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Yogi Bear – Why Dan Aykroyd loves the character

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Yogi Bear - Justin Timberlake and Dan Aykroyd
Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) and Yogi Bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) © 2010 Warner Bros

Actor Dan Aykroyd has enjoyed a 30-year-career as an actor, receiving an Oscar nomination for best Supporting Actor for his role as Boolie Werthan in Driving Miss Daisy. But it’s his roles in such movies as Ghostbusters, Trading Places and The Blues Brothers that has made him popular with audiences worldwide.

In the new live action/animated 3D movie Yogi Bear, he gives voice to Yogi who, along with his best pal Boo Boo (Justin Timberlake), still lives in Jellystone Park, always attempting to steal the poor campers’ picnic baskets. But there is a bigger problem for Yogi and Boo Boo. Because of low attendance, the park is about to close and Yogi needs to prove that he truly is ‘smarter than the average bear’ by saving Jellystone for future campers … and, of course, their picnic baskets.

How did you get involved in this movie?

Yogi Bear - Dan Aykroyd
Dan Aykroyd voice of Yogi Bear, during one of the recording sessions © 2010 Warner Bros

Every Wednesday afternoon, after school, my joy was to sit and watch Yogi Bear. Of all the cartoon characters, he was the most accessible – the warmest and the happiest. He was also a bit of an outlaw, which I liked. His friendship with Boo Boo is perfect, not a trace of meanness in either of them, and I think that’s why kids of Justin’s generation, and now, still embraces them.

Two years ago, I saw they were making Yogi Bear. I said to my agent, ‘We have to track this because I love the character, and I also used to do some acting and they’re going to need an actor, just not a voice.’ I went in and had a wonderful audition.

What makes Yogi and Boo Boo such a great team?

Yogi makes every crazy idea sound so attractive because of his enthusiasm that Boo Boo always ends up going along with, no matter how dangerous or ill-advised. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is Yogi up on a cliff, hooking himself up to a zip line. He actually thinks he has accurately targeted a picnic basket, and you know that’s not going to happen.

What do you think of Justin’s Boo Boo?

Yogi Bear - Justin Timberlake and Dan Aykroyd
Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) and Yogi Bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) © 2010 Warner Bros

It’s not only Justin’s voice it’s Justin’s chops as an actor and comedian that pulled this off. The character is sweet and really dry. Boo Boo is the rational, Dr. Watson brains of the duo. Sherlock [Yogi] comes up with the schemes but it’s Boo Boo who calms him down.

When Justin did the voice he really had it. I was like, ‘You weren’t alive in the ‘60’s’,’ but I forgot re-runs. He was building his career as a young man and started as an entertainer at about nine-years-old so cartoons were on then to relieve the stress of what Justin was up to at that time. Justin’s dryness is incredible. He channels this character.

Was everything scripted or did you and Justin ever ad-lib?

Whenever you have artists collaborating there’s going to be some improvisation, you’re going to go off on riffs. There were a lot of moments when we made stuff up on the spot. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to play off each other, and to chuckle about how funny it was to be there, in our adult lives, playing these characters that we loved as children.

Why are these characters so iconic?

Yogi Bear - Tom Cavanagh, Justin Timberlake and Dan Aykroyd
Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh), Boo Boo (voiced by Justin Timberlake) and Yogi Bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) © 2010 Warner Bros

These characters are long-established in the American culture from the 1960’s. You can multiply that by a generation of baby boomers and the people who came after. They were well-written and well-done and had a lot of heart and sweetness and that made them endure.

How hard was it to do such an iconic cartoon voice? Did you try to stay close to the already established voice?

I think we wanted to get as close in terms of the characterizations that were there originally, because it is a re-tribute to the great Hanna-Barbera franchise. So we wanted to be true to that. We wanted to get the voices right and the spirit of the characters.

[Justin] can’t help who he is and I can’t help who I am so I think you’ll hear in the characterizations that a lot of our own personality comes through in the voices; a lot of our vocal skills, ability and power. It’s really Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. It’s a two hander with incredible support of a fine cast.

What would you say to encourage families to visit our National Parks and the outdoors?

Yogi Bear - Dan Aykroyd
Yogi Bear (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) © 2010 Warner Bros

I would say put up the texting, turn off the Blackberry, put up the laptop. Get rid of it for at least a long weekend; four or five days once or twice a month. We are ruining the attention span of this generation. It’s time to get back to nature. It’s time to get out and see that there are other creatures out there other than our friends being texted and sexted.

I grew up on the edge of a national park and had to walk a few miles there and back and then used to watch Yogi Bear in the afternoon after walking through this park [in Canada]. There were timber wolves, creeks, snow drifts, a bad highway; it’s like the story your grandparents tell; ‘I walked six miles through the snow’. Well I did! [he laughs]. The only joy was coming home at 4:30 as the light was fading and there was Yogi on TV.

I always had an appreciation of nature. I passed it on to my children. This generation is going to change the world. We really do have to put up the electronic devices and get back to nature.

What are the messages in this film?

The original Hanna Barbera cartoons always had a little message at the end; helping friends and staying together; always those little moral, social or ethical lessons. That’s why I grew up the way I did. This is about loyalty. In the end, your friends are your friends and you gotta stand by them.