By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
A smarter-than-average bear becomes a dumber-than-usual kiddie flick with Yogi Bear, the lone Christmas release specifically aimed at children, so it automatically qualifies as their lump of coal.
Director Eric Brevig mixes computer-animated critters with human actors in slapdash fashion that won't make anyone forget Marmaduke. Oh, you already did? Well, Yogi Bear is worse.
Listen, children deserve a movie of their own during the holidays, something squeaky-clean and shiny to hold their attention and give parents a break. Yogi Bear can manage that at an unnecessarily premium price. Since it's presented in 3-D, without many in-your-lap optical illusions, the extra surcharge at the box office simply isn't worth it. That is, unless you're in the mood for spit takes and snot rockets expelled toward the camera.
Just decking the halls, you know.
Three screenwriters were required to stretch a short subject premise into 80 minutes of this. Nearly 50 years after debuting on TV, Yogi (voice of Dan Aykroyd) is still using Goldbergian contraptions to steal "pic-a-nic" baskets from Jellystone Park visitors, while his loyal pal Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake) moans concern. They are reasonable vocal facsimiles to Daws Butler and Don Messick's original characters, but who couldn't be?
At least Aykroyd and Timberlake recorded their lines apart from the live-action cast, or else they might have reconsidered and Yogi Bear wouldn't have a selling point at all. The humans in this movie are more cartoonish than the cartoons. Ranger Smith was never a funny character, and in the hands of second-tier TV star Tom Cavanagh even less. He's stuck with a dim sidekick (T.J. Miller) and a terminally perky love interest (Anna Faris, what are you doing here?).
The future of Jellystone Park is threatened when a crooked mayor (Andrew Daly) schemes to take control and sell the lumber rights. (Kids, don't claim in social studies class that a city official can do that to a national park; it's only a dumb plot device.) Ranger Smith plans a big 100th anniversary celebration that he's certain will raise the necessary funds to fend off the challenge.
All he needs is for Yogi to stay out of the way. Of course, that won't happen.
The lakeside disaster Yogi creates with a water ski routine setting off fireworks is the most amusing sequence in the movie, and its best 3-D usage. Perhaps not coincidentally it runs about as long as a single cartoon on the old TV show. After that, take a cue from Yogi's pal Snagglepuss and exit, stage left.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.