When it comes to kids’ movies, modern parents are to be pitied. For every Pixar film that hits theaters, five terrible kids’ movies drop at the same time. One can only imagine the dread and self-loathing that these poor, baffled souls must feel whenever they see a trailer for something like Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel or Marmaduke. Anyone without kids has to wonder: do these parents grow immune to the terrors of bad kids’ movies over time, or does a film like Yogi Bear– which just arrived on Blu-ray– make them yearn for the sweet, sweet release of death (or, barring that, their kids growing up)? Maybe, if we watch the film ourselves, we’ll know what it’s like to be one of these parents, and maybe we’ll even discover that Yogi Bear isn’t as bad as we expected. Maybe, but not probably. Full review after the jump, folks…
It’s true that I volunteered to receive Yogi Bear for review here at Collider.com, and I think that it’s important that everyone understand my reasons for doing so before we go any further. Without an explanation, you might be inclined to believe that I took on this particular assignment simply because it would afford me the opportunity to bash on a lame, lightweight kids’ movie for a few paragraphs. It’s true that reviews for bad movies are often much more fun to write than reviews for good movies, and it’s also true that I didn’t expect Yogi Bear to be any good. But I assure you, this was not my intention. Rather, I wanted to know– if only for 80 some-odd minutes– what it was like to be a parent. I’ve got friends that have grown up, got married, and had kids (not always in that order, the heathens), and they’re all “forced” into paying for movies like Yogi Bear and Marmaduke whenever they hit theaters. I was curious to experience their world, and I was also curious to find out if Yogi Bear was as bad as I suspected it would be.
See, for the past few years, I’ve done nothing but roll my eyes in the direction of kids’ movies. The films of Pixar are a notable exception, of course: I’m talking about movies like Marmaduke, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Alvin and The Chipmunks (and its… sigh… “squeakuel”), or G-Force. I see the trailers for these movies and I grumble to myself, or I laugh and point, or I thank the heavens that– somehow, and against all odds– I have somehow managed to make it through several decades without having a child of my own. I know that it’s unfair to judge movies without having seen them, but, let’s be frank: what’re the odds that any of these movies are any good? The critics tear them to pieces, the parents complain about how bad they are, the teenagers of the world snicker…and yet, they continue to be made. They continue to earn money. They continue to be a blight upon the film world at large, but for the most part– and because I have no children– I have been able to avoid them. But with Yogi Bear, I had an opportunity to open myself up to this world, to find out if it was as bad as I feared, to experience the strange (and potentially terrifying) life of a modern-day parent.
All of that, plus it would give me the chance to rag on a helpless, infantile, moronic film (I assumed).
And– surprise, surprise– it turns out that all of my suspicions (and, I imagine, many of your suspicions) were correct: Yogi Bear is not a good movie. It flirts with being “aggressively bad”, but never quite crosses that line. For the most part, it’s harmless, mind-numbingly boring and predictable. It’s colorful (y’know, for the kids) and it’s loud (also for the kids) and it’s immature (kids love fart jokes) and it’s really short (that one’s for the parents), but it’s kind of hard to work up a healthy head of snarky-steam to tear the film to pieces as a result: one gets the impression that everyone involved with Yogi Bear knew that Yogi Bear wasn’t going to sweep the Oscars this year. While that might seem like a perfectly good reason not to make the film to you or I, it will probably appeal to children. And maybe the elderly. There’s no predicting the elderly, but this seems like the kind of toothless, Jay Leno-level humor they’d enjoy. So, it’s not without its merits, questionable as they may be.
We meet Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd, who’s really, really hoping that Ghostbusters 3 comes together with a quickness) and Boo-Boo (Justin Timberlake) just as they’re about to steal another in a long line of “pic-a-nic baskets” from some campers in Jellystone National Park. This establishes a running– some might say “sole”– theme in the film: Yogi and Boo-Boo want to steal food. It is not exaggeration to say that 85% of the jokes, plot-points, and storyline revolve around Yogi and Boo-Boo’s attempts to steal food from humans. The other 15% of the humor revolves around Mayor Brown (Eastbound and Down‘s Andrew Daly) and his attempts to exploit Jellystone in order to keep his state out of bankruptcy and the Park Rangers’ (Tom Cavanagh and TJ Miller) attempts to thwart his attempts. There’s also a documentary filmmaker character played by Anna Farris, who satisfies the Hollywood-mandated rule of having at least one love interest per film in the family-movie genre.
