Yogi Bear has always urged kids to get into nature. The voice and characterization of veteran comic Dan Aykroyd brings new life to a new feature film version of the classic cartoon. And who else to play deadpan sidekick Boo Boo, but...Justin Timberlake, taking a fun turn from his recent dramatic outing in Social Network. Dan and Justin sit down in an exclusive Buzzine interview and tell us what playing bears is all about.
Emmanuel Itier: Justin, can you talk about your injury a little bit? How did it happen?
Justin Timberlake: Just kickin' ass, bro. [Laughs] Nah, I just suffered a soft injury on set.
EI: Are you using the crutches to get ready for a different character?
JT: I will be playing the part of myself today, if that's okay, but I will answer questions for Boo Boo, if you like. [Laughs]
EI: Did you guys want to bring something different to Yogi and Boo Boo, or did you try to stay close to the way we all know the characters?
Dan Aykroyd: I think we wanted to get as close...in terms of the characterizations that were there originally, because it is a re-tribute to that great Hanna-Barbera franchise, so we wanted to be true to that. But he can't help who he is and I can't help who am, so I think you will hear the correct characterizations, but a lot of our own personalities come through in the voices, and a lot of our own vocal skills, abilities, and power. (Justin's) dryness is incredible. He channels this character, and you'll see that it's really Yogi Bear and Boo Boo–it's a two-hander with an incredible support cast of fine actors and actresses.
EI: And Justin?
JT: I would just second what Dan said. I think an interesting thing about the process of voicing these characters–and so genius of Eric (Brevig) to do--was he had Dan and I come in and record together. We had two or three sessions together, because we really did look at this as sort of a Batman and Robin, if you will--as sort of a duo. So it really made a difference with the rhythm of the banter between Yogi and Boo Boo that could move like that, because there is a really nice relationship that they have. Also, in the specifics of us voicing such iconic characters for a lot of us, I think we both felt like we were honored to pay tribute to multi-generational characters and also understanding that these characters are going to be introduced to young minds for the first time. So we were encouraged to give them a new spin, and obviously there are some jokes in the film that are a little more modern that will play, I think, better with young people. Other than that, I was excited to wear a bow tie. [Laughs]
EI: What would you say or do to encourage people to go out and visit our national parks?
DA: I would personally say put up the texting, put up the Blackberry, put up the laptop--get rid of it for at least a long weekend or four or five days for at least once or twice a month. We are ruining the attention span of this generation and it's time we got back to nature, it's time to go out and see that there are other creatures out there, other than our friends who are being texted and sexted. This is a very good question. I personally encourage it. I grew up on the edge of a national park and I had to walk to school for two miles, there and back, and that's when I used to watch Yogi in the afternoon--after walking through this park. Timber-wolves, creeks, snow drifts, a bad highway–just like the stories your grandmother and grandfather told you: "I used to have to walk six miles through the snow." Well, I did! The only joy was coming home at 4:30, as the light was fading in Quebec, Canada, and there was Yogi on TV. It was my joy. So I always had an appreciation for nature and I passed it on to my children. But we really do have to put up the electronic devices and get back to nature, and I think that's part of what we are trying to say here today. And thank you for that question.
EI: What about you, Justin?
JT: I'm sorry, I was texting someone. [Laughs] I did a film (The Social Network) about, literally, the birth of social networking, and it drove me sort of crazy even playing a part in that movie. It's way beyond my brain span...
DA: And a great performance, by the way. [Claps]
JT: That's very kind, but I, ironically, grew up in Tennessee on the edge of a state park, so I spent a lot of time outdoors, and I would just agree with what Dan said, as I think he so eloquently put it.
EI: Justin, to get Boo Boo's voice down, did you walk around the house talking like Boo Boo?
JT: At the risk of ruining my social life... [Laughs] Actually, funny enough, I learned how to sing, when I was a kid, imitating singers on the radio–Al Green, Michael Jackson, Don Henley--just a few of the names I can remember off the top of my head. But also, I would entertain. I'm an only child and I was obviously really bored, so I would entertain my parents by imitating Scooby-Doo, Boo Boo... I would just try to imitate all the cartoon voices.
EI: Yogi Bear really downplays the importance of money, wealth, and greed, and pushes the importance of the environment. Did you relate to the money angle of the film, Dan?
DA: I never had any money. [Laughs] It was all cash flow. It flows and you get your fingers into it for a little while, and then it flows away. That's all I know about money. It flows--might be a river, but you can never, ever keep it. As an artist, I can't keep it. That's just life. The man who dies with a cent in the bank is the foolish man, I think. So I guess I am going against the conservators. I'm a real spend thrift.
JT: I think there are two great themes that offset each other for young people, and what Dan alluded to about kids getting caught up in technology right now....we are living in the age of technology. It's nice to know that we are using 3D technology to school–for lack of a better term--kids on the environment and how money is not the most important thing in the world. So congratulations, Warner Brothers, on taking the opportunity to do that. There's a great way to reach young minds, and right now it's with 3D, big movies... I just got to screen the movie last night and it made me feel the same way that I felt when I first saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit?--which I think is a classic, A-plus awesome movie–and it's in 3D. So to be able to use that to school young minds on how money is not the most important thing in the world and we need trees to breathe...
