As beloved as William Hanna-Joseph Barbera’s TV cartoons have been since the late ’50s, their recent resurrection as live-action/CGI-animated feature films has been hugely disappointing. Somewhat inspired casting choices like John Goodman as Fred Flintstone in The Flintstones and Matthew Lillard as Shaggy in Scooby-Doo (zoinks!) were spot on, but the films themselves were a firm reminder that without a competent script, nostalgia can only get you so far.
With Yogi Bear, another of these bizarre live-action/CGI hybrids, Warner Bros. aims their attention at a new generation of indiscriminate four-year-olds unfamiliar with the short-lived animated spinoff of the early ’60s. While the simplistically-drawn Yogi Bear Show only aired 35 episodes over two seasons, it’s considered a classic in the Hanna-Barbera canon.
In the new film version, which is the first picture not to be produced in some capacity by either creator (Hanna passed away in 2001, Barbera in 2006), the basic premise of the original cartoon remains the same. Yogi (Dan Aykroyd doing his best impression of comedian Rodney Dangerfield), along with his faithful sidekick Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake, whose take on the pudgy little bear is about as wonderfully wussy as his role in The Social Network), spend their time in Jellystone National Park evading Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) and stealing campers’ “pic-a-nic” baskets. The troublemaking duo becomes the park’s main attraction when a filmmaker (Anna Faris) chooses them as the subject for her next nature documentary.
Jellystone can use all the publicity it can muster. The town is going bankrupt and a corrupt mayor (Andrew Daly) wants to sell the park to a company planning to cut down all the trees (cue an unoriginal green message and a plot centered on zoning regulations). Penned by three screenwriters, whose less-than-stellar credits include Tooth Fairy and Wild Hogs, and directed by longtime special-effects whiz Eric Brevig (Total Recall), Yogi Bear wears thin even at a merciful 82 minutes, which includes an unfunny, outdated dance sequence to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Yogi can still refer to himself as “smarter than the average bear” if he’d like, but his movie hardly supports the self-description. Instead, Yogi Bear joins other brainless live-action/CGI combos of the last decade like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Garfield to become yet another forgettable addition to the dullest of kid-friendly fare.
Dir. Eric Brevig; writ. Brad Copeland, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia; feat. Dan Aykroyd, Tom Cavanagh, Andrew Daly, Anna Faris, Justin Timberlake (PG)