I have to say - after looking at what was on offer this weekend at theaters, I am so glad I got out of the business of covering movie box-office results. The movies that rolled out just weren't up to my smarter-than-average intelligence.
Last weekend, the new 3D release Yogi Bear rolled out in theaters. Now, I should preface this by saying I was and still am a big Yogi Bear fan. I loved Yogi and Boo-Boo's many different cartoon show efforts on Saturday mornings, and enjoyed their previous big-screen cartoon Hey There it's Yogi Bear (1964). I don't know why I liked Yogi Bear. Maybe it's because I was a big Flintstones fan, and maybe I liked Yogi because the same people who made the Flintstones cartoons made the Yogi Bear ones (the Hanna-Barbera studio).
Maybe it's because Yogi was quite the rebel - "smarter than the average bear" and all that. He was quite the character.
It was probably inevitable that an attempt would be made to put Yogi Bear on the big screen in 3D. The Warner Bros. studio looked at the potential to revive a Sixties character and introduce him to a new generation and make a lot of money.
That attempt finally rolled into theaters last weekend, but it didn't make a lot of money. It only made $16.7 million dollars in its opening weekend. Not exactly what I call a big hit.
The movie critics have had a field day. The Rotten Tomatoes meter rated only 13 percent "fresh" reactions (positive reviews) to Yogi Bear. I notice the die-hard animation fans and historians were just mortified at the movie. I read numerous complaints about how the characters looked and how they were voiced. There were particular criticisms of Dan Aykroyd as Yogi, with people saying he couldn't hold a candle to Daws Butler, the original voice of the character during the original cartoons in the Fifties and Sixties. A lot of people just had a big problem with the movie Yogi compared to the TV Yogi they had grown up with and loved.
In a way, I am not surprised that the reaction to this Yogi Bear movie effort has been this hostile. If there is one thing that Hollywood is never able to get right, it seems, it is big-screen adaptations of legendary TV cartoon series.
Let's run down the list of failures and miscues, starting with The Flintstones. You remember that one - the live-action feature starring John Goodman and Rick Moranis as Fred and Barney. Now, this movie did happen to get a few things right. The casting was great - they even had Elizabeth Taylor playing Fred's mother in law -- and the gimmicks were good. They came up with a character named "Sharon Stone" and had Halle Berry play her in the movie. But let's face it, folks, the plot of the whole movie was a mess. A real Stone-Aged mess. I saw this flick in the theater and let me tell you this, coming from a big Flintstones fan: an Oscar contender this was not.
Another mess was Alvin and the Chipmunks. Now, the original cartoon Chipmunks show aired during the early Sixties, just like the Flintstones and Yogi Bear. The Chipmunk characters were legends in their time - they were recording artists before they had their own cartoon show, with their record The Christmas Song hitting Number One on the Billboard charts in the Fifties. Their original TV cartoon in 1961 was very good. Their revived cartoon series in the Eighties - not so good. But when it came to a big-screen adaptation - honestly, it wasn't all that good at all. They turned these chipmunks into scary-looking CGI critters, and they just didn't look like themselves. They looked like rodents who should be trapped by the animal-protection people.
It was also a boring movie. They could have had fun with the Chipmunks' legendary status in the music industry and done a documentary-style account of their whole rise and fall in fortunes over the years. They could have shown the Chipmunks hanging with Elvis or the Beatles. But no - they just made a boring kids' movie instead. What a letdown.
Other disappointments include The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000), which should have been a big hit. Again, casting was not a problem: they had Jason Alexander and Rene Russo playing the evil spies Boris and Natasha, and the actual Rocky and Bullwinkle characters were their same old selves. The original Jay Ward TV cartoon was and is considered one of the greatest of all time. Maybe that's what the problem was for the motion picture - it just couldn't live up to the original great cartoon. I didn't have a big problem with the movie, but a lot of other critics did. Its score at Rotten Tomatoes was a miserable 42 percent. Well, at least that was better than Yogi Bear.
