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Yogi Bear: Barely smarter than your average cartoon

2 out of 4 stars


Sixties cartoon icon Yogi Bear, the bumbling "pic-a-nic basket"-swiping denizen of Jellystone Park, and his sidekick Boo Boo have been fluffed out through the magic of CG animation and shot (not literally - but more on that later) in 3-D for 80 minutes of palatable live-action/animated entertainment suitable for family consumption.

While the outdoor sequences were filmed in New Zealand's Woodhill State Forest - the movie's most stunning 3-D moments - Yogi Bear does feature notable "Canadian content" via two Ottawa-born thespians.

SNL alumnus, Oscar-nominated actor, bluesman, vintner and member of the Order of Canada, Dan Aykroyd gives a spirited, reverent voice performance as the perpetually scheming Yogi. (Of course, it is common knowledge that most males of a certain generation can muster a decent Art Carney-inspired "Hey there, Boo Boo.") And the affable Tom Cavanagh ( Breakfast with Scot, TV's Ed) turns the perpetually enraged Ranger Smith into a kinder, gentler live-action forest custodian who hopes reason will, over time, convince Yogi to forage for food using old-school methods.

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But is Yogi Bear smarter than your average seven-minute 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon?

The series, originally a spinoff from The Huckleberry Hound Show, which introduced Yogi in 1958, typically featured the ursine operator in trademark hat and collar plotting picnic manoeuvres and other zany stunts with the diminutive, more cautious, bow-tie-wearing Boo Boo and inciting the ire of Ranger Smith.

Directed by Eric Brevig, an award-winning visual-effects veteran who made his directorial debut with Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D (2008), Yogi Bear does not mess with a 50-year tradition. But it adds a few newfangled twists.

There is Yogi's latest invention, the Basket-Nabber 2000 - "we're going to break the picnic barrier," Yogi tells Boo Boo (check out Justin Timberlake's dead-on imitation of the original voice characterization). And then there's the bow-tie cam, affixed to Boo Boo by Rachel (Anna Faris), an earthy filmmaker who arrives at the park hoping to make a documentary about its "unusual species."

But the cash-strapped Jellystone is soon for the chopping block. Rachel and the smitten Ranger Smith learn that shifty Mayor Brown (Andrew Daly) is plotting to sell it to logging interests and thus solve the nearby city's budget deficit. The pair plan a fireworks show to mark the park's 100th birthday and attract hundreds of families - potential season's-pass buyers.

Ever the self-centred entertainer, Yogi puts on a disastrous water-skiing demo that quashes that dream. The Ranger gets demoted and a chagrined Yogi goes "back to nature." You'd think the presence of two talking bears would at least designate Jellystone as a protected wildlife zone, but I guess that didn't occur to the screenwriting team.

These days it seems every family-oriented creature feature (the Brendan Fraser comedy Furry Vengeance et al.) sports an "environmental" theme to, er, engage young minds with today's pressing issues. But I suggest a different educational strand.

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First, check out an episode or two of the beloved original series (available on DVD or easily found on YouTube) to compare 2-D and 3-D animation techniques. And then, for grown-ups and older teens, check out the hilariously dark "alternate ending" Yogi Bear parody posted on YouTube earlier this week by independent animator Edmund Earle. The three-minute CG-animated short, which has received more than 1.5 million hits and lots of press, was inspired by the 2007 western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

The short is not only a fine, well-executed example of parody, but it's also the perfect tonic for parents who discover that taking the kids to a matinee of Yogi Bear in 3-D is no picnic.

Yogi Bear

  • Directed by Eric Brevig
  • Written by Jeffrey Ventimilia, Joshua Sternin and Brad Copeland
  • Starring Dan Aykroyd (voice), Justin Timberlake (voice), Tom Cavanagh, Anna Faris and Andrew Daly
  • Classification: G

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