DA: The original Hanna-Barbera cartoons, though, always had a message at the end, from helping friends and making sure you stayed together. It was always that kind of little twist in the writing. There were always little moral, social, or ethical lessons in the cartoons. That's why I grew up the way I did--so moral and ethical–it was from the cartoons, not so much from The Bible. I read The Bible too, but it was really those cartoons.
EI: Do you like the fact that the movie was filmed outdoors and not a studio soundstage? Did it add anything special to the overall feel of the film?
DA: Two years ago, I saw that they were making Yogi Bear and I said to my agent, "We've got to track this because, first of all, I love the character, and also, I used to do some acting and they are going to need an actor–not just a voice." [Laughs] So I went in and had a wonderful audition, and I had the faith of Donald (DeLine) and Karen (Rosenfelt), the producers and everybody, and got the part. And my agent calls and says, "Guess what? They are shooting in New Zealand and you are going to get a first-class ticket there and back. Your wife can go and have a great time." I can honestly say that I have never been to New Zealand in my life. I thought I was going to New Zealand. But I think it was the agent. They tell you things like that sometimes just to get you...I mean, I'm sure it was the truth at the time. So no, I never made it to New Zealand, but I am not bitter about it. I thought the park was beautiful, and so was the lake, of course. It reminds me of where I grew up in Canada--just the whole message again about getting out and appreciating nature. This generation has got to save the world. Out of Washington, we are seeing environmental change that is just disastrous in terms of the ice at both poles of the planet. It's not up to us anymore. It's up to that new generation, now, to get out and realize what they have. Try to get more rural, I guess, and get out into the country and bring that ethos back to the city. Maybe this movie will help a little bit. Certainly it's entertaining, and that's the bottom line.
EI: What attracted you guys to doing voice-overs as opposed to a full live-action film? What was the lure, especially with Yogi Bear?
JT: I can sort of answer the last question too. When I saw they had shot all of this live-action in New Zealand, and Dan and I showed up to voice these characters, and they were weird--sort of looked like stencil sketches of the characters running through, and it was our job to find what we thought was funny and kind of arc the characters through the scene and their relationship. I watched and I was like, "Man, you shot this stuff in New Zealand already?" I didn't even know it until I showed up at the first recording session. I was like, "You guys shot this in New Zealand?!" [Laughs] I was very jealous, and I was in the recording studio for about three hours, and then I was done with my work for the day. If you know Warner Brothers studio, it's about a mile from Toluca Lake, where Lakeside Golf Club is, and I went and played 18 holes and I didn't feel so bad about the fact that I didn't get to go to New Zealand. But I think, for me, I grew up with Hanna-Barbera cartoons as well, so I think Donald actually, probably blindly, gave me the opportunity to do this. And I don't think he knew yet that I was going to be in character the whole time as Boo Boo. So maybe you should think about that in the future, Donald. [Laughs] They are just iconic characters. They're awesome. I grew up with them and laughed at them as a kid, so I think nostalgia was probably the biggest reason I did it.
DA: It's not only the voices that got me. I'm in a movie with some really great performers. Justin's chops as an actor and comedian is what pulled this off. And as I said, the characterization is sweet and really dry. I think Boo Boo is really the rational, Dr. Watson brains of the pair. Sherlock comes up with schemes, but it's Boo Boo who calms him down.
JT: He's definitely the reminder of sanity.
DA: He's like the guy in ancient Rome who used to ride behind the Emperor. The Emperor would come into town getting the laurels, and the guy would be behind him going, "You're nothing, this is all fleeting.” [Laughs]
EI: Would you like to do a sequel?
DA: I don't know. I'm not sure. That's something we'd have to negotiate. [Laughs] You know what? Absolutely, in a heartbeat.
JT: Absolutely. We had so much fun. And it really made a difference that Dan and I got to work together, the same way that Tom (Cavanagh) and Anna (Faris) got to do their scenes together, but they had way harder jobs than we did--having to remember eight thousand things as if Yogi and Boo Boo are there and also not forgetting to act–that's a feat. I've never worked in that way, where you are looking at tennis balls or leaves as reference points.
DA: Oh I have...
JT: But to get to work with Dan on this and to really feel like we were modernizing the characters but also building on their relationship, it really makes a difference rather than having the actors coming in one at a time and just read the parts. I felt like we found so many things that we thought were funny, and essentially Eric would toss out ideas and...it was a very cool collaboration. We had a lot of fun doing it.
DA: And actors don't direct themselves.
JT: Absolutely. Eric had so much to do with the chemistry as well.
EI: Why do you think Yogi Bear has endured all these years? And what touchstones did you want to make sure you brought to your performances?
DA: The characters are long established in American culture from the 1960s. I remember walking home from school and thinking, "Is my little story there?" The joy of watching Yogi Bear at 4:00 in the afternoon... And when Justin did the voice and the character, I was like, "Where did you come from? You weren't alive in the '60s." Of course, I forgot about reruns, and he was building his career as a young man. As you know, his history, really, as an entertainer, started at nine years old, and the cartoons were on then to relieve the stress of what he was up to at that time. So we both took refuge in the characters, so I think you can multiply that by a generation of baby-boomers and the ones who came after, and that's why it is so iconic, because it just penetrated. Plus, it was so well-written and well-done, even with the flat panel animation of the time, because the characters were well-drawn and they had a lot of heart and a lot of sweetness. And that made them endure.
