Voiced by Dan Aykroyd, Yogi Bear has finally made it to the big screen - but his cinema debut is an uneasy mix of slapstick, satire and sentiment
Director: Eric Brevig
Starring: Tom Cavanagh, Anna Faris, TJ Miller, and the voices of Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake
A snappy dresser in a porkpie hat, collar and tie, Yogi Bear made his TV debut in The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958. Named for the epigrammatic baseball star Yogi Berra and voiced by Daws Butler, Yogi had a highly distinctive intonation that made him sound dumb even when he boasted he was "smarter than the av-er-age bear" (his catchphrase).
He lived in Jellystone Park, where he was in permanent conflict with the long-suffering Ranger Smith, mostly because of his repeated attempts to steal campers' picnics out from under them. Like his Hanna-Barbera stablemate Fred Flintstone, Yogi also had a squat sidekick, Boo Boo, who submitted to his friend's crackpot schemes even though he seemed to know better. Yogi soon had his own show, and generations of kids have grown up watching repeats and occasionally new episodes of this happy-go-lucky malingerer.
But it's only now - in his 50s - that he's reached the heights of the big screen, in a new CGI incarnation with Aykroyd taking over at the microphone (Daws Butler died in 1988). Yogi looks quite comfortable in his new digital fur coat and Aykroyd reproduces the old singsong accurately enough - it's the flesh-and-blood actors who struggle to sell the feeble script by the team of Jeffrey Ventimillia and Joshua Sternin, who gave us Tooth Fairy and Surviving Christmas. Cavanagh (from TV's Scrubs) plays Ranger Smith, whose love-hate relationship with Yogi is thrown into relief when Mayor Brown (Andrew Daly) rezones Jellystone and plans to sell it off to the lumber industry. Unless the Ranger can raise $30 000 (Dh110,000)in a week to balance the park's books, he'll be out of work and Yogi will be on the street. They have an ally in the form of Rachel (Faris), a filmmaker whose next nature documentary will star the talking bear she's heard about, and will be shot by a camera hidden in Boo Boo's bow tie (Boo Boo is voiced by Timberlake).
There's also a junior ranger, Jones (Miller), whose ambition to take over from Smith makes him a useful pawn for the mayor. When Jones suggests that Yogi should pep up Jellystone's centenary celebration picnic and fireworks display with his waterskiing routine, the bear has no idea he's being set up to fail. I suppose you have to give the filmmakers some credit for pressing this irrepressible reprobate into the service of a typical 21st-century eco parable.
But the mixture of CGI and live action, slapstick, satire and sentiment is no more organic here than it was in Alvin and the Chipmunks, Garfield, Marmaduke or G-Force - all of which were trashed by the critics, and all of which made fortunes at the box office. The same goes for Yogi Bear: it rates a paltry 14 per cent fresh on the critical aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, even as it nears the $100m mark in US box office receipts. Of course, CGI doesn't come cheap - it cost some $80m to make. I know the kiddies need movies too, but discerning parents will look further afield.