With the voices of Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake and starring Anna Faris, Tom Cavanagh and Andrew Daly; Directed by Eric Brevig; Rated PG for some mild rude humor; 83 minutes.
Computer animation – often called CGI for “computer generated imagery” – is truly amazing. It makes the worlds of “Avatar” and “Inception” seem real, and in the hands of artists, can give us “Ratatouille” or “Toy Story 3.” As with any tool, however, it can be used for good or ill. Can we really say the world is a better place because of movies like “Garfield,” “Alvin And The Chipmunks” and “Marmaduke”?
If even Jar Jar Binks in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” didn’t convince you that mixing animated cartoon (or cartoonish) characters with live action has been the weak spot of the process, here’s the latest bit evidence in the case against: YOGI BEAR. It takes two 1960s cartoon characters created for Hanna-Barbera’s on-the-cheap TV animation and transforms them into three dimensional figures – yes, you pay extra and wear the stupid glasses – for no discernible reason. Only the very young or very undemanding could find anything to like here.
For those not familiar with Yogi Bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd), he is a talking bear who wears a hat and a necktie and inhabits Jellystone Park with his sidekick Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake). Their main activity is stealing picnic baskets – which he pronounces “pick-a-nick” – from the tourists. The notion that these two bears talk does not seem to disturb Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh), who runs the park, or documentary filmmaker Rachel (Anna Faris utterly wasted in a nothing role), who is shooting a movie in the park.
The plot, if the film’s contrivance can be called that, is that greedy Mayor Brown (Andrew Daly) is going to sell off Jellystone to make up for his squandering of the city budget. It’s up to Ranger Smith and Rachel to save the day, with Yogi and Boo Boo unintentionally making things worse and then executing a last-minute rescue. Three writers are credited with toiling over this collection of clichés and banalities. One might have expected them to try to remove their names rather than take credit or, more accurately, accept the blame. Where’s Allen Smithee when you need him?
The 3D is an utter waste of time, adding little to the film, and it is often unnecessary to wear the glasses at all. Only the bother of taking them off and putting them back on will cause viewers to leave them on. It’s actually a blessing for parents, who can take a quick nap without disturbing the youngsters.
The lesson of “Yogi Bear” is one that Hollywood has known for years but generally ignores. You can have a presold character – although do kids really know Yogi Bear these days? – and you can have all sorts of special effects with 3D and CGI, but if you don’t have a decent script in the first place, it’s not going to make a difference. Throw in flat acting and the usual array of fart jokes and you have a movie that kids may go see over winter vacation, but won’t be clamoring for on DVD a few months from now. This is truly one of the worst “family films” of the year.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.