Yogi Bear, circa 1961CE
"Yogi Bear" was the most popular television cartoon creation of TV's early years.. Why? I dunno. I remember the cartoons fondly, but don't put them in the same category as the Warner Brother's cartoons, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Beany and Cecil, or even other Hanna-Barbera shows like The Jetsons.
The question arose, sparked by mle292: What is the appeal of Yogi Bear? My only real answer: These were the cartoons I grew up with. I can't watch them now, except maybe to dip into for a few nostalgic minutes, and I'm certainly not going to hold Yogi Bear (or most of the animated output of Hanna Barbera) up as cultural icons worthy of today's youth. But they were my cartoons, damn it.
Baby Boomers were the first generation in history who took their childhood with them. Previous generations may have had objects and memories preserved from their youth, and songs learned very early bring back fond memories. But we had virtually everything in its original form. We could watch reruns on tv, listen to the same recordings of songs, see pictures and movies of times gone by. We didn't have to remember our childhood, we could relive it.
We grew older (I hesistate to say grew up) and the world changed, as it always did. But for us, popular culture didn't exist in a small bubble that moved along the timeline: the amount of popular culture expanded. Quiz shows weren't just for the well-educated and highfalutin', like The $64 Question or What's My Line?. As the Boomers fought the Vietnam War and changed the world, "Quiz shows" became "Trivia contests" like Jeopardy. You had to study history to be able to answer quesitions about Cleopatra. You simply had to grow up in that era or any subsequent era to answer questions about Elvis. Unlike the previous generation, our generation's pop culture was also the next generation's pop culture.
I never understood the appeal of Scooby-Doo, since I was a grown-up 14 when that show premiered in 1969. Star Trek had come and gone. Television had moved on, taking me with it. Dismissing kiddie cartoons, I felt so adult. And yet, all those kids for whom Scooby-Doo was their cartoon also had our cartoons. And you still do.
Yogi Bear, 2010CE
Hey There, It's Yogi Bear was a Big Deal to many of us when it came out in 1964. The movie didn't match the hype, but it was fun if you were into the characters.
A new Yogi Bear movie came out last week, and was the highest priority among a number of good movies currently in theaters. Why did I want to see it? The trailer was good, but mostly... I dunno. I just did. In the same way that I was going to watch the new Harry Potter movie no matter what book they were up to or what critics said, I was going to see Yogi Bear. It felt right.
And, to be honest, I had high hopes but only modest expectations. The movie is a little better than it had any right to be, but only a little. Dan Ackroyd is the best part, voicing Yogi in his best Daws Butler-doing-Art Carney. Justin Timberlake is pretty good as Boo-Boo.
The plot -- plots, really, as several storylines move in and out -- aren't particularly interesting. Heck, they're not as clever as the old show, and I had to look up the episode guide to be reminded. Worse, Yogi and Ranger Smith barely have an adversarial relationship. Everyone is fighting the corrupt and oily mayor, who wants to sell Jellystone National Park to loggers. Tom Cavanaugh plays Ranger Smith far too blandly to be believable as a ranger, much less Yogi's foil. Anna Ferris plays a well-traveled but socially inept filmmaker, who wants to make a documentary about the talking bear. She has some moments, but doesn't add much to the proceedings except as a love interest for Ranger Smith. The best you can say about the plot: It's sufficient to drive the movie from one action sequence to the next.
Yogi Bear is for younger kids, probably as young as I was for the original. Fairly slow paced and decidedly G-Rated, though some of the sight gags fly by quickly. The kids behind me in the theater were laughing in all the right places. I was having fun. You'll do just fine once you realize that a) it's not a great film and b) everyone just accepts two cgi talking bears who steal pick-a-nic baskets.
The second best part, after Yogi's mugging, is the use of 3D. Avatar may have had the larger budget, but Yogi Bear has some clever people using the visual medium. If you go at all, pop for the 3D.
Aside: The Flintsones are based (loosely) on The Honeymooners, which starred Art Carney as Ed Norton, who became Barney Rubble. Meanwhile, the voice of Yogi Bear was inspired by Art Carney as Ed Norton. Art Carney is the inspiration for two cartoon characters. Pretty good there, Art.
Oh, and there's a short cartoon in front of the movie. Turner Entertainment, now part of Time Warner, bought Hanna Barbera in 1991, allowing the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote to share the bill with Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo. Rabid Rider has fun with the coyote on a Segway, still desperate to catch the coyote, and still failing. Sheesh, for the price of all his gear, he could have pizza delivered. But I digress. Like the main movie, more nostalgia than prime entertainment, and it's nice to see the characters continue in a modern setting.
On the Shockwave Radio Theater scale of 9 to 23, where 23 is top, I'd give Yogi Bear about a 16 or 17. Worth going if you remember the originals fondly, and if you have kids. Catch it in 3D.
This essay originally appeared in the Monday Dec. 20 issue of Bartcop Entertainment.