Yogi and Boo-Boo actually look really good on the Blu-ray– every last hair on their body appears to have been rendered with far more care than was given to the script– and the film is, all things considered, delightful to look at. The colors pop off the screen, the CGI characters sell themselves completely, and the voice work from Aykroyd and Timberlake is, well, it is what it is. It’s plainly obvious whenever the actors are interacting with the bears that they’re interacting with thin air (hands never quite come down all the way on shoulders, eyelines don’t always match up, and so on), but this being Yogi Bear, I can’t imagine that anyone in the target audience will be calling shenanigans on director Eric Brevig. If pressed to say something else nice about the film, I’ll also say that Miller does well in his role of “massive dumbass” (he campaigned heavily for the role while the film was casting, and his audition tape– a clip that went viral about a year, year-and-a-half ago– is included amongst the film’s surprisingly extensive bonus features) and that Farris is almost as cute as she usually is (the bangs don’t do her any favors).
But let’s get serious here. Saying nice things about Yogi Bear is hard work, and it’s…it’s…I’ll put it this way: I’m having to force myself to say nice things about the movie, but I’m not sure why. On the one hand, this is a kids’ movie, and there’s an expectation that movies made for children aren’t to be held to the same standards than adult movies– read: anything that isn’t clearly marketed towards kids. On the other hand, I think that’s a bullshit expectation: just because it’s for kids doesn’t mean that it can’t be good, or that the person who wrote the script shouldn’t try. While I didn’t feel like Yogi Bear was the worst movie-for-kids I’ve ever seen, it’s also nowhere near the list of “reasonably good kids’ movies”, much less “great kids’ movies”. It’s boring. It’s beyond predictable (even as a child, I would’ve known the minute I saw Mayor Brown that he was going to be embarrassed in some grand fashion by Yogi Bear before the whole thing wrapped up). It’s lame. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here, of course, and suggesting that kids’ movies actually be quality films isn’t a brave, new idea. But for me, it’s impossible to discuss kids’ movies without having this discussion, as so many of them seem to fall into the same trap time and time again: the writers don’t exert themselves, the actors don’t seem committed to the roles, and the director doesn’t seem to have anything invested in the success of the film besides how many toy tie-ins he/she can score.
Besides all that, there’s a lingering question here that no one– especially the people that made the film– seems capable of answering: Why make a Yogi Bear movie? This is a film based on a cartoon that was popular in a time period that predates my own childhood, and I was born in 1980. What possible interest in this character could the children of 2010 and 2011 have? The answer, of course, is “none”. The studio, the director, and the writer all clearly hoped that Yogi Bear would appeal to a whole new generation (“The theme of ‘stealing pic-a-nic baskets’ is a timeless one”, says the soulless half-wit who pitched this project), that the studio would be sitting on a potential franchise. It’s a perfectly reasonable idea, but they seem to have forgotten a vital element in that equation: there will be no franchise if the first movie isn’t any good. It’s not enough to have the characters, the setting, and the license– you gotta do something with it, and if you want people to show up more than once, you’ve gotta really entertain them. Yogi Bear is not entertaining, and this is probably why we won’t see another Yogi Bear movie (not in theaters, anyway). You may have been right about having a potential franchise, people-who-committed-this-atrocity, but you left out the part where you make a compelling, entertaining, quality film.
My job here is to tell you whether or not you should pick up Yogi Bear on Blu-ray, but have any of you really clicked this link with that question in mind? Is anyone out there really struggling with that decision? What you want to know is, “How bad is it?” I’m here to tell you that it’s awful, probably as bad as you’d expect. On the off chance that you’ve read this review because you’re a Blu-ray snob (don’t take that the wrong way: I’m a Blu-ray snob myself, brother) and want to know if it looks any good, the answer is “Yes, very much so”. But a few bright colors and some finely-rendered hair do not a good movie make, and so I can imagine no possible recommending that anyone– even and especially those with children– purchase this film. It’s not even good in the bad sense, where you and your friends might have fun mocking it: it’s boring, lifeless, useless. Are we clear on this yet?
For those of you wondering, the film does feature a surprisingly stout collection of extras. There’s a feature called “A Day in Jellystone Park” that divides a map of the campground into five main areas, and each of these areas contain multiple (generally three) little featurettes about the making of the film (my favorite– and I use that term as cynically as possible– were the “Jellystone Jewels”, wherein Miller stares into the camera, realizes that he once begged for this job, and seriously begins to question his own sanity). It’s fairly elaborate, actually, and I found myself wondering who all these special features were for: are children really going to be interested in the pre-viz process? Or the voice recording process? Or, or, or? Nice that they were included, but why? Additionally, there’s a new Warner Bros. cartoon (Road Runner and Coyote), and this was– without question– the only thing I liked about this entire set. It’s nowhere near good enough to justify the purchase of Yogi Bear on Blu-ray, but it was nice to have something to hold onto while I was crying myself to sleep last night.
So, in summation: Don’t.
My Grade? D-