Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Yogi Bear (Eric Brevig, 2010) DVD Review

"Look Boo Boo, a cash cow just around the corner!" Yogi Bear (2010)...

Brad Copeland, lead writer on Yogi Bear, has penned six episodes of TV's Arrested Development (2003 - 2005), one of the smartest and funniest network shows of the last twenty years (naturally it was canceled). His screenplay has landed in the hands of Eric Brevig, two-time Academy award nominated visual effects supervisor, now directing his second film after 2008's Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Throw in Dan Aykroyd as the voice of Yogi and this adaptation of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon shouldn't be half bad. I mean, Aykroyd co-wrote Ghostbusters (Reitman, 1984), so he knows funny. It should be... y'know... at least decent, right? No. In fact, Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005) was funnier, and that was about the chaotic, unforgiving nature of the wilderness and how one fractured man became ensnared in its beautiful lie. This is gonna be rough...

The film shows signs of its cheapness early on, parodying March Of The Penguins (Jacquet, 2005) with a faux-Freeman voiceover, delivered by Josh Robert Thompson. We then establish ourselves in the famous Jellystone Park, which is actually quite beautiful, and I must give credit to the location scouts. With a surrounding lake, dense greenwood and mountainous panorama, the film certainly looks a treat. Well, it would if not for the glossy, over-lit aesthetic and infestation of green-screened CGI bears. Damn, does Yogi look scary. I mean he looks full-on serial killer scary. Does anyone remember John Frankenheimer's sci-fi bear flick Prophecy (1979)? The grotesque beast in that film looks like Yogi's normal cousin, and I suspect they'd enjoy a quiet pickernick together chomping on the charred remains of innocent campers.

Of course, Yogi is in fact quite innocent, and Brevig's film (a mercifully short 79 minutes) has such doe-eyed naivety that you won't find anything to offend the little ones. The U certificate plants us firmly into the territory of slapstick and sentiment, and the narrative (pah!) flits between them pretty evenly. One minute Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh; so wooden you can't tell him from the trees) is wooing Rachel (Anna Faris; seemingly suffering a 7-day stroke), and the next Yogi and Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake; surprisingly effective) are diving off cliffs with high-wire contraptions to secure cake and donuts. In fact, donuts also lead to the film's most eye-rolling pop culture reference, in the form of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Kids won't get it and adults will be snoozing by the time it arrives. It's a shame that this is such routine formula for kid's movies these days: silly pratfalls for the under-5's and references to Superman (Donner, 1978) for the parents. Both are lazy, and the filmmakers even find time for a 'Baby Got Back' dancing gag, which is outdated by about a decade.

Everything in this film is underdeveloped, and there are patches of deeply awkward silence as gags fall flat and scuttle off in shame of ever having been conceived. The film has three credited writers so there's no excuse for it appearing in such bad shape. It's such a lifeless affair too, as Brevig's direction has no flair or individuality, instead plodding through the set-pieces with minimal effort. The CGI is godawful too. I've already mentioned the bears, but their biggest problem is a lack of texture, with none of the character models having any weight, shape or presence. Remember when Monsters, Inc. (Docter, Silverman, 2001) came out and you could count the individual hairs on Sulley's body? You could only dream of that kind of detail here. Yogi remains flat, giving off a pixelated sheen that would suggest technology has moved backwards in the last ten years. That, or nobody gave a shit.

The performances are all terrible, with T.J. Miller in particular confirming himself as an actor in need of permanent hibernation, for the audience's sake if nothing else. But really it's the laziness that kills Yogi Bear. The plot is actually pretty solid, and there's probably a good half-hour cartoon somewhere in here, but it's been dragged out into a painfully overproduced studio cash cow, and it shows in every frame. It's not funny (the best line, "I wonder if he noticed the pie", raises a smile), the clichéd romance stings like a field of bee-infested nettles, and I'll say it again - Yogi just looks damn scary! Seriously. It's like Prophecy Part II, except I'd have paid to see that movie.

The Disc/Extras
Standard presentation and a vanilla disc, boasting two shockingly condescending 'Jellystone Park Jewels' features in which Ranger Jones (Miller) instructs us on how to pick up littler and trail Yogi (oddly, this second feature finds him littering). There's also a 'Yogi Bear Mashup', mixing footage of the film with the classic cartoon. I like the cartoon.

Yogi Bear is out on DVD now. This review can originally be found at Flickfeast.

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