Anyone remember the Saturday morning cartoon Josie and the Pussycats? The all-girl rock band was far too sexy wearing their amusing cat-suits in their cartoon TV series that ran in the early Seventies. That cartoon was made by, you guessed it, the same people who made Yogi Bear and the Flintstones. It was a great show! The potential was really there to turn that legendary show into a great 2001 live-action movie starring Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson as the Pussycats. Alas, the filmmakers completely bastardized Josie and turned these three babes into imitations of the Spice Girls. It was terrible. The movie got so-so reviews and ended up a flop, sparing the world from a sequel which surely would have been named "Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space".
Obviously not learning their lesson from all these other Saturday morning shows that ended up on the big screen, we ended up with Scooby-Doo in 2002, with a live-action cast going on mystery adventures with the legendary Great Dane. Yet again, a legendary Saturday-morning Hanna-Barbera cartoon found a way to end up in the doghouse with the movie critics. Rotten Tomatoes rated it at 29 percent.
Another flop was Fat Albert, which got a Tomatometer rating of 22 percent. This was a Saturday morning institution, with the show hosted by Bill Cosby! It was a cartoon about inner-city youths that taught kids some valuable lessons in life. Educators praised the show, and it ran for years on TV! But the live-action movie found a way to be bad and boring, according to the majority of movie critics. If there was ever a Saturday morning show that should have been good movie material, it was this one, because it was a great show.
There was even a movie released in 1995 called Casper, based on the old cartoon character from years back. Now, I have to say, this was a bad idea from the start. I saw the old Casper cartoons on TV back in the day, and I thought that TV show was just terrible. There was no way they could have made a good movie out of that piece of junk, but the attempt was made anyway.
The reaction from one of my university classmates sums up the general reaction to this flick: "The movie's called Casper. That tells you all you need to know."
There were other efforts that met similar fates - a bad Mr. Magoo movie, a bad Jetsons movie -- you get the idea. I suppose there were people who liked the Space Jam! movie that Bugs Bunny did with Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, but Bugs had deep roots in motion pictures before his theatrical cartoons ended up on TV. There were some good Superman, Batman and Spider-Man movies, but the source material was comic books, not TV.
I don't know why it is that these folks in Hollywood cannot find a way to adapt a popular Saturday-morning cartoon show and put it on the big screen - whether animated with CGI or otherwise. Heck, you look at these animated motion pictures Hollywood regularly puts out, especially the Pixar efforts (Toy Story, Wall-E, Ratatouille and the like), and even some of the DreamWorks Animation efforts like Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. These efforts have been met by critical and audience acclaim.
They've even managed to take comic-book characters like Spider-Man, Batman and even the Hulk, and they managed to make good movies about them. So why is it so hard to do the same for great Saturday-morning characters like Rocky and Bullwinkle, or Scooby-Doo, or Yogi Bear?
I suppose part of the problem is that the original creators had left the building in most cases, and the new people in charge just didn't get what the characters were about in the first place. Also, it seems to me the filmmakers and the studios are finding new and inventive ways to dumb-down their characters, and have come up with dumb storylines for motion pictures to put them in. I mean, Yogi Bear is supposed to be a smarter-than-average bear, but based on the trailers it looks like this latest effort is just another dumb movie.
All I will say is, the batting average for taking TV cartoons and turning them into successful movies is really, really low, to say the least. In fact it's pretty low for TV series generally, whether it's Dukes of Hazzard, Miami Vice or other efforts. They just never live up to what you saw on the old tube.
It seems obvious to me that Hollywood needs to give up on trying to adapt legendary TV cartoon characters to the big screen - at least, until they can figure out a way to get back to basics about bringing the original characters to life on the big screen. Right now, though, all we are getting are Hollywood studios trying to cash in on a familiar "franchise" from TV. They need to get back to basics, because there's no reason why you can't make a good Yogi Bear movie.