Neither smarter nor dumber than the average family-friendly comedy, “Yogi Bear” is a bland and innocuous small-fry outing that retains a measure of the original Hanna-Barbera cartoon’s charm, though scarcely enough to justify the time, expense and visual-effects trickery it must have taken to inflate an endearing 2D cartoon into a dopey 3D extravaganza. Still, as Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” pics made abundantly clear, there’s a sizable audience for incongruous pairings of live-action humans and patently computer-generated critters, suggesting a steady stream of guests at Warners’ picnic table through the holidays, and heavy minivan DVD-player rotation.
As in the original cartoon series (spun off in 1961 from “The Huckleberry Hound Show”), the friendly, domesticated, highly accident-prone Yogi Bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) is the premiere attraction of Jellystone Park, where he tirelessly schemes to get his paws on visitors’ picnic baskets with the help of his pint-sized, lily-livered sidekick, Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake). Routine slapstick scenes involving projectile pies and other assorted Wile E. Coyote-style hijinks make clear that Yogi is a perpetual headache for hard-working Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh), who’s already got his hands full trying to save Jellystone from being shut down by an unscrupulous mayor (Andrew Daly).
After Yogi makes a singularly unhelpful attempt to save the day, it’s up to Ranger Smith’s oddball love interest, Rachel (Anna Faris), to find a way to protect Jellystone from encroaching bulldozers. High-flying shenanigans ensue and romance blossoms, both in service of a duly nutritious but not excessively pushy eco-friendly message that might spike visits to state parks.
Aykroyd and Timberlake do fine approximations of their characters’ distinctive cartoon voices and speech patterns; teens and adults in particular can keep themselves amused by imagining Timberlake, in one of his more self-effacing career moves, having to record lines like “I have a problem with baked beans” in Boo Boo’s trademark nasal delivery. By comparison, the not-quite-photorealistic, borderline-alien look of these CGI bears is off-putting, the technological advancements of lifelike fur and detailed eye movements being no match for the clean, expressive lines of hand-drawn animation.
Directed with routine efficiency by vfx vet Eric Brevig (who made his feature directing debut with “Journey to the Center of the Earth”) from a mechanically worked-out script credited to three writers, “Yogi Bear” was shot using 3D cameras and looks better than most stereoscopically converted fare, with Peter James’ lensing of the majestic outdoor scenery actually benefiting from the augmented visual treatment.
Straight-laced Cavanagh and loopy Faris ground the pic as a pair of ideally matched nature geeks, though arguably the best performance comes courtesy of New Zealand’s 36,000-acre Woodhill State Forest, ably standing in for the patch of classically American wilderness that Jellystone represents.