EI: And what did you want to bring...?
DA: Obviously try to get the voice, the spirit of the character, and the absurdity of Yogi's thinking.
JT: Just to bounce off of that, it was funny enough that I did some sessions by myself as well, toward the end of the process with Eric, the animators, and the thousands of people that go into making a movie like this. And like Dan said, the fact that Hanna-Barbera has had a knack for making characters that have stood the test of time, and the fact that I hold so much...I said nostalgia, but really weight–weight for me, as a young person. And me, to dig them as much as I did then, that speaks so loudly to how well these characters were thought out when they were created. So getting the voice of Boo Boo, I had someone on hand with the '60s and '70s cartoons with the original Boo Boo voice, and I'd listen to them between takes and before we would start our sessions. It would take me about 15 or 20 minutes to really...I know this sounds like boring, geeky, vocal stuff, but it would take that time to get your palette to the right level of the character. So after the first 20 minutes of recording, I would go back and re-record what I recorded in that first half-hour, where you just get in the pocket of the tone and inflection. I'm really killing any sort of coolness that I have before I came in by telling you this. [Laughs] But I think the touchstones were, like Dan said, the bigness, brashness, and almost absurdity of Yogi that he was able to find and so hilariously portray. I think I sort of wanted to Buster Keaton, if I may, to offset that absurdity of that Laurel and Hardy type thing, so that if Boo Boo was going to be the consummate reminder, I thought it was funnier if I did it in such a dry way to offset how larger-than-life the character of Yogi Bear is. In the recent years after my last album, which was 2006, I think, I’ve had parents come up to me and say, “All my kids listen to your music. My daughter really loves 'Sexy Back.'” I said, “Oh great, how old is your daughter?” expecting them to say they went to like NYU or something. They said, “She’s nine.” That made me feel really bad as a person. I thought that was irresponsible for that parent. My music is explicit, so I also did this so I would feel better about myself as a person. I love the game of golf, and when I started asking questions about how golf courses get built and how they’re managed, how they use water and resources to keep them up... Recently, through a wild series of events, there was a golf course in my hometown that was going under, so to speak. I bought it and started infusing the idea of the environment and going green. I’m proud to say that, with my family, we have the first green golf course in the United States of America. It’s completely environmentally friendly. I grew up with that mindset. The more we find out about the age of technology, the more it makes us aware that there are other things in the world that we have to offset that with. I think it’s a great message for kids that there are things out there, like Dan said, beyond the 14 inches that you’re sitting too close to your laptop...and you know who you are. I’m talking directly to you. I thought it was a great message for young minds.
EI: Do you have any similarities with your character in real life?
JT: I like to wear bow ties and I like the color blue–bow ties in blue. I would say maybe the dryness, I guess, would be something that we have in common. Also, I didn’t have my growth spurt until late in my life. I was short for a large portion of it.
EI: Was it easy for you to get these voices that we all really recognize?
JT: Absolutely. I think so much of our performance has to do with Eric, the director, in guiding us along. He had the almost impossible task of shooting a whole movie with Anna and Tom, and TJ (Miller). Keeping in mind that, for all of them, they had much harder work than we did, to have to act with imaginary figures--the bears--that they have to constantly be aware of. When you see the size of Yogi, to have to constantly be aware of how big Yogi is and how small Boo Boo is, and the voices are going back and forth. I don’t know how any of that got to us. The biggest marvel of this movie, in my opinion, is that we’ve all grown up with these characters: Ranger Smith, Yogi, and Boo Boo. I just saw the movie last night so it’s fresh in my mind, but it really feels like it speaks to a young mind without speaking down to them. It really feels like a movie for them. I think that’s the coolest thing about this movie, is what movies like The Lion King and Aladdin...movies that I remember--Cinderella, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast--all those movies that I remember being so popular when I was younger as well. I felt like they never talk down to young minds. They just speak to them and for them. I felt so much nostalgia watching the characters. Halfway through the movie is that scene where Ranger and Yogi ruin the hundredth anniversary celebration, and then the fireworks go everywhere and then Yogi slumps down into the water, and then Ranger comes in–at this point in the movie, there is this whole thing, “How smart are you now?” And Ranger walks off and then Boo Boo grabs Yogi’s arm and... I started laughing at myself with it. I’m getting really emotional watching this movie. I think that’s the biggest marvel of the film--it really speaks to young minds. I think parents can feel really good because there is something for them too. There are great jokes in there for them as well. It’s a son or daughter and parent movie. That’s what this movie is. I think it does it in such a smart way.
DA: Did you have a teddy when you were…?
JT: I can’t remember. My grandfather is a bear of a man. That’s the closest I can think of. I don’t hangout with him and drink beer with him.
Warner Brothers' 'Yogi Bear' is released in theaters December 17, 2010.