Someone needs to make a frank and open confession: who greenlighted a feature film of Yogi Bear? I can think of only two lines of reasoning that would lead to this point. One involves a Warner Brothers analogue of the way some government departments fund worthless projects despite the inevitable losses in order to justify their bloated budgets. The other, more likely, scenario has Dan Aykroyd perpetrating a monstrous nostalgia/performance art boondoggle — an $80 million version of Andy Kaufman performing the theme from Mighty Mouse.
The first, most obvious question that absolutely has to be asked is “do kids today even know who Yogi Bear is?” Yogi and his sidekick Boo-Boo started out as sideline characters in Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound show, and eventually got their own headlining spot on a show that ran for a total of 35 episodes. Like most of Hanna-Barbera’s shows, each of these episodes consisted of three shorts that clocked in at five minutes, tops, and these shorts were cut out and repackaged in various cartoon shows at least through the time I was a kid. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of them packaged for presentation in Saturday-morning cartoon blocks, so it’s really a valid question as to whether anyone under 25 has any real knowledge of Yogi Bear in the first place.
Anyway, it’s a good thing that the shows had the format they did, since there’s only about five minutes of material in the premise at any one time. Yogi is basically a direct adaptation of Art Carney and his Borscht-Belt-influenced comedy. Boo-Boo is his straight man, providing just enough counterbalance and moderation to Yogi’s zany schemes. Ranger Smith is the square who stands in opposition to Yogi’s desires. This is a triad with a long and rich history, and it’s every bit as psychically resonant as Campbell’s Hero. And comedians like Carney understood its dynamic: you get up, you do your five-minute act, and then a ventriloquist or something comes out. When Carney moved into the sitcom format in The Honeymooners he moved Ed Norton away from that dynamic because it simply doesn’t work in that setting.
And to bloat it up into a feature film is even more of a terrible idea. Yogi (Aykroyd) and Boo-Boo (Justin Timberlake) are still there, of course, as is Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh). But Ranger Smith’s character expands to become the real center of the film, gaining a sidekick ranger of his own (T.J. Miller), a nature documentarian love interest (Anna Faris), and opposition from a Mayor plotting to rezone and destroy Jellystone Park to further his own political career (Andrew Daly). Boo-Boo, on the other hand, is reduced to a hapless, tagalong schmuck who’s there more to absorb some of the blowback from Yogi’s plans than to keep them from going too far awry.
Because, of course, “too” is exactly what Eric Brevig — who most recently mangled Journey to the Center of the Earth — wants: too big, too fast, too gross,, too broad too everything. All the writing from the humor to what there is of a plot sets new lows in “lowest common denominator”. Unless you’re a preteen boy or Jeph Jacques there’s only so much humor in “haha, butts” in one sitting. But here we have such marvelous lowbrow efficiency that a ten-second clip (conveniently included in the trailer) serves triple duty as a bug-eating joke, a booger joke, and a chance to throw something at the audience.
The latter, of course, brings up the 3-D, which primarily exists to project and throw stuff at the audience. To its credit the film seems to have been shot in 3-D, so we aren’t stuck with an attack of the cardboard cutouts. But it still provides very little depth. For most of the movie, the objects in the 3-D foreground are also filling most of the center screen and are the only things in sharp focus anyway. Even in 2-D they’d stand out, so the effect adds nothing.
Here’s an idea: if your tissue-paper-thin plot has the main characters struggling to preserve this enclave of natural beauty, and if you’re shooting for the big screen in 3-D, you might try showing us that natural beauty once in a while. Take some majestic vista and put it on the screen for more than a split-second establishing shot and without someone or something blocking most of the view. Put something in your movie that’s worth looking at, because the rest of it sure isn’t.
Worth it: under no circumstances.
Bechdel test: fail.