Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Theaters: "Yogi Bear"

Let’s begin with a public service announcement: If you attend the new big-screen incarnation of Yogi Bear, you will, at one point, see the titular character shake his big, CG-animate bear ass to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” I implore you: do not subject yourself to this. It’s kind of like The Human Centipede; once you’ve seen it, you cannot un-see it.

Like the Scooby Doo and Alvin and the Chipmunks movies before it, our new Yogi movie plops the its CG heroes into a drab “real” world, where the interact unconvincingly with human characters scarcely more lifelike than the animated ones. The “story”—and I use that word loosely—pits Ranger Smith (poor Tom Cavanuagh) against an evil mayor (Andrew Daly) and his evil lacky (Nate Corddry), as they attempt to shut down Jellystone Park and sell off the logging rights in order to close a budget gap. They give Ranger Smith a week to raise the $30,000 that the park is short; you half-expect Mickey and Judy to come put on a show in the barn. Instead, with the help of a charming documentary filmmaker (poor, poor Anna Farris), Ranger Smith devises a centennial celebration for the park—which, of course, Yogi the water-skiing, picnic-basket-snatching attention-hound wrecks.

The screenplay—by three scribes whose collective works include Tooth Fairy, Surviving Christmas, and Wild Hogs—is dull, mirthless, charmless, and completely predictable; the laborious set-ups and obvious turns leave viewers in a continual state of waiting for the movie to catch up. The script is primarily a clothesline for far-fetched Rube Goldbergian gags and every ancient joke in the book—“How could it get any worse?” Yogi despairs, and then the thunder cracks and a torrential rainstorm begins. Comedy!

The performers do their best, but they know this is garbage, and you can see most of them gritting their teeth through their inane dialogue (only Daly, familiar from Eastbound & Down, gets a couple of throwaway laughs from a running bit with a car window). Voicing the animated characters, Justin Timberlake does a reasonably charming Boo-Boo, while Dan Aykroyd, usually an accomplished mimic, basically yells all of his dialogue in an attempt to approximate Yogi’s tones.

It should be noted that there are some legitimately impressive 3-D effects (if you go for that type of thing), and the Yogi and Boo-Boo characters look, at the very least, better than Scooby-Doo or the Chipmunks did. But the park exteriors look oddly flat, 3-D or no; though the picture was shot in a 36,000 acre state forest in New Zealand, even the wide shots look like they were filmed on a soundstage (and an inadequate one at that). As for Eric Brevig’s direction, well, apparently he thought it would be a good idea to get a lot of reactions shots of Anna Farris being delighted.

The logic for bankrolling a film like Yogi Bear isn’t difficult to divine: studio executives figure that parents who grew up watching the Yogi cartoons will see it as an experience they can share with their kids, and there ya go, money in the bank. (How’s about spending a few extra bucks to see it in 3-D, parents?) Once that box-office transaction has occurred, there’s not much responsibility to actually provide an entertaining film; leave that to Pixar, I guess. I had a moment, at the critics-and-their-kids screening, when I wondered if I was being too hard on the picture. Maybe, after all, it wasn’t meant for me, but for these kids—and that’s fine, some movies are for grown-ups and children, some for children only. Trouble was, I wasn’t the only one left stone-faced by the film’s painfully strained and unfunny antics; none of the kids in the theater were laughing or having a good time either. Towards the end, as the filmmakers teed up yet another contrived gag, a little girl in my row began stomping her feet and shouting, “Let’s go now! Yes! Yes!” It was like she was reading my mind.

"Yogi Bear" opens Friday, December 17th.

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