Source: Warner Bros
Everyone's favorite pic-a-nic basket-stealing bear comes to the big screen in "Yogi Bear," a new adventure, filmed in 3D, that combines live action with computer animation.
Dan Aykroyd stars as the voice of Yogi, Jellystone Park's notorious troublemaker, and Justin Timberlake as the voice of Boo Boo, Yogi's faithful pal and co-conspirator in his never-ending schemes to separate park visitors from their lunches.
Yogi has always relied on his quick wit and fast feet to stay one step ahead of irate campers while dodging his long-suffering nemesis, Ranger Smith. But he and Boo Boo are about to face a situation worse than anything Yogi has ever gotten them into...
Jellystone Park is being sold!
To cover his mismanagement of city funds and fuel his election campaign, Mayor Brown plans to sell the park to loggers. Families will no longer be able to experience the natural beauty of the outdoors Jellystone has always provided--and, even worse, Yogi, Boo Boo, and all their friends will be tossed out of the only home they've ever known. Faced with his biggest challenge ever, Yogi must prove he really is "smarter than the average bear," as he and Boo Boo join forces with Ranger Smith to find a way to save the park from closing forever.
Leading the film's live-action cast are Anna Faris as visiting nature documentary filmmaker Rachel Johnson; Tom Cavanagh as the diligent Ranger Smith; T.J. Miller as Smith's over-enthusiastic deputy, Ranger Jones; Andrew Daly as the conniving Mayor Brown; and Nate Corddry following behind as Brown's Chief of Staff.
For people the world over, the name Yogi Bear sparks the distinctive image of a certain pear-shaped gourmand in a jaunty hat and tie--a lovably larcenous pie-eating rebel who believed he was smarter than the average bear, and whose outrageous antics put Jellystone Park on the cartoon map of the world.
Speaking with affection about the "star" of his new film, director Eric Brevig says, "I've always loved Yogi. He does things his own way. He means well, but he just can't stop listening to his stomach, and those impulses that tell him if he grabs a pie off that table fast enough maybe he'll get away with it. He's like a big kid, and I think he represents that part of all of us. He may be a bear, but so much of what he does is pure human nature."
"People smile when they think of Yogi," says Donald De Line, who, with Karen Rosenfelt, produced "Yogi Bear," the beloved bruin's biggest big-screen adventure. "He's such a timeless character. I can hear his voice in my head the instant I think of him."
"The original cartoon was written as much for adults as for children to enjoy, and I'm happy to continue that with a big, fun, family film I believe parents will be able to share with their kids and feel that there's something there for them, too," Brevig adds.
"Yogi Bear" updates the classic property by respecting those elements that make it timeless--the personalities, irreverent humor and Yogi's endless conflict with authority--while introducing a contemporary tone and storyline. "We took care to avoid things that would identify a time period," Brevig states. "There's modern clothing and cars, but you won't see Yogi using any electronic devices that would date it. I think kids meeting Yogi for the first time will just see him as an awesome, crazy bear who builds airplanes out of campsite junk, while others can reconnect with characters they know and love."
The multi-generational appeal of this larger-than-life wiseacre and his easygoing bow-tied sidekick, Boo Boo, was brought home to the filmmakers in a big way by the two actors who offered their vocal talents for the pair: Dan Aykroyd, who lent his booming baritone to Yogi, and Justin Timberlake, with his spot-on characterization of Boo Boo.
Aykroyd fondly recalls his introduction to the character. "Every Wednesday afternoon, after school, my joy was to sit and watch 'Yogi Bear,'" he says. "Of all the cartoon characters, he was the most accessible--the warmest and the happiest. He was also a bit of an outlaw, which I liked. His friendship with Boo Boo was perfect, not a trace of meanness in either of them, and I think that's why kids of Justin's generation, and now, still embrace them."
Echoing that experience, Timberlake says, "Back when I was in school, I'd procrastinate doing my homework by watching cartoons, and 'Yogi Bear' was one of the staples of after-school television and Saturday mornings. Later, I found out that my parents grew up with it, too. Watching it makes me feel like a kid again."
Yogi and Boo Boo exist as fully animated CG characters and interact with a human cast in the largely live-action movie. The intention, Brevig offers, was to present "a Yogi and Boo Boo who appear almost as physically real as the actors, with twinkling eyes and wet noses and all the warmth and subtleties, rather than as mere cartoon images. Our cinematographer, Peter James, lit them as he lit all the actors. I wanted them to be living, breathing, fully dimensional beings."
Shot entirely in 3D with the latest generation of stereo photography, which Brevig calls "the ultimate system," "Yogi Bear" delivers this blend of elements in a way, the director declares, "audiences have not seen before. This level of technology didn't exist a year ago. The resolution, crispness and detail we can capture with the new 3D cameras is excellent. We took this camera system into places it has never been: into the treetops and down white water rapids. We flew it from a construction crane 200 feet above the forest to get Yogi's point of view from his makeshift glider as he swoops down to grab a picnic basket, and everyone comes along for the ride.
