocuous and forgettable, fairly harmless for children but also akin to junk food in comparison to a current quality family movie like the lovely "Tangled." Dan Aykroyd (2007's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry") and Justin Timberlake (2010's "The Social Network") defy the odds with voice work that affectionately recalls the original actors who played Yogi and Boo Boo. These characters, brought to not-so-authentic life via computer animation, don't look photorealistic by any stretch of the imagination, but they do blend comfortably with live-action actors without calling too much attention to themselves. As for their place in the story, they are more supporting players who help out Ranger Smith and Rachel when they aren't stealing picnic baskets or inadvertently wreaking havoc.
Tom Cavanagh (2006's "How to Eat Fried Worms") is sincere and affable as Ranger Smith, while T.J. Miller (2010's "Unstoppable") brings energy to underling Ranger Jones, who yearns to become a head ranger. The standout, however, is Anna Faris (2009's "Observe and Report"), lifting a role that someone far less talented could have played into the easy highlight of the entire picture. As the adorably quirky Rachel, Faris is beyond charming, making her character smart and dippy in equal measures. She also earns the only laughs to be had. One must question what an actress of her caliber is doing in such a thankless project, but Faris gives it her all and turns what could have been an interminable experience into a passable one. The romance between Rachel and Ranger Smith is plodding and predictable, but also sweet.
"Yogi Bear" culminates in a fight amongst the rapids, followed by a perilous fall from a waterfall that actually devises a clever way for everyone to survive the predicament. From there is the obvious one-upping of Mayor Brown, who is exposed for the nasty, disingenuous politician he is in a plot device telegraphed an hour in advance. No one going to see "Yogi Bear" will expect anything less than a happy ending, just like they won't be expecting high art. On those terms, it lives up to its meager forecast. The secret weapon is Anna Faris, making a totally inconsequential effort just a little more tolerable through the simple grace of her presence. Yogi who?Note:
As has become the case with nearly every family-oriented feature to pass through theaters these days, "Yogi Bear" is being shown in 3-D. Unlike some that have been hastily converted to the format in post-production, this one was actually shot with 3-D cameras. Does this extra so-called dimension bring anything special to the proceedings? No. In fact, it's worthless. I Hate 3-DAdding insult to injury, at my early screening one of the projector bulbs was dead, which, coupled with wearing the shaded 3-D glasses, made the picture look ridiculously dark and undefined. Would-be scenes set in the sunny daytime looked as if they had instead been shot at nightfall without the assistance of lighting equipment. This was the venue's fault, not the film's, but it does bring up yet another detrimental flaw with the format. Theaters add a surcharge onto the price of tickets for what they see as a premium presentation (despite, really, 3-D only bleeding the brightness level of the picture). Add on the issue of a bad projector bulb and an expensive trip to the movies becomes nothing more than an ugly, unsatisfying headache. There isn't a doubt in my mind that this happens far more often throughout the country than money-hungry exhibitors would like us to believe. Why would anyone want to pay upwards of fifteen dollars or more per admission to see something like this?