Anybody can point a 3-D camera at aliens, serial killers or cartoons and make them cool. What's considerably tougher, however, is the thought of taking a classic character and fully immersing an audience in the world they longed to live in as children. A lot had been written about "The Smurfs," an upcoming CG-and-live action 3-D mix that will aim to do exactly that; but if there's one character even more beloved that will soon make his big-screen debut, it's Yogi Bear.
Recently we caught up with "Journey to the Center of the Earth" director Eric Brevig, who had just returned from months of shooting in New Zealand where he'd re-created Hanna-Barbera's beloved Jellystone Park. He had a pick-a-nick basket's worth of goodies to spill on Yogi and Boo-Boo's movie debut in 3-D, casting Justin Timberlake as everybody's favorite sidekick and why Yogi is still smarter than the average bear.
MTV: How did the shoot go?
Eric Brevig: It went really well. My plan for the movie was to get very funny, comic actors like Anna Faris, Andy Daly and — you've probably heard of Dan Aykroyd, right? — he's the voice of Yogi. And then I wanted to make a movie that's a comedy in which some of the characters are bears, as opposed to a kid's film.
MTV: How did you shoot the film? Was there a lot of tennis balls and sticks involved?
Brevig: Well, yeah, but it wasn't quite that removed from a normal live-action film. I had two actors — one of whom was six-foot-four and the other one was four-foot-two — and they stood in for Yogi and Boo-Boo from the blocking to the rehearsal and the filming ... after a while, you'd forget that some of the characters are going to be replaced by CG bears later on.
MTV: Justin Timberlake is doing the voice of Boo-Boo, and he's shown us in the past how good he is at cartoon voices. Tell us about his casting.
Brevig: He's very talented; he should think of a career in the entertainment industry. We heard that he wanted to do the voice, and I thought, "Oh, great," because everybody thinks they can do Yogi and Boo-Boo. But when we met with him for the first time, he did the tiniest little amount and it was like, "This guy has got it nailed!" I got Dan and Justin to record their voices at the same time, so they could actually talk back and forth, and it was really great.
MTV: Why was it important to make "Yogi Bear" in 3-D?
Brevig: I think "Avatar" showed it brilliantly, but when you have a fantasy world such as the one of Yogi Bear — we built Jellystone Park in the woods of New Zealand — and to be able to see your idealized version of what your childhood dream is like, to see that all that in 3-D, it just makes for more of an engaging experience. ... There's a big action piece where Yogi builds this glider — he's a master inventor with pieces he's stolen from other picnickers — and his mission is to rescue this specific thing that will save the park. S, he and Boo-Boo get launched off a cliff, and of course the glider is not built very well, so there's all sorts of exciting near-misses and calamities as they're flying through Jellystone. Once they've achieved their goal, the thing falls apart and they wind up in a raft with Ranger Smith and Anna Faris' character, and they go down a white-water rapid by accident. So it's like an Indiana Jones-level action scene, and it's just hilarious. To see two live actors into CG bears all bouncing around in the same raft holding on for dear life.
MTV: What's the basic plot?
Brevig: Anna Faris plays a documentary filmmaker who comes to Jellystone, and she's a love interest to Ranger Smith played by Tom Cavanagh. Jellystone is in danger from a politician who decides he can save money by shutting down a National Park. It's up to Smith and Anna's character, as well as Yogi and Boo-Boo, to come up with a way to save the park while the lumberjacks are arriving with their equipment preparing to start tearing it apart.
MTV: This isn't going to be like the Chipmunk movies where everyone is singing Beyoncé songs, is it?
Brevig: [Laughs.] Well, I think the world of Yogi is a timeless world, and I've gone to great lengths to avoid specific things in the movie that tell you the time period —for example, people don't use cell phones in the movie, [the park rangers] use walkie-talkies. The things we take for granted — BlackBerrys and so forth — they don't really exist in the Yogi world; it will have a classic feel to it.
MTV: How about the classic theme song, will you be keeping that?
Brevig: I know the song very well. But I just got back from shooting, so I haven't started working with the composer yet on the music. I would hope that we could sneak that in at some point, but it's not going to seem like the TV show done longform. This is a big deal movie with a fuller scope, and [our take on the song] will be bigger than that.
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