Theatrical Review: YOGI BEAR

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
December 15th, 2010

Rating: 1.5/5

Writers: Jeffrey Ventimilia & Joshua Sternin, Brad Copeland
Director: Eric Brevig
Cast: Dan Aykroyd (voice), Justin Timberlake (voice), Anna Faris, Tom Cavanagh, T.J. Miller, Nathan Corddry, Andrew Daly
Studio: Warner Bros.

YOGI BEAR is, at the very least, an odd choice for a big screen adaptation. Today’s kids, by and large, don’t have an awareness of the Hanna-Barbera characters of Yogi Bear, Boo Boo Bear, and Ranger Smith. The film’s very existence shows that someone, somewhere, is banking on a nostalgia factor that’s just not there. Yogi purists (surely, there are some still out there) will likely have an existing prejudice against this new take on the classic cartoon, and the film will do little to dissuade or change those objections.

The plot of YOGI BEAR is the same paper-thin plot of its small screen inspiration – Yogi Bear and Boo Boo Bear live in Jellystone Park. They can walk and talk, but instead of doing anything to truly show that they are “smarter than the average bear,” they spend their time stealing picnic baskets from the park’s visitors. Their primary nemesis is Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) – some sort of sadsack softie who can’t even take down two bears who make no bones about their livelihood. The film throws in a younger ranger (T.J. Miller as the overeager and easily swayed Ranger Jones), a “sexy” documentarian (Anna Faris as the Jane Goddall-lite Rachel), and even a couple of baddie politicians (Andrew Daly and Nathan Corddry as the mayor and his chief of staff, respectively) to spice things up. It’s all about as spicy as a pic-a-nic basket pilfered slice of Wonder Bread.

In any case, the broke politicians are trying to destroy Jellystone so that they can sell it off to make money for their in-the-red budget. The good guys must band together to defeat the bad guys. There will be nothing about the film’s trajectory that will surprise. It will, at the very least, teach children to hate and mistrust politicians and to think that park rangers are wacky and socially awkward.

The only thing that proves to be even remotely interesting about YOGI BEAR is pondering the myriad of shoddy pieces of plotting within it. We are told that the bears are “rare” (rare enough indeed, that Rachel finds them documentary-worthy), yet it never occurs to Ranger Smith to make them a draw to the failing park. Even when Yogi and Boo Boo break out some of their decidedly human skills, no one seems enthralled by the fact that bears are performing these feats – that walking, talking bears are performing these feats. The bipedal bears can even walk down a city street without notice. Rare? Sure, Rachel.

As Jellystone is, at least in name, modeled off Yellowstone – which is a National Park, as in, part of Department of the Interior, and part of the federal government - are we really supposed to believe that the mayor of a tiny town and his lackey are able to sell off Jellystone without input from any other governmental agency? This is how boring YOGI BEAR is – it nearly guarantees that you will start thinking about the intricacies of the National Park system during its runtime, just so that your brain will not succumb to being as empty as a burgled pic-a-nic basket.

Films like YOGI BEAR employ 3D for no feasible reason other than to distract the audience from all rest of the deficiencies within – the cinematic equivalent of slathering subpar pie with a can’s worth of whipped cream. Technically, YOGI BEAR probably looks better than it should, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no reason for this film to be in 3D. None, however, except to pull in more money from a ridiculous undertaking. Audiences will have some food thrown at their faces, a few water splashes tossed on them here and there, but even these flourishes are weak and only highlight the tedium of the whole outing. It’s never delightful or joyous, just plotless and pointless.

However, YOGI BEAR is by no means offensive, it’s just flat and boring and messy. The film isn’t even imaginative enough to be bizarre; it’s just oddly constructed and generally ludicrous. Kids’ films used to get a pass, thanks to the faulty assumption that entertainment for the younger set didn’t need to hit any high notes to succeed with its target audience. But the game has been stepped up over the years, and this year has proven to be a strong one for animated “kids” features. It’s hard to recommend YOGI BEAR and its ilk in a year that saw audiences moved by TOY STORY 3, enthralled by HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, and delighted by DESPICABLE ME. It’s a flimsy entry, not even a passable one, in a packed and spirited genre that deserves something much meatier than the slapped-together campfire slop that is YOGI BEAR.

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  • Brian Kelley

    Excellent review. I enjoyed it more than you did. I think the Yogi stuff was sufficiently evocative of the Hanna-Barbera source material which is the main problem – that is sort of outdated and this film updated it in all the wrong places. Beyond Yogi and the horrible park rangers I LOVED every minute with Faris and/or Daly. They saved the film from being a complete disaster and bumped it up another half-point in my mind. The highest praise I can give this movie is that I didn’t mind watching it at 10AM in a theater full of kids… That’s saying SOMETHING. :P

    • KateErbland

      My YOGI-watching experience was elevated by having a very excitable friend on one side and an equally-as-anti-YOGI critic on my other. ;)

  • Ms.Serna

    Great review from an adult perspective. I too thought that the bears walking in the city without anyone noticing (or barely) was a strrretch, but this movie is a childs movie meant to be (I’m assuming) appreciated by children with imaginations that we have as adults, lost long ago. As far as comparing this movie to others like How to Train Your Dragon, the only comaprison that can or should be made is that the two are children’s movies. Other than that, Yogi Bear should be credited with it’s attempt to get societys children away from the television and off their bottoms and attempting to get some children to appreciate the outdoors. Loved Yogi Bear for that!

    • KateErbland

      I also appreciated the film’s valuing of the outdoors, the parks system, etc.

      I did want to mention something in my review about the reactions of kids in the screening I saw, but it didn’t seem to fit, so I’ll do here! Most of the studios are wise enough to allow members of the press to bring their whole family to more kiddie-driven films. Having seen YOGI BEAR, TANGLED, DESPICABLE ME, etc. at these family-wide screenings, I can say that the kids in YOGI weren’t that excited. At all. The kids at the TANGLED and DESPICABLE ME screenings, however, were thrilled, really enthralled by the 3D and involved in the story. You can tell when kids are jazzed, they can’t help but show it. The kids at YOGI? Not so much. I thought that was very telling.

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