Giving plot to plotless things

I had to see Yogi Bear.  My curiosity was just too damn loud and insistent.  And here is why:

Yogi Bear is a premise, not unlike Wile E. Coyote’s neverending battle with his slippery foe, the Roadrunner.  In fact, there is a CGI Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon in front of Yogi Bear in a sad pastiche of the Pixar short film tradition, and it is Awful.  But as Yogi Bear is a premise that is patently plotless, an overconfident bear repeatedly stealing campers’ picnic baskets to the chagrin of the local head ranger, I did not see how the screenwriters coul possibly stretch this into a ninety minute feature.

In my studies, I’ve learned a great deal about the basic three act Hollywood film structure.  Almost every film follows them; upwards of 96% of the ones made in America, I would say, and the majority of those made abroad, as well.  It is this on which our conception of “plot” is formed.  A basic three-act Hollywood screenplay contains what is known as a “main tension”- this carries us through to the end of the second act, and perhaps the third.   The “main tension” arises out of a “conflict” between two parties.  This can be man vs. man, man vs. himself, man vs. society, man vs. moose, and so on.  This “main tension” arises from an “inciting incident”, which occurs usually in the middle of the first act and sends the characters on their journey fueled by this “main tension” conflict.

This is the trailer I saw most often:

Now, based on this trailer and what we know about the basic three-act structure, I was baffled; what could the plot of this movie possibly be?

I had to know.

Well, Yogi certainly does.

I told Nella of my fixation on what the plot could possibly be, based on the marketing.  She astutely guessed that the plot would most likely involve the three main characters, Yogi, Boo Boo and the Ranger having to save the park from some sort of catastrophe, and that it would be somehow tied in with the Ranger getting his love interest.  I hypothesized that Yogi’s picnic basket stealing prowess would come into play in saving the park in the third act.  Turns out we were both right; it is devastatingly easy to give plot to a plotless thing if you know how the formula works.  After all, they somehow thought they could spin off the Geico caveman into a half hour sitcom, though look how that turned out.  The only thing that surprised me was the fact that the film employs the rare third act MacGuffin; usually a MacGuffin is introduced in the first act and pushes us through to the second act, but nooooooo.  We’re so lazy, what’s at stake doesn’t even show up until the end.

Don’t let me mince words; this movie was awful.  Like, so bad it wasn’t even fun, like a Roland Emmerich movies (his movies are always bad, but fun!)  So bad it made my brain go dumb and we couldn’t word good no more.  But at least… um… actually, there is no but. I fell into a depressed funk after that because of those precious 83 minutes I would never get back, and I didn’t even pay to see the damn thing.   All I can say is that it helped sharpen my understanding on how you can give anything, and I mean anything, a “plot”, however flimsy, if you understand that basic formula.  I think that’s why we end up with so many bad movies these days.

  • Seth

    You might get some closure if you watch The Assassination of Yogi Bear by the Coward Boo-Boo.

  • Yeah, definitely agree with you on the innate plotlessness of “Yogi Bear” and the utterly bland, lazy approach the screenwriters took to the movie.

    As for the film itself – clearly the creators of the prior mentioned “Booboo kills Yogi” video put as much thought and effort (if not more) into making a Youtube parody video as the “Yogi Bear” filmmakers put into their entire project. So I guess my approach is – why bother getting worked up over something that had so little thought or effort behind it to begin with?

  • Creature SH

    It will probably not surprise you that I had predicted the plot to be this, as well. But then again, it’s the plot of just about every big-budget family movie.

  • I knew the moment I first saw the trailer for this movie that it would suck. Heck, I knew from the very first second of that trailer that this movie was gonna suck. It pretty much slapped me in the face with how it had nothing to offer but moderately decent cgi and a weak attempt at nostalgia.

    So yeah, thank you for going against your own better judgement and confirming that the film does, in fact, suck.

  • Horrible piece of nostalgic bullshit?

    Or under-appreciated, misunderstood work of post-modern interpretive cinema? Could it be that in being so bland, the filmmakers were trying to say something about the state of capitalism in our post-9/11 society and how it tampers the expectations of a war-weary public?

    I say that this film is a piece of genius!

    As I’m sure all of its ensuing Academy Award nominations will prove.

    • Ivan Radchenko (aka Lardo)

      Have you seen The Room? If not, I highly recommend it. You’ll appreciate it so much more than Yogi Bear, I’m sure of it! 🙂

      • The Room is one of the greatest psychological explorations in recent cinema. It was astounding to watch Wisseau dissect the sexual mores of an ennui-soaked urban populace and the cultural symbolism of “football” as seen through the eyes of a jaded populace.

        Did you hear that he plans on re-releasing it in 3-D?

        Finally, we can see his ass up-close and personal in all its glory!!!

  • This kind of Simplistic-Plot-Joseph-Campbell-Classic-Hollywood-Three-Act rigmarole has been happening since time immemorial. “Yogi Bear” is one mere drop in the bucket.

    The next time you have the urge to see a mediocre piece of Hollywood flotsam, wait a year or two, and see where the films stands in retrospect. Your urge to see “Furry Vengeance” will pass, perhaps. I waited on “Catwoman,” and I’m glad I did. Some bad films become better when out of their original overcommercialized context.

  • You are a brave soul to have gone and seen that movie. Quite brave indeed.

  • Sunshine

    Just from that trailer, it looks AWFUL. And Nella was entirely right: when a bunch of antagonistic characters who knock about in small segments – Road Runner, League Of Gentlemen, whatever – get transferred to a big story, it’s always about banding together to save their world from external threat, such as the Warner Bros. characters in Space Jam, including the Road Runner and Wil E. Coyote. I’m sure that if there was Team Fortress 2 movie (from the game where you choose to RED or BLU and seek to kill anyone on the other team), it would have the two teams work together against a common threat. And it would suck.

  • Sunshine

    Sorry, I should have said you were both right about the plot.

  • Ethan

    I totally agree with this article, it’s kind of hilariously scary that plotless entities are given plots just for the idea of creating a cash-in movie… and F those CG Looney Tunes that they put before the movie! What the hell! Don’t kill my childhood please 🙁
    Keep up writing the awesome articles Lindsay!!! I love reading them!!!!

  • I would never give any money for a movie like that just for the same reason involving the lack of desire to throw those precious hour and a half of my life in the hollywood toilet of repetitive plot patterns. 🙂

    Thats why the reason I’ve saw this at all was during the state of euphoric plateau after a consumption of large amounts of alcohol and using the torrent system for free content provider to entertain my blurred mind with colorful moving objects. It actually worked. I had fun… but unfortunately that cant be possible at all, without any mind altering substances, if you were for some reason a cartoon loving kid at some point.

    The fact that hollywood is incapable of creating something new doesn’t need commenting at all – we all know that, but still some of us are supporting them with money by watching their movies at theaters near them 🙂

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