LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Poor Yogi Bear. At 52, he finally gets his first movie role and the film is likely to send viewers over the age of 10 into hibernation.
Yogi is still smarter than the average bear, but Yogi Bear is much less smart than most of the year’s kid-friendly cartoons. The only worse 2010 animated feature also came from Warner Bros., “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” which only confirms that Warners, home to the greatest cartoon characters of all time, has lost touch with its own heritage. The film opens Friday.
The perennial trickster Yogi and his Jellystone Park pal Boo Boo Bear are among the more popular characters from the Hanna-Barbera stable, although their antics have always appealed more to youngsters than adults. But as the considerable success of “Toy Story 3,” “Megamind,” “Despicable Me” and “Tangled” more than demonstrates, cartoons don’t have to go all soft and gooey to win over a family audience.
The film certainly had some of the ingredients right. Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake nail the voices of Yogi and Boo Boo. Aykroyd perfectly captures the Art Carney-like vocal manner originated by Yogi’s first voice, the late Daws Butler. And Timberlake loses himself in the more cautious yet easily swayed Boo Boo.
The idea of combining live action and cartoon characters in 3D works just fine too. The 3D sends popping popcorn and errant fireworks into the audience and adds excitement to bruin adventures involving a flying machine and whitewater rafting, all shot amid various natural wonders in verdant New Zealand.
Unfortunately, the story is so-o-o-o-o tired.
Jeffrey Ventimilia and Joshua Sternin’s script, rewritten by Brad Copeland, runs in circles looking for jokes and slapstick while finding little. The best gags are traditional ones involving Yogi’s ingenious schemes to steal picnic — a word in which he magnificently contrives to find three syllables — baskets.
The main problem, evident both in the script and Eric Brevig’s direction, is that the humans are more cartoonish than Jellystone’s wildlife. The human story sets up two pairs of comic teams: Yogi’s long-running nemesis Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) and his overly ambitious deputy Ranger Jones (T.J. Miller) and a corrupt mayor (Andrew Daly) and his fawning deputy (Nate Corddry). Neither pairing registers on the comedy scale. The only semi-inspired byplay comes in the mayor’s ineptitude at operating his limo’s side window.
Then there’s a lame romance between Ranger Smith and a documentary filmmaker played by, of all people, the very talented Anna Faris. What on earth made her agree to this role?
An illogical story has the spendthrift mayor conniving to sell Jellystone Park to pay off the city’s staggering debts. Which doesn’t explain how a huge national park can exist within a small town or how any mayor can sell a national park. Never mind. It may be a dumb way to put Yogi and Ranger Smith’s way of life in jeopardy, but if there were any spark to the jokes or character relationships, few could care.
Perhaps, and it’s only a guess, the film needed a veteran animator at the helm. Brevig, a visual-effects guy who directed Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, came aboard when Warner Bros. decided to make the film in 3D, but he has no real background in children’s entertainment. Children love a little naughtiness, especially when a rascal like Yogi is the star. But Yogi Bear plays everything coy and cute when it needs rude and roguish.