Turns out Judge Patrick Naugle is not smarter than the average bear. Who knew?
Life is a Pic-a-nic.
At what feels like one per week, Hollywood film studios are remaking almost every cartoon series from our childhood into live action/animated features with unabashed glee (or is it greed?). Truth be told, these films generally open mediocre-to-big, are panned by the critics and sometimes audiences, quickly make their money back (and then some) and then fade into eventual obscurity at your local Redbox or Blockbuster. Warner Bros. went big with their version of Hanna-Barbera's "Yogi Bear," throwing $80 million dollars at the screen for an 80 minute movie. Was the end product worth the cash? Read on to find out if Yogi Bear is better than your average movie…
Facts of the Case
Welcome to Jellystone National Park! This lush preserve is home to some of the most beautiful sights, including rolling meadows, dense forests and two mischievous bears intent on stealing your picnic baskets by any means necessary, including but not limited to high wire acrobatics and homemade flying machines. Meet Yogi Bear (Dan Aykroyd, Ghostbusters) and Boo-Boo (Justin Timberlake, The Social Network), friendly four legged buddies on a quest for your cuisine.
However, their feast may be coming to an end as the town's sniveling mayor (Andrew Daly, Life as We Know It) has decided to shut down Jellystone Park and strip it of its natural resources. It's up to Yogi, Boo-Boo and the park's top man, Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanaugh, TV's Ed), to stop Mayor Brown before Jellystone becomes nothing more than a barren memory. With the help of a local documentary filmmaker (Anna Farris, Scary Movie) and a frog headed turtle; Yogi, Boo-Boo and Ranger Smith set off to save Jellystone Park before it's too late!
Astonishingly, Yogi Bear didn't end up being the national disaster I'd anticipated. As a reviewer I'm probably not supposed to admit this, but here goes: I went into Yogi Bear with such low expectations that had hardcore pornography showed up on my screen I probably wouldn't have been shocked or phased. In my defense, movies about old cartoon shows (especially ones where the animated universe is now set in 'real life') often end up being the lowest form of kiddie entertainment around. Let's be honest, do you know anyone who thinks Inspector Gadget, Scooby-Doo or The Flintstones are high art? Or even mid-level art? Hollywood seems intent on cashing in on name brands, indifferent to the fact that most of this Saturday morning fare won't translate very well to the screen.
So maybe Yogi Bear hit me at just the right moment when I was okay with experiencing a movie about animated, talking bears who help a park ranger save a national preserve. Don't get me wrong, Yogi Bear is not a great movie. It's not even a really good one. What Yogi Bear does have going for it is that it's slightly amusing and an innocuous kids flick that gets enough right to make it worth a viewing for adults with little ones (and those young at heart). Sue me, but I laughed when Yogi attempted to water ski while trying to juggle a flaming baton as he sped headlong toward a raft filled with fireworks (yes, it ends in exactly the way you expect and hope). It's moments like those that make Yogi Bear tolerable even when it's reveling in obvious clichés and stock situations.
A lot of Yogi Bear's success must be handed to actor/comedian Dan Aykroyd who provides the voice of Yogi (replacing original voice talent Daws Butler, who passed away in 1988). Aside of capturing Yogi's original attitude and vocal mannerisms, Aykroyd makes Yogi's one-liners funny enough to rise above the mundane story and periphery characters. I actually liked Yogi; although the animation is lackluster, Aykroyd's voice work brings him to life in a way that is never annoying or irritating. Justin Timberlake is passable as Yogi's sidekick (heterosexual life partner?) Boo-Boo, but is given far less to do than Yogi. Then again, this isn't really the screenwriter's fault—if I recall correctly, Boo-Boo's role in the original cartoon series was the same as the movie: to react with either surprise or deadpan disappointment at many of Yogi's harebrained schemes to score food from Jellystone's vacationing families.
The real life actors in the film don't fare as well. Tom Cavanaugh does yeoman's work and is appealing as Ranger Smith, yet never rises above the stock character to make him half as interesting as Yogi and Boo-Boo. It's not Cavanaugh's fault—the character is just written so thinly that his only reactions include A.) being upset at Yogi, B.) being smitten in love and C.) worrying about Jellystone Park being shut down. Speaking of falling in love, what happened to Anna Farris? As Ranger Smith's love interest she shows none of the comedic spark on display in Scary Movie and its three sequels and, honestly, looks like she's had some rather unflattering cosmetic work done. Yikes. The only live action player who goes above and beyond the call of duty is Andrew Daly (memorable as a Ben Franklin impersonator in an episode of NBC's The Office) as the conniving local mayor, intent on turning Jellystone Park into a cash cow of agricultural decimation. Daly brings a fresh relish to the role; he's an actor I would welcome in a funnier, livelier adult-oriented comedy.
Yogi Bear clocks in at 80 minutes, and that includes at least 7 minutes worth of end credits. The plot feels cribbed directly from a 20-minute cartoon episode (save Jellystone Park!!!), which may be part of the reason this movie works—it never overstays its welcome. Although there are some glaring plot holes the size of Yogi's appetite (if a frog-headed turtle will help save the park because of its rarity, why isn't anyone looking at two talking bears to save the day?), Yogi Bear works as a silly, comedic adventure that will momentarily delight both kids and their parents.
Yogi Bear is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p resolution. I wish I could say that the transfer for Yogi Bear is smarter than your av-er-age transfer, but I can't—this is a fine Blu-ray image, but nothing that will blow you out of your seat. While there isn't anything particularly wrong here (all of the colors and black levels are solid), it's not a picture that really "pops" off the screen. There's an almost direct-to-video quality about this film, and that makes the image above average but rather forgettable.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and sounds very good. The mix relies heavily on surround sounds (including a music score straight out of the "Comedy 101" handbook); there are many moments where Yogi Bear is flying through the air and his scream, cries and crashes can be heard all around the viewer. While I wouldn't stack this soundtrack up next to something like The Dark Knight, it still gets the job done. Also included on this disc are Dolby 5.1 mixes in French, Spanish and Portuguese; as well as English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
Fans of the film get a few morsels to chew on, including "Spending a Day at Jellystone Park" which is an interactive featurette that includes nine production shorts ("Everyone Wants to Be Yogi," "Building Jellystone Park," "Frog-Mouthed Turtle," "Animated Bears," "The Rapids," "Stand-In Shenanigans," "Ranger Jones' Real Life Audition," "Baskit-Nabber 2000" and "Voicing Yogi & Boo") and some kid friendly shorts on the characters, a four-minute promotional piece titled "Yogi Bear Mash Up," an interactive memory game for the tykes ("Are You Smarter than the Average Bear?") and a short Loony Tunes animated cartoon titled "Rabid Rider" that features the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Finally there is a bonus DVD version of the film, as well as a digital copy.
Yogi Bear isn't going to change the world, but it doesn't set out to—the movie's main goal is to make young ones laugh and to that end it succeeds. I enjoyed Yogi Bear a lot more than anticipated and am happy to report that it's easily worth a rental. Warner Bros. work on this disc is good, if not great.
One final note I want to make about Yogi Bear is that it's truly appropriate for the whole family; there aren't a lot of G-rated live action comedies out there, and Yogi Bear is a fine selection for any parents looking to shield their young ones from unneeded violence, sex or language. In an industry that seems to relish taking our nostalgia and slathering it in violence and sex (i.e., Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), it's nice to see a movie staying true to its childlike roots.
Yogi Bear may just "sur-pri-se-a" you at how fun it is.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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