"I won't say it was easy," he adds. "It's an 80-pound rig because it's really two cameras--a right and a left. The camera crew is probably still nursing their aching backs."
"The technique has gotten so sophisticated and refined, we thought, 'Let's take all the visual opportunities this story offers--the action and the comedy, this beautiful setting with all its depth and huge vistas--and take it up a notch. Make people feel as though they're really inside Jellystone Park,'" says De Line.
Brevig, who made his feature directorial debut with the 2008 hit family adventure "Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D," has a wealth of experience in visual effects, working for the past 20 years alongside some of the most influential filmmakers in the industry and earning, among other honors, a Special Achievement Oscar® for his artistry on "Total Recall." Working in 3D is second nature to him. Still, he emphasizes, "We never want the technology to get in the way. What matters is making these characters real and engaging, and telling a story."
And the stakes have never been higher for Yogi and Boo Boo. It's more than Yogi's latest pic-a-nic basket caper that's giving Ranger Smith a headache: it's the fate of the park itself. Corrupt Mayor Brown has been squandering the city's cash and now plans to cover his financial indiscretions and bankroll his bid for the governor's office by selling Jellystone to loggers for a nice fat check. This means foreclosing on Yogi and Boo Boo's "Cave, Sweet Cave" and displacing all their animal friends, not to mention Ranger Smith, while depriving local families of the unspoiled beauty the park provides.
It's enough to make a bear lose his appetite. For a minute.
The good news is that saving Jellystone Park will showcase every bit of Yogi's bold inventiveness, style and derring-do, not to mention a healthy dose of self-promotion, as well as Boo Boo's characteristic charm, good humor and keen eye for damage control. Together they will face this new challenge like they live every day of their lives: as a team.
So important is their mission that Yogi and Boo Boo will join forces with the one man they've always done their best to avoid: Ranger Smith, played by Tom Cavanagh. Also offering help is a new character, documentary filmmaker Rachel Johnson, played by Anna Faris, who comes to Jellystone on assignment and finds herself enchanted by the park...and, even more, by Ranger Smith. Meanwhile, Smith's deputy, Ranger Jones, played by T.J. Miller, provides more hindrance than help, as the Mayor and his Chief of Staff, played by Andrew Daly and Nate Corddry, move forward with their despicable plan.
"What I've always liked about Yogi is that he's both a physical and poetic comedian, which makes him perfect for movie stardom," says Brad Copeland, one of the "Yogi Bear" screenwriters and another longtime fan. "He can be funny whether smacking into a tree or delivering a punch line."
"Yogi Bear," the movie, gives him ample opportunity for both.
Yogi Bear and Boo Boo made their first appearance on the small screen in 1958 as part of Hanna-Barbera's "The Huckleberry Hound Show," the first cartoon series ever to earn an Emmy Award for Distinguished Children's Programming. The pair's popularity soon launched their own spin-off show, in 1961, followed by a nationally syndicated comic strip and, in 1964, their big-screen debut. In the ensuing years, the carefree mooch and his sweet-natured pal have been spotted in numerous series, specials, movies and DVD collections.
Throughout, one theme has remained constant: friendship. No matter what's at stake or whether or not Yogi's latest contraption will crash-land the two of them through the roof of the ranger station, at the heart of every "Yogi Bear" tale is the abiding camaraderie and comedic interplay between Yogi and Boo Boo. And their latest adventure is no exception.
"It's about loyalty. In the end, your friends are your friends and you gotta stand by them," says Aykroyd.
"Their dynamic is wonderful to watch," Brevig says. "Yogi always convinces Boo Boo that his latest and greatest plan is going to work, never mind that it never does. And Boo Boo is the devoted friend who's always there for his big buddy. He often tries to suggest a more sensible route--to no avail--and he usually gets the worst of the deal when things fall apart, but he still hangs in there."
As many savvy viewers have come to understand, Boo Boo may really be the one who's smarter than the average bear, though it's a point he would never dream of pressing.
"Boo Boo is definitely Yogi's conscience," Timberlake notes. "He's the good angel on Yogi's shoulder, always there to remind him of what's important. But even as he's the voice of reason, he does it all while being a cute little bear with a nasal-y voice."
"Yogi makes every crazy idea sound so attractive because of his enthusiasm, that Boo Boo always ends up going along with it, no matter how dangerous or ill-advised," says Aykroyd, who laughingly cites a prime example: "One of my favorite scenes is Yogi up on a cliff, hooking himself up to a zip line. He actually thinks he has accurately targeted a picnic basket, and you know that's not going to happen..."
But what Yogi lacks in engineering acumen, he makes up for in charisma. He may be a tad vain, impulsive and sticky-fingered, but we love him because he's also decent, kindhearted and endlessly optimistic.
