Yogi Bear is not a kids' movie. It is a bleak futurist parable about humanity's inability to accept a non-human sapience. It is also about a bear who wears a hat.
On the surface, everything about Yogi Bear (no "the" in the title) is steeped in failure. The CGI is serviceable, insofar as Yogi looks like a bear and not, say, a giant sloth. One also suspects that the studio secured Justin Timberlake's and Dan Aykroyd's vocal talents for Boo Boo and Yogi by trapping said actors in recording booths, filling the booths with helium and sulfur hexafluoride, and commanding them to deliver lines before they suffocated to death. Every other facet of the film seemingly stacks together like a crap ziggurat: the superfluous 3D, the criminal misuse of Anna Faris, Tom Cavanagh's portrayal of Ranger Smith as a perpetually just awoken sleepwalker, the fact that Warner Brothers has carpet-bombed your Hanna-Barbera nostalgia with fart gags.
But Yogi Bear is not a bad film; it is a deceptive one. Everything about the film (including its plot, which is about an evil mayor wanting to close Jellystone Park) is a cipher. Yogi's unabashed ineptitude underscores its thesis, which is about the implicit horror of that much maligned subgenre of speculative fiction: the talking animal film.
There are two common vintages of the talking animal film, and each of them contains their own inherent horrors. The first is the lingua obscura film — this movie showcases animals who do not communicate with humans but often understand their language, technology, and mores. Furthermore, the creatures in these films possess a secret language with which they converse behind the humans' backs. The implicit horror here lies in the possibility of fauna cabal. In truth, Marmaduke and Looking Who's Talking Now have more in common with The Birds than Old Yeller.
The second type of chatty critter flick is the lingua anthro film. In these movies, animals can talk to humans, but this interaction is unexpected or uncommon, and the animals tend not to receive the rights and privileges of Homo sapiens. Alvin and the Chipmunks and How I Saved The President are key examples. In this instance, the horror lies in a mishandling of this post-human consciousness explosion. If chipmunks, beagles, and platyhelminthes suddenly begin yammering at us about shamanistic folk remedies, humanity's entire philosophical, religious, and legal edifices will be blasted to smithereens. This is on par with a singularity-level event, and let's not even get into the inevitable resource war. Chipmunks breed and mature a lot faster than humans — they'll pump foot soldier after foot soldier out of their gestation hives until they have a monopoly on global acorn production.
Yogi Bear fits neither the lingua obscura nor the lingua anthro models, but it occupies an uneasy morass somewhere between the two. Here are some details.
In the film, Yogi and Boo Boo can speak idiomatic English; have a rudimentary knowledge of aviation (they build a pic-a-nic-basket-grabbing ornithopter) and pop culture (they know the lyrics to Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back"); and dress in stylish cravats. Yogi and Boo Boo live in a cave in Jellystone Park, but there's no legal explanation (or repercussions) for their squatting on federal land. Humans are not surprised by the bears' anthropomorphism, and biologist Rachel (Faris) explains that talking bears are unusual, but not unheard of. Indeed, in one scene, Yogi and Boo Boo venture into the city abutting Jellystone and interact with what appears to be a happy bagman, who is unfazed by their presence. (Talking bears may be a side effect of fortified wine, but Yogi's sentience draws an equally blasé reaction from other characters, like the film's evil mayor, Eastbound & Down's Andrew Daly.)
Both Yogi and the human characters frequently note that he is a unique specimen of Ursus arctos (Boo Boo's intellect goes largely unacknowledged). Yogi is "smarter than the average bear," which implies that his intelligence is some form of mutation. To make matters stranger, Yogi and Boo Boo do not associate with other brown bears. When Yogi tries to give Ranger Smith dating advice, he suggests that Smith urinate on Rachel to mark his mate. Not only is this the first golden shower joke I've ever heard in a PG-rated film, it is also a tacit acknowledgement that Yogi is conversant in the bears' ways.
It's unclear who's rejected whom, but I believe that the Jellystone bears have exiled themselves from other bears. If Yogi were to attempt to mate with another bear, the experience would be similar to Sean Connery trying to make out with an apathetic immortal in Zardoz — carnally unsatisfying and completely inappropriate for a kid's movie. In fact, Yogi's repressed sexuality aptly explains his picnic basket mania — he has sublimated his erotic urges into a mad quest for coleslaw.
Now that I've spent a paragraph deciphering Yogi the Bear's sex life, here are a few more details about the film.
1.) Yogi and Boo Boo do not simply mimic human mannerisms like parrots.
2.) Ranger Smith spends most of the movie wanly imploring Yogi "to act like a normal bear."
So is Yogi an evolutionary leap forward or the genial byproduct of genetic manipulation, like some picnic-fetishizing chupacabra? It doesn't matter. What does matter is that the Jellystone bears are creatures that should make SETI shit its pants, but they're greeted with apathy. In the lingua obscura and lingua anthro models, the talking animal horror is without; in Yogi Bear, the horror lies within. The film portends humanity's inevitable failure to accommodate a non-human ideal.
Yogi Bear is like District 9 but way more depressing. In District 9, hundreds of aliens who have no interest in assimilating into human society are tossed in an internment camp. In Yogi, two (2) measly bears who want to be human are given a plot of federal land and forgotten. They receive no acknowledgement and are conferred no rights. Humanity cannot come to grips with a non-human sapience, so the bears are consigned to the woods. In this light, Ranger Smith's blandness assumes a new depth. His omnipresent guilt saps him of all vitality. He is no park ranger; he is Yogi's warden, complicit in a system he hates. The film's utter failure at everything is a metaphor for humanity's collective failure.
In the end, the relationship between Yogi and humanity most resembles that of the telepathic dog Blood and his savage boy Vic from Harlan Ellison's A Boy And His Dog. Like Blood, Yogi and Boo Boo's sentience is an aberration, but it gives them dignity. Human society in Yogi is summed up by Vic: base, uncouth, unadapting. But Ellison's tale was post-apocalyptic — Yogi Bear takes place in a world of laws. If humanity cannot accommodate two sapient bears, then I dread the (hypothetical) release of Yogi Bear 2: The Great Pic-A-Nic Caper. When Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound inevitably cameo, civilization will explode.