Inoffensive but bland, movie is perfect for the very young or easily amused
Is anybody really surprised that Yogi Bear, the big screen live-action/CGI adaptation of the classic Hanna Barbera cartoon, is a dull-witted, innocuous film that plays for the cheap seats and booster chairs? The movie is the perfect adaptation of its source material, an equally bland cartoon that has not aged well over the years since its 1961 debut.
The real surprise is that Warner Brothers decided to greenlight the film in the first place — but even that is not much of a shock. The studio has managed to make some real big bucks in recent years by taking cartoons remembered more out of a misplaced nostalgia than any real claim to quality and turning them into inoffensive films lively enough to capture kids’ attentions and not so terrible as to cause adults to want to choke themselves on their children’s Happy Meal toys.
Yogi Bear is a mercifully quick-paced unearthing of the classic Yogi Bear cartoon formula — dug out of its shallow grave, dusted off and presented to the gape-mouthed youth of today as if they were being shown the bones of John Merrick, the Elephant Man. Propped up on the wobbling shoulders of listless 3D effects and an oddly cobbled together cast of up-and-coming talent and washed-up comedians, the movie tries very hard to keep its core base of nostalgic baby boomers happy by keeping the film remarkably close to its source material while still having enough colorful flotsam and jetsam bobbing on the surface to grab the easily-distracted interest of the physical youthful (as opposed to the mentally).
And, for the most part, it works. Both Hanna Barbera purists and the very young shouldn’t have too much to complain about. The movie hits all the right notes for a film of its kind — setting up the characters, the conflict and the resolution like a hurried holiday shopper checking names off their gift list. The movie does not break free of its inherent limitations nor does it strive to be anything but the unmemorable diversion designed to eat up and hour and a half’s worth of time so that parents can fight in the bedroom while Uncle Yogi keeps the kiddies distracted from the fact that mommy and daddy don’t love each other as much as they used to.
Speaking of Uncle Yogi, Dan Akryod does an admirable job channeling the spirit of Daws Butler, the original voice of Yogi Bear. For the most part, Akryod disappears into his role. The same can be said about Justin Timberlake, who plays Yogi’s perpetually suffering sidekick Boo Boo. Both Akryod and Timberlake do faithful impersonations that hit all the necessary comedic timing marks.
It’s a mystery, though, why director Eric Brevig would choose to hire Akroyd and Timberlake for the parts. I can see some level of curiosity enticing certain audience members to check out a big screen version of Yogi Bear staring the voices of two of the funnier people to ever grace the Saturday Night Live soundstage but I imagine most audiences that turn out for the movie this weekend are going for the concept, not the actors. Hiring a talented but unknown voice artist who can just as ably ape the vocal performances of Daws Butler and Don Messick would surely have been a cheaper choice. And heck, if they really wanted a known actor for the role, surely Dave Coulier could use the work — and probably would only charge a fraction of what Akryod and Timberlake went for.
If the filmmakers really wanted to use Akryod and Timberlake, I wish they had given the two actors bear suits and had them perform live with the other actors. Now that would have been entertaining.
As the film’s token live-action performers, Tom Cavanagh, Anna Faris and T.J. Miler are largely wasted in the thankless job of having to interact with non-existent creatures. While Faris and Miller seem to give it their all, trying their hardest to have fun with the roles they were given, Cavanagh sports a bemused smirk on his face the entire movie — like he realized the movie’s scrubbing of his self-respect represented a big fat paycheck in the end and was he more than game to put up with a few weeks spent in the beautiful New Zealand countryside playing make-believe if it meant he didn’t need to do a few more guest spots on television shows next fall.
As a whole, the entire cast seems to be slightly famous stand-ins for the inevitable unknowns that will eventually take over the role when the movie shifts into the murky waters of made-for-DVD sequels and television specials in a couple of years.
Andrew Daly, as the film’s slightly villainous Mayor Brown, is a clear scene-stealer — giving a lively and entertaining performance that stands out in stark contrast to the rest of the film’s lifeless meandering. I almost wished I had been watching a movie about Mayor Brown.
Yogi Bear is not a terrible movie. It’s also not a movie that most audiences have any need to ever see during their lives. Yogi Bear is a film destined for a future 10 years out where it will exist solely in the back rows of bargain-priced daycare centers and in the homes of grandparents who threw a couple of cheap DVDs in their shopping cart when they realized they were going to have to babysit a pair of unruly rugrats.
I’d be pretty comfortable in saying that Yogi Bear will never be anybody’s favorite film but I’m sure somewhere in these great United States, there is a man dressed in nothing but a bowtie kneading a stuffed teddy bear as he excitedly clicks the pre-order button on Amazon’s Yogi Bear page. This movie, sir, is for you. Enjoy.
Director: Eric Brevig Notable Cast: Dan Akryod, Justin Timberlake, Tom Cavanagh, Anna Faris and T.J. Miler Writer(s): Brad Copeland, Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimila
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.