[Screen It]

"YOGI BEAR"
(2010) (voices of Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A park ranger must contend with a corrupt mayor trying to close down his park, all while dealing with a mischievous talking bear who's most interested in stealing visitors' picnic baskets.
PLOT:
Jellystone Park is 100 years old, but due to other distractions in today's world, it doesn't draw visitors like it used to and has now lost money 10 years straight. Even so, Ranger Smith (TOM CAVANAGH), who grew up there, and Ranger Jones (T.J. MILLER), his younger, overeager subordinate, still go about their daily duties. That includes keeping an eye on Jellystone's most famous inhabitant, Yogi Bear (voice of DAN AYKROYD). He's a necktie-wearing, talking bear with an insatiable appetite, who's always coming up with new schemes to steal visitors' picnic baskets, much to the dismay of his much smaller and far more reserved sidekick, Boo Boo (voice of JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE).

Yogi's reputation has drawn the attention of documentary filmmaker Rachel (ANNA FARIS) who wants to do a film about him. Ranger Smith has no problem with that, especially considering that he's become instantly smitten with her. But he does have a problem and that's Mayor Brown (ANDREW DALY) and his Chief of Staff (NATHAN CORDDRY) who've decided that since their city is out of money, selling logging rights to the park could generate additional revenue and possibly ensure Brown's victory in the upcoming governor's race.

Ranger Smith is obviously against the closure of the park, but finds he can only keep it open if he can make $30,000 in a week. With time running out, he tries to come up with a way to do that, but must contend not only with the chief of staff trying to undermine him, Ranger Jones wanting his job, and his attraction to Rachel, but also Yogi whose antics threaten to undermine his efforts.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As a young kid growing up in a pre-digital age, there were limited entertainment options, so cartoons where a large focus in that part of my life, especially on weekend mornings. I watched pretty much anything and everything, but my favorite was the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, followed by The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo and The Pink Panther. Others (too numerous to count or mention) were obviously on my childhood radar (due to just three channels of programming), but never really drew me in.

Among them were any featuring Yogi Bear, including "Yogi Bear & Friends," "Yogi's Gang" and "Yogi's Space Race." I don't recall having any sort of fear or distaste for bear characters, but Yogi, Boo Boo and their animated posse in the Hanna-Barbera universe simply didn't appeal to me. In fact, the only fond memory I have of the talking, necktie wearing bear is that of a cheap toy slide projector (since we couldn't use dad's real one without supervision) we owned that included a few panels of Yogi Bear material on it. Beyond that, I could really care less that he was "smarter than your average bear" or that he pronounced "picnic" as "pic-a-nic."

Thus, when I heard they were making a full-length, live-action meets computer animated version of the character, it didn't impact me in any fashion. With no loyalty factor in play, I didn't feel there were ruining some sacred part of my childhood psyche and/or experience, although not being a fan also meant I wasn't salivating at the prospects of seeing the adaptation (especially after seeing the painful looking trailers for the flick).

While younger kids who enjoy movies featuring talking animals interacting with live-action people might enjoy what's offered, the film will likely send everyone else looking for a den to nap in or, better yet, hibernate until something better comes along. Yes, the studio that once turned out all of those glorious Looney Tunes shorts that could entertain audiences of all ages has delivered a limited appeal offering that, well, simply isn't that special.

For starters, it's yet another film trying to capitalize (monetarily) on the recent 3D craze, but one that doesn't really do much with the added dimension beyond shooting some fireworks and other items out of the screen toward bespectacled viewers. Sadly, our press screening was using a projector whose lamp was apparently on its last leg, thus making the otherwise already dimmed experience (due to the glasses) even duller and darker (although that at least made that firework display -- done during the daytime in the film -- seem to go off in appropriate lighting).

The bigger problem, though, is that director Eric Brevig and his trio of scribes, Jeffrey Ventimilia & Joshua Sternin and Brad Copeland, deliver a bland concoction of plot, dialogue and jokes. Yes, there are the trademark phrases, desire to steal pic-a-nic baskets, and the talking bear's interaction with Ranger Smith. And both Dan Aykroyd as Yogi (imitating the old Art Carney sound) and Justin Timberlake (of all people) as Boo Boo nail the vocal performances for those old enough to remember the originals. Beyond that, however, the material is lackluster to poor, especially concerning the human characters and the storyline involving them.

The setup is simple enough. Rangers Smith (a boring Tom Cavanagh) and Jones (T.J. Miller in full, if slightly dimwitted human cartoon mode) work in Jellystone Park, an enormous place of wilderness that somehow is located within the boundaries of an unnamed city. That municipality's mayor (Andrew Daily in cartoon villainy mode) and his chief of staff (Nathan Corddry doing the standard second-in-command bit) decide to sell logging rights in the park to make money and bribe voters for the upcoming gubernatorial race.

While dealing with the pending closure of his money-losing park, Smith is distracted by a pretty documentary filmmaker (Anna Faris, slumming it) who shows up wanting to get footage of the park's legendary talking bear. Why the latter doesn't draw visitors (and thus earn the park beaucoup bucks) is never explained, but such fine points of logic or simple explanation obviously aren't the film's strong suit. Thus, the plot ends up playing out somewhat like "Furry Vengeance" (animals trying to save their land), although thankfully not to the same degree of awfulness.

Instead, it's just innocuous and instantly forgettable stuff that seems downright tepid in comparison to what others have been doing with animation and kid-friendly offerings of recent (or long ago). Don't get me wrong -- I don't need such entertainment to be edgy or skew toward adult tastes or sensibilities (such as the Yogi and Boo Boo "Assassination of Jesse James" parody that's currently making the Internet rounds).

Yet, with so many films showing they can play to older kids and adults while simultaneously entertaining the youngsters, something like "Yogi Bear" feels like it's missing the boat and/or cheating older viewers who most likely wouldn't otherwise be caught dead watching this by themselves. The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 11, 2010 / Posted December 17, 2010


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