Makers of ‘Yogi Bear’ carefully update a beloved childhood idol
Over about two decades in movies, primarily as an Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor on films such as “Men in Black,” “Total Recall” and “Pearl Harbor,” Eric Brevig has worked with many big names in Hollywood. But his latest film gave him a unique chance to direct a childhood idol: Yogi Bear.
“I have memories as a little kid saving up cereal box tops and sending away for Yogi mugs and all kind of things,” says Brevig, 53, who directed “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in 2008. “To work with that character was like working with a hero.”
Brevig’s new live-action/animated 3-D family comedy “Yogi Bear” is an effort to introduce Hanna-Barbera’s “smarter than the average bear” Yogi, and his diminutive sidekick, Boo Boo, to a generation that has little or no familiarity with the original cartoon.
Yogi and Boo Boo first appeared as supporting players on the Hanna-Barbera TV program “The Huckleberry Hound Show” in 1958. In 1961, they were given their own series, “The Yogi Bear Show,” which lasted two seasons.
Daws Butler provided the voice of Yogi, who was based on Art Carney’s Ed Norton character on “The Honeymooners.” Don Messick supplied the voice for Boo Boo, who was Yogi’s best buddy, as well as the big bear’s conscience. Messick was also the voice of Ranger Smith, Yogi’s nemesis at Jellystone Park.
Joe Ksander, lead animation supervisor on the new Warner Bros. film, took his hero worship a bit further: He even had “Huckleberry Hound” bedsheets as a kid.
Ksander admits he had a strange reaction to the old series when he revisited it for the film. “Yogi is a big kind of charismatic glutton, but there is a subversive quality to some of the stories,” he says. “He was always trying to get food. He was very greedy, but the people he was stealing from were always greedier or more obese or more selfish.”
Since “The Yogi Bear Show,” there have been several syndicated “Yogi” series and feature TV movies including “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear!” released in 1964.
The new “Yogi Bear,” which opens Friday, features Dan Aykroyd as the voice of Yogi and Justin Timberlake as Boo Boo. Tom Cavanagh is Ranger Smith and Anna Faris plays Rachel, a wildlife documentarian. The slapstick comedy finds the four trying to save Jellystone when the town’s corrupt mayor wants to close the park and sell it to pay the city’s debt.
Studios have had mixed results at the box office with efforts to turn classic cartoon and comic strip characters into live-action/animated films. “Garfield” in 2004 was the cat’s meow, but audiences turned tail on the sequel. Both “Alvin and the Chipmunks” comedies did big business, but “Marmaduke” sank like a stone last summer.
Producer Don DeLine knows Yogi and Boo Boo aren’t household names to kids in 2010, so the filmmakers had to ensure the characters were relatable and fun for today’s tykes.
“For me, the job was to take a classic character that could have felt dated and make him absolutely current without making it disrespectful,” says Brevig. “If you knew the character back when you were a kid and you see the movie, you will be completely familiar with Yogi. It’s like seeing an old friend. If you don’t know him you won’t think twice about it because he doesn’t feel dated in any way.”
Brevig said writer Brad Copeland did a “pretty significant rewrite” on an early script, “and that is where we got the contemporary elements of the city being out of money and the evil mayor.” But Brevig said he didn’t want any iPads, BlackBerrys or flat-screen TVs popping up in the film that would date it too narrowly.
“I didn’t want this to feel like it’s not current, but you see an iPad and you’ll know what year the movie was made,” says Brevig. “As a guy remembering Yogi from before, that doesn’t feel like something my bear would be using.”