Grin and ‘Bear’ It?

Yogi isn’t smarter than the average kids’ movie

Having grown up after the heyday of Hanna-Barbera’s Yogi Bear cartoons, I must admit that I felt woefully unprepared to experience the 2010 version. “Is Yogi the one who teaches kids about preventing forest fires?” I asked my husband. “No, that’s Smokey Bear,” he said. “Yogi steals picnic baskets while wearing a hat and a tie, and for some reason the park ranger never just shoots him.” Later I would marvel that my husband, unwittingly, and without even seeing the movie, was able to sum up the entire plot of Yogi Bear.

The character of Yogi never was particularly fleshed out. He wears a collar but no pants. He lusts after “pic-a-nic” baskets and is always up to schemes to obtain them. He lives in a cave in Jellystone National Park with the bow-tied Boo Boo Bear, who is either his nephew or life partner (even Wikipedia observes that Boo Boo has an “uncertain relationship” to Yogi.) So naturally an 82-minute film needs more to work with.

In this uninspired—if inoffensive—update, Ranger Smith (Ed’s Tom Cavanagh), unable to make Jellystone profitable, finds himself ousted by a crooked mayor (Andrew Daly) who wants to sell logging rights to fix the city’s budget deficit. Only Yogi and Boo Boo, aided by a documentary filmmaker/love interest, Rachel Johnson (The House Bunny’s Anna Faris), can help the ranger save the day.

The human actors do a fine job of not taking the material too seriously, but the script lacks the kind of tongue-in-cheek Toy Story wit that makes this kind of movie bearable (pun alert!) for anyone over the age of 7. The jokes are easy and broad, the site gags heavy on pratfalls, the cultural references oddly outdated (at one point, Yogi and Boo Boo perform a dance routine to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back”). The visual effects are fine, but 3-D does little to enhance the viewing experience, unless you have a burning desire to see Yogi shoot a grub worm out of his nose in more than two dimensions.

Dan Aykroyd voices Yogi with a jokey, over-the-top baritone that recalls Barney Rubble, had he been raised in the Bronx (the original Hanna-Barbera Yogi was reportedly based on Art Carney’s Honeymooners character), while Boo Boo’s trademark nasal whine is provided by Justin Timberlake, who sounds like he’s been inhaling helium balloons. It’s unclear why two famous actors were hired to mimic stylized voices created in the late 1950s, but then again it’s also unclear why anybody thought the world was clamoring for a live-action Yogi Bear. So I guess it’s a wash.

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