"Yogi's charm stems from his basic civility. He may be a thief but he's a very courteous thief and that's why no one, not even Ranger Smith, can truly hold it against him. His positive attitude and can-do spirit is infectious," says Jeffrey Ventimilia, who, with writing partner Joshua Sternin, shares screenwriting credit on "Yogi Bear."
"There's also a subtle subversiveness to Yogi that I think is part of his appeal to adults," Sternin adds. "While the rest of us have to live by society's rules, he has an admirable sense of freedom. He lives by his own rules, acting in the moment."
Aykroyd, who jokes that he and his character share "the Yogi Bear appetite," attributes his Yogi-channeling ability to "just having him in my head from watching the show so many times."
"He does it in a very classic way but also puts a little Dan Aykroyd spin on it, so it's familiar but with a little something that makes it fresh," says De Line.
Recalling his meeting with the actor, Brevig adds, "I can't say we found our Yogi Bear because our Yogi found us. He started reading lines and if you were looking at him, you'd think, 'That's Dan,' but if you turned away, you'd think, 'That's Yogi.'"
The filmmakers were also delighted with Timberlake's take on Boo Boo. "Donald, Karen and I met with him," Brevig recounts. "We all know he's a multi-talent, an impressive actor with a great voice, but would this be in his skill set? People think they can do Boo Boo but it's not easy. As we were talking, he casually dropped into character and we just stopped and looked at each other. He was fantastic.'"
Timberlake, whose film credits include a starring role as the voice of Artie in the 2007 blockbuster hit "Shrek the Third," says, "I always used to walk around the house imitating all kinds of cartoon voices. I would mimic everything, and so I was happy to give Boo Boo a try."
"Like Dan, Justin has real gift for comedy," says De Line. "They played around with the dialogue at their initial meeting and right away they hit all the beats and had a good time with it."
Fortunately, their schedules lined up such that the actors were able to work together in the same space, an uncommon occurrence in the animation world, where isolated solo recordings are the norm. That not only facilitated a genuine rapport between the leads, but a fair amount of ad-libbing as well.
"I think it made a difference to the performances because Yogi and Boo Boo work so well as a left and right hand. I consider them a classic team like Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy," says Timberlake. "Dan had the perfect energy and working together created the opportunity for us to improv a bit."
Aykroyd concurs, adding, "Whenever you have artists collaborating there's going to be some improvisation, you're going to go off on riffs. There were a lot of moments when we made stuff up on the spot. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to play off each other, and to chuckle about how funny it was to be there, in our adult lives, playing these characters that we loved as children."
Brevig banked preliminary voice recordings for the animators' reference before beginning the live-action portion of the project. Meanwhile, on the Jellystone Park set in New Zealand, the live-action stars began playing to an imaginary Yogi and Boo Boo.
"When you have a big CG character interacting with actors it requires a lot of planning, but you also have to think on your feet," says Rhythm & Hues animation supervisor Joe Ksander ("Night at the Museum"), whose on-set work included providing eye-line references and guiding the stand-ins. Ksander and animation supervisor Alex Orrelle ("The Incredibles") worked in tandem with Brevig and Rhythm & Hues' visual effects supervisor Betsy Paterson ("The Incredible Hulk") as part of a team numbering approximately 450 at its peak, keeping pace with one another between Los Angeles and New Zealand via Cinesync and Skype.
Pre-filming run-throughs gave the actors an idea of what their animated colleagues would be up to at any given moment, and provided Brevig and the animators additional ideas for actions and reactions. Says Orrelle, "It was a very collaborative environment. You never know where a great idea will come from, and Eric was always flexible."
As scenes were shot, simple cartoon versions of Yogi and Boo Boo were digitally drawn into the footage to provide a guide for the CG animators, "based on cues from the director as to the intent of each sequence and what Yogi and Boo Boo would be feeling," he adds.
The edited footage was then screened for Aykroyd and Timberlake. At that point, "It was like video-game versions of the characters so the actors could see if they were standing, running for a train or hanging on the edge of a cliff," Brevig explains. "I told them, 'This is my best guess of what you're going to do. Your performances are now going to tell us how to change the animation.'"
It wasn't until after the two completed their scenes that their characters really began to come alive, calibrated by the animators to the pacing and nuance of the vocal and physical performances--quizzical where they were quizzical, hushed where they hushed, and exuberant where they were exuberant. Yogi and Boo Boo became increasingly more refined and integrated with their human co-stars, ultimately acquiring the emotion as well as the textures, colors and natural movements seen on screen.
Ksander acknowledges that filming in 3D "means we can't cheat. We have to be more careful about exactly where the bears are. If they need to be a certain size that meant, on set, we'd have to work closely with the camera crew and the actors to be sure that the bears no one can actually see are in the right place."
Production was planned so that Brevig was able to edit and oversee the computer animation and effects in their post-production phases while concurrently shooting live-action sequences with the actors in New Zealand, a process he jokingly likens to "laying track as the train is coming."
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