REVIEW: CGI and 3-D Not Enough to Jazz Up Yogi Bear

Movieline Score:

The larger portion of what brain power was allotted to the making of Yogi Bear went into its CGI and 3-D effects. Like, 99.89 percent. Which is to say it's a great-looking kiddie film with a storyline that might not have passed muster for a half-hour of Hanna-Barbera programming in the after-school block. In 1962. When I say great-looking I don't mean that it offers much that's new or even that the question of how to render its lead characters, Yogi and Boo Boo, in a live-action picture has been resolved particularly well. But the picture was shot in 3-D (and directed by effects maverick Eric Brevig) in the wilds of New Zealand, using up-to-the-moment technology, and the clarity of the images and integration of the effects with the scenery is fun to look at, in fits and starts. And yet on the whole the film is not much fun to watch. A job is a job, though; Yogi Bear did little to make it more than that.

Yogi is somehow smarter than the average bear and yet dumber than the average post. His Briggs-Myers profile is rounded out with hubristic and gluttonous tendencies. He's Al Bundy without the edge, and as voiced by Dan Aykroyd, he has a chummy but one-note charm. Boo Boo, animation's most sweet-natured straight man, is voiced by Justin Timberlake, who explores the far reaches of his sinus cavities for the role. We find them up to their old, picnic basket-stealing tricks in Jellystone Park, where Head Ranger Smith (Cavanagh) and Ranger Jones (T.J. Miller) are scrambling to meet their revenue quota, lest the park fall into the hands of the craven local mayor (Andrew Daly). Mayor Brown wants to cut down the trees to boost his budget surplus and secure reelection.

Even Ranger Smith has to admit that not many families are interested in the boring old wonders of nature when they could be playing laser tag in a climate-controlled palladium or pretending to dance in front of their televisions. The public seeks flash, the new best thing, disposable entertainment, and -- oh my God, I think this 3-D welding mask is cutting off the circulation to my brain.

Anna Faris shows up, to my dismay, as a nature documentarian who joins the fight to save Jellystone and inspire Ranger Smith to enter post-pubescence. Though she's laundered of much of her daffy suggestibility, enough of it remains to prevent Cavanagh from effacing himself right off the screen. As creatures Yogi and Boo Boo are assimilated remarkably well into the live action, and yet something about their visual conception keeps them from being more than the sum of their ones and zeroes, much less achieving Yogi-tude. I think it has to do with the eyes -- they have the plastic-quartz quality of stuffed animal toys, and in some crucial way belie the attempt to conjure a Yogi somewhere between the one we know and the one who might walk among us. I found myself concentrating on the effects because down every other evaluative path several kinds of madness lie. Here I will note that the minds behind both The Tooth Fairy and Wild Hogs combined forces for the script, and leave it at that.

The ratings skirmish over the forthcoming Blue Valentine had some people questioning the relevance of the NC-17 rating. Randomly staked as a final, prudish signpost past which no one under 17 is permitted, the rating was conceived to annex a new domain, a shadowy nether region whose inhabitants are deemed appropriate viewing material only for truly adult grown-ups. As far as it was thought through at all, I would imagine the theory was that the rating would help keep regular and/or burgeoning grown-ups from being corrupted, via depressingly realistic sex scenes or badly lit boobs, into advanced adulthood. If NC-17 is going to stick around, I propose its counterpart at the other end of the spectrum: A rating to protect prospective viewers from films that are only for very childish children. Those who occupy either the age or the maturity level of, say, a two-year-old. Three-and-a-half, tops. Truly, the MPAA's time would be better spent warning the rest of us not merely about Yogi Bear's "mild rude behavior" (which earned the film a "PG") but its jaw-slackening side effects, lest the dendrites of unwitting audience members actually recede and their neurons unmoor in an attempt to meet the film on its level.



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