Brad Copeland, lead writer on Yogi Bear, has penned six episodes of TV’s Arrested Development (2003 – 2005), one of the smartest and funniest network shows of the last twenty years. From his hands the project has landed with Eric Brevig, two-time nominee and one-time Academy Award winning visual effects supervisor, now turning his hand to directing for the second time after 2008’s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Throw in Dan Aykroyd as the voice of Yogi and this adaptation of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon shouldn’t be half bad. I mean, Aykroyd co-wrote Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984), so he knows funny. It should be… y’know… at least decent, right? No. In fact, Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, 2005) was funnier, and that says a lot…
The film shows signs of its cheapness early on with Josh Robert Thompson turning in a shamefully bad (yet recognizable) impression of Morgan Freeman, seemingly for the sake of parodying March Of The Penguins (Luc Jacquet, 2005), although I can’t quite make head or tail of that gag. We then establish ourselves in the famous Jellystone Park, which is actually quite a beautiful place, and I must give credit to the location scouts for this film. With a surrounding lake, lush mountains and green trees the film certainly looks a treat. Or at least it would if it weren’t over-lit, glossily shot and infested with green-screened CGI bears. Damn, does Yogi look creepy. I mean he looks full-on serial killer scary. Does anyone remember that (awesome) sci-fi bear flick from 1979, Prophecy (John Frankenheimer)? The grotesque beast in that film looks like Yogi’s mutated cousin, and I suspect they’d enjoy a quiet pickernick together, feasting on the charred remains of innocent campers.
Of course, Yogi is in fact quite innocent, and Brevig’s film (a mercifully brief 79 minutes) has such doe-eyed innocence that you won’t find anything to offend the little ones here. The U certificate plants us firmly into the territory of slapstick and sentiment, and the ‘narrative’ (pah!) flits between them pretty evenly. One minute Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh; so wooden you can’t tell him from the trees) is wooing Rachel (Anna Faris; seemingly suffering a 7-day stroke), and the next Yogi and Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake; surprisingly effective) are diving off cliffs with high-wire contraptions to secure cake and donuts. In fact, donuts also lead to the film’s most eye-rolling pop culture reference, in the form of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Kids won’t get it and adults will be sleeping by the time it arrives. It’s a shame that this is such routine formula for kid’s movies these days: silly pratfalls for the under-5’s and references to Superman (Richard Donner, 1978) for the adults. But neither work, because it’s lazy, and they even find time for a ‘Baby Got Back’ dancing gag, which is out-dated by about nine years.
Everything about this film is underdeveloped, and there are patches of deeply awkward silence as gags fall flat and scuttle off without a trace. The film has three credited writers so there’s no excuse for it being in such bad shape. It’s a completely lifeless affair too, as Brevig’s direction has no flair or individuality, and his routine handling of the action set-pieces disappoints. The CGI is terrible too. I’ve already mentioned how creepy the bears look, but the biggest problem is a lack of texture. Yogi just looks flat and characterless. Aykroyd’s phoned-in voice work doesn’t help matters, sure, but the character models are just awful. They have no weight, shape or presence. Remember when Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter, David Silverman, 2001) came out and you could literally count the individual hairs on Sulley’s body? There’s none of that here, and the technology has had almost a decade to advance. Ironic, given Brevig’s field of expertise.
The performances really are terrible, and T.J. Miller just seems to be reprising his annoying Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008) act, confirming himself as an actor that needs to go away and never find work again. But really it’s just the laziness that kills Yogi Bear. The plot is actually really good, and there’s probably a solid half-hour cartoon somewhere in here, but it’s been dragged out into a painfully over-produced studio cash opportunity, and it shows in every frame. It’s not funny (the best line, “I wonder if he noticed the pie“, did raise a genuine smile from me), the cliché of the romance stings like a field of nettles, and I’ll say it again – Yogi just looks damn scary. Seriously. It’s like Prophecy Part II, but I’d have paid to see that movie…
The movie is brand new, so the image is pretty sharp. But as I say, it’s not the best looking flick in the first place. Extras are vanilla, but given the quality of the movie, they’re acceptably terrible. There are two shockingly condescending ‘Jellystone Park Jewels’ features, in which Ranger Jones (Miller) instructs us on how to pick up litter and search for Yogi Bear (this second feature strangely sees him littering). There’s also a ‘Yogi Bear Mashup’, mixing footage of the film and the classic cartoon. I like the cartoon.
Yogi Bear is out on DVD now.
Director: Eric Brevig
Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlak, Anna Faris
Runtime: 80 min
Country: USA, New Zealand
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