Yogi Bear is the kind of licensed film adaptation that just wants to get something up on screen. Once it gets the touchstones out of the way, it lurches into a lazy plot that was formed out of the generic kids’ movie mold. In place of telling a compelling story, the film simply yells out a bunch of unsubstantiated lessons. I guess it’s supposed to be fun, but there isn’t much fun to be had when the film isn’t really trying.
Jellystone Park is in trouble. The corrupt mayor is planning to rescind the park and sell the logging rights. Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh) is determined to make enough money to save the park, and sets up a major event to bring people in. But the park’s resident talking bear Yogi (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) keeps messing things up. With the park facing imminent closure, Yogi, his little pal Booboo, and Ranger Smith need to work together to keep the mayor from selling off the park.
Like a lot of recent children’s fare, Yogi Bear is content with spouting empty, agreeable platitudes without building a story to support its supposed virtues. The film might tell kids to protect the environment, but it will never tell them why it’s important to do so. They will go on about being true to one’s self, despite the fact that being true to one’s self in this context means stealing things from other people. The film doesn’t need to be complicated, but it could give a little more credit to kids. Maybe the villain doesn’t have to be painted so broadly. Maybe the protagonists could have more of a character arc. The film’s all too happy to tell a story that doesn’t make much sense.
The film establishes early on that Yogi’s schemes often don’t work. Come the climax, however, the characters seem okay with risking everything on the bear’s abilities. A major second act plot point doesn’t add up mathematically. The film pushes the plot along with the smallest amount of effort possible, never bothering to connect the dots. I guess they figure that kids won’t think about these things anyway. The sophistication of other children’s entertainment would indicate otherwise. Parents can probably do without the added condescension.
These licensed kids’ pictures get a disproportionate amount of talent in the casting department. It seems that these disposable features have become the default paycheck projects of actors who are often overlooked in the blockbuster scene. And thus we have Anna Faris, long established as an actress far better than her projects. Tom Cavanagh has an easy charisma that’s pretty watchable. The two main characters gain much from the vocal talents of Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake. Andrew Daly, Nate Corddry and TJ Miller all provide a few good laughs, but they all deserve better.
Kids are smarter than Yogi Bear gives them credit for. The general idea is that kids will be kept amused by the meaningless shenanigans of the talking animals, and that anything resembling a coherent plot would be extraneous. I suppose in some cases that might be true, but I think parents want to aim a little higher for their kids. I’ve probably said this too many times now, but there’s already enough great children’s entertainment out there. People don’t have to settle for disposable schlock like this.