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Brokebear Mountain: A Review of the Film Yogi Bear

People who grew up in the 90’s are no doubt familiar with Hanna Barbera’s Yogi Bear. Hailed as “smarter than the average bear”, Jellystone Park’s resident picnic basket connoisseur is easily one of the most recognizable icons of the past decade. Together with his side-kick Boo Boo, Yogi delighted audiences with his daring exploits as the park’s phantom basketnapper.

It is with shock then that I saw the 2010 version starring the voices of Dan Akroyd, and Justin Timberlake. In the Nolan tradition of putting a darker spin to a beloved classic, the 2010 re-imagining of Yogi Bear portrayed the lovable character as a disturbing study of addiction in a downward spiral narrative reminiscent of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream.

What was a delightful animated favourite was turned into a vividly frightening live-action thriller that pitted real actors with an actual bear. All for the sake of entertainment. Perhaps drawing influence from exploitation movies like Cannibal Holocaust, the director risked harm to his actors by exposing them to the threat of a wild animal for prolonged periods of time.

The film’s only redeeming character is the politician who wanted to shut down Jellystone Park. Certainly, in this day and age when politicians would compromise their views for just about anything (or a chance to be Pacquiao’s BFF), a politician with the political willpower to place his foot firmly on the ground and shut down Jellystone Park is a refreshing character to watch. Attn: Hollywood, we need more positive role models like this one.

In this chilling re-imagining, Yogi Bear is portrayed as a grizzly who is too smart for his own good. Rather than become a simple-minded bear who forages for food in the wild, Yogi plots and schemes to steal picnic baskets from parkgoers. He is aided by Boo-Boo, who is implied as a minor, and perhaps, Yogi’s lover as well. Perhaps the director is playing on the gay subculture term “bear” which means a chunky, mature male with significant amount of body hair and is prone to prey on younger males.

At the heart of the narrative is a disturbing tale of addiction. As the plot progresses, we see just how obsessed Yogi is about stealing. The viewers soon realize that stealing is not just Yogi’s means to survive, it has become his lifestyle. Even when circumstances no longer force him to commit his felonious acts, Yogi is bound by compulsion to keep stealing. In a heartbreaking scene, we see Yogi struggling to fight his demons, forced even to handcuff himself to a tree. And we see his demons triumph over his good sense when he can no longer stop himself from his obsession.

What a travesty that the bear is named “Yogi”, for yogis are revered men in India. A name that holds so much power is ironically turned synonymous to that of uncontrollable addiction and the helplessness to defeat one’s wayward ego.

What is even more shocking is the film’s total lack of remorse from the enablers around Yogi. True, they do not approve of his criminal behaviour, but neither do they do anything about it, save for occasionally yelling out his name. But doing that only satisfies the bear’s ego, for one corollary of the bear’s addiction is his need for attention. He steals as a compulsion, and his reward is the attention.

Yogi Bear is not your average Saturday morning cartoon re-imagined. It is a deconstruction of a family favourite into a study of the animal in every one of us. We are Yogi Bear, and look at what we have become.

Rating: 4/10


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