For all of the bad press you have probably heard about the live-action adaptation of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Yogi Bear, it really isn’t that bad if considered no more than a light, undiscerning excursion to keep the kids entertained for a measly eighty minutes. Don’t mistake this qualification as praise, though, for while Pixar’s run of quality features has turned all of us into animated film snobs, Yogi Bear is still an unmistakably ho-hum family comedy that’s low on laughs despite decent vocal work from the two leads. The key strength here is that it’s not a touch as irritating as comparable talking animal pics like Alvin and the Chipmunks, Cats and Dogs and especially the shambolic man vs. nature anti-comedy that was last year’s Furry Vengeance. Still, let’s not be too forgiving now…
Yogi (Dan Aykroyd) and Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake) are two talking brown bears who live in the fiscally flailing Jellystone Park, feasting on visitors’ lunches and generally being a nuisance to park rangers Smith (Tom Cavanaugh) and Jones (T.J. Miller). Compounding their headache is the unscrupulous Mayor Brown (Andrew Daly), who wishes to fund his re-election campaign by shutting down the park and turning it into a logging site. Realising their days are numbered unless they can raise a profit, Yogi, Boo Boo, the rangers and a documentarian named Rachel (Anna Farris) must plan to find a way to turn the park into a financial success.
Praise-worthy elements in Yogi Bear are sparse indeed, though the pre-film 3D short featuring Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner makes the pill an easier one to swallow, diluting down the already lean runtime. Still, among the very best that can be said about the film is that it inspired that hilarious YouTube sensation in which some smart alec cooked the trailer footage up to resemble the climax of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford…
In absolute fairness, Aykroyd and Timberlake do their very best with the slim pickings they have here; the vocal likenesses are unquestionably spot on, but their reverence to the source material is lost in an overly broad gag-fest that relies too heavily on ham-fisted 3D effects. Similarly, the live actors are a relatively likeable bunch – Cavanaugh will be recognisable to fans of medical comedy show Scrubs as J.D.’s slacker brother, and T.J. Miller has entertained in a few solid supporting roles in the likes of Cloverfield and She’s Out of My League – but they’re held captive to the screenplay’s vacuum-sealed mundanity.
A small saving grace comes from supporting player Andrew Daly, who as the deliciously slimy Mayor, is a staggering example of a talented performer managing to transcend the general witlessness of the whole affair, which, after all, is the film’s real crime, rather than simply the fact that its overt family friendliness renders it quite dull. Anna Farris doesn’t fare as well as Daly, unfortunately; the role of a ditzy, strangely alluring, wide-eyed woman fits her like a glove, but the gears change all-too frequently to a turgid love story that’s liable to find just about everyone in the cinema bored. Who did the writers think they were entertaining with these scenes, which lack the nuance for adults and the laugh factor for kids?
For a measure probably the worst film ever featuring an overt reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey (and a rather throwaway one at that), Yogi Bear may not be as loud or insufferably swathed in pop-culture references as many of its contemporaries, but held to the whim of unremarkable visual effects and a messily-scrawled script, this comes off as a bland, stiff effort that unfathomably cost a reported $80m to make. The bottom line is that it’s tolerable to a point, and certainly not the worst thing you could have sat through this year so far, but it lacks any flavour or verve; it is a hollow shade rather than the vibrant, jovial caper it should be.
Yogi Bear is released in U.K. cinema’s today.