So, I’m ill with a heavy cold that migrates to an ear infection. In years gone by, I’d be shipped off to my grandparents to spend the day lying on their sofa waiting patiently till mid morning/day until BBC1 showed their children’s TV programs; whether it be home grown shows such as Brick-a-brac with Brian Cant or Heads and Tails with Derek Griffiths, there was always time for an American cartoon, chief amongst these were The Flintstones, Scooby Doo and Yogi Bear. I wasn’t a particularly sickly child, but I have strong memories of watching these programs, seems they have been around for years, indeed, Scooby Doo is still going, so I was astonished to find out that there were, in fact, only thirty five episodes of the original Yogi Bear TV show ever made! Of course each episode only ever had the one plot line; Yogi, and his ever faithful sidekick, Boo-boo, would drive Ranger Smith mad by repeated abortive attempts at stealing ‘pic-a-nic’ baskets in the proof that he is “Smarter than the average bear”. With Hollywood’s recent lack of creativity and their net casting far and wide to re-make, re-image, update or otherwise classic shows, even cartoons, ready for the big screen, and with The Flintstones and Scooby Doo already being done; that leaves Yogi to finally be given the ‘live action’ treatment and grace our cinemas and now Blu-ray. Was watching this film what made me sick, or did it bring with it that much needed nostalgia to win over those old enough to have seen the original show .... ?
As already mentioned the original cartoon show only ever had the one plot, so it seems obvious that the film would follow suit – and indeed it does; the simple idea is Yogi wants nothing more than to steal food from the park visitors, much to the chagrin of Ranger Smith. However, to add a bit more meat to the idea, the creative team of Jeffrey Ventimilia, Joshua Sternin and Brad Copeland add in a bit of eco-friendly/fiscal worry as the Mayor re-classifies Jellystone Park enabling it to be logged and thus bribing his way to state governor (see where this is heading?) leaving it up to Yogi and his companions to save the day. The plot then is wafer thin and barely fills the eighty minute run time, and that is the biggest problem with the film – it aims for the kids market and forgets that adults will have to watch this too. And this is so frustrating because countless children’s films have been made that appeal just as much to adults, but, it seems, the current trend in Hollywood is to play it dumb and Yogi Bear is certainly that.
Director Eric Brevig whose only other big screen credit is the rather lamentable Journey to the Centre of the Earth (2008), does use his visual effects background to bring out the most of the frame by positioning the camera to give some wonderful eye candy, especially with the 3D element (see Picture for full details) but his handling of the characters is all rather two dimensional. Now this is to be expecting with the titular character and his side kick, their motivations are, after all, one dimensional. Even baring in mind the fantastical devices invented for the stealing of the picnic baskets (the catapult bench, basket-nabber 2000 etc.) and when Yogi decides to go back to nature after his abortive help at the firework display, neither add any more depth than we need to know about the character, who he is or how he came to be are happily glossed over and there is no need to address it - thankfully the creators didn’t. Dan Aykroyd does his best Yogi impression and you know what, it works very well. Justin Timberlake matches that nasally downtrodden voice of Boo-boo to perfection and together you can hear the affection and, at times desperation, that these two characters have for each other; it is probably the best part about the film.
When it comes to the supporting cast, however, things rather quickly fall apart. Ranger Smith is played by Tom Cavanagh (probably best known as J.D.’s brother from Scrubs) and whilst I like the actor, he simply doesn’t have that ‘Ranger Smith’ mentality. The exasperation and single mindedness with Yogi is replaced with an obvious love story and an unnecessary affection for the park due to his father. The idea is there, but it comes off so flat that you wonder why they bothered. Anna Faris plays his love interest, documentary maker Rachael, and she plays it just like every other part she has ever played ... badly. T.J. Miller has great fun as Ranger Jones, whose ambition is nearly the downfall of the park, but his verbal and physical sparring with Smith are probably the second biggest highlight of the film. When it comes to the villains of the piece, Andrew Daly and Nathan Corddry play with absolute ‘boo-hiss’ pantomime thuggery and it is impossible to take them at all seriously, and considering exactly what they are planning for a National Park, I think a little bit more decorum would have made for a far more meaningful film. Taken as a whole, every character plays for laughs, and, yes it is a kid’s film, but come on when everyone is winking at the camera then nothing is taken seriously and everything plays flat – as is plain to see here.
Action wise, everything is taken squarely from the ‘cartoon camp’ and taking the film for what it is, this actually works in its favour – Yogi twirling fire batons whilst water skiing looks no more out of place than a talking bear in the woods, and the various set pieces including the rescue of the turtle with the Basket-nabber 2000 and the subsequent rapids sequence make for quite a thrilling ride, even if there is no peril since the slapstick nature precludes any real danger, but in the context of ‘cartoon violence’ comes off very well indeed. And of course everything ends up happy and everyone gets their just desserts, be that good, bad or ugly. But these mediocre highs are too little too late to sway the film away from all the bad plotting, bad acting and just plain bad. To make matters worse there was little or no nostalgic value to the film, at least to me. But its one hundred million dollar box office takings clearly have me in the minority, which is a shame because if such vapid and simple films continue to make money there is no incentive for Hollywood to try any harder, meaning even more of the same.
Yogi Bear is not a dire loss; it’s just too simple with little re-watchability and little for an adult to get emotionally involved with. If only it was made for ‘smarter than the average’ film viewer it could have been something special.
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