Interview with “Yogi Bear” voicer Dan Aykroyd

For those of you who know and love Dan Aykroyd from his Saturday Night Live days, “Yogi Bear” may be Aykroyd’s most “wild and craaaaazy guy” yet. The resident trouble-maker of Jellystone Park is up to the same tricks you knew and loved from the animated cartoon, only with one extra dimension and one superstar-voiced sidekick (Justin Timberlake voices Boo-Boo). Aykroyd was in Chicago to promote the film’s release this week – the official Chicago-area premiere is at the Hollywood Palms cinema in Naperville on Friday). We grabbed a few minutes with Chicago’s favorite funnyman to chat about “Yogi Bear.”

We even got him to deliver a holiday message in character:

“Yogi Bear” premieres Friday, Dec. 17 in 3-D where available. Rated PG.

Yogi Bear is a pretty iconic character in American kid culture? How do you stay true to the Yogi Bear we all remember as kids but keep it fresh?

I think of it like a layer cake. You start with the original, and then you put your own substance and personality and body in and a little feeling in the voice from yourself. I did a little acting in my time and I chased this part. I actually called my agent and said “I want this part, and I want to audition for it” and I was very fortunate to get it. But I took it on with a sense of responsibility and honor because people do remember the original and I think we captured that.

Did you watch Yogi Bear as a kid?

Oh, yes. As a kid growing up in Ottawa, Canada, where the sky turns dark in the winter at about 3:30, Yogi bear was my fire, my hearth, when I would come home. I would immediately turn on the TV while I thawed out.

I’ve heard you and Justin Timberlake described as the Batman and Robin of voice-acting in this movie. Is that fair?

That’s not inaccurate. Yogi and Boo Boo are a great American comic duo. I think you could compare them to Jake and Ellwood or Abbott and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. One’s a hysteric and one’s much calmer. They have a great dynamic, and the message that was always a part of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, which is that you stand by your friends whether they’re right or wrong and loyalty is really important in friendship. And working with Justin…You know, Justin approached [Boo-Boo Bear] the same way I approached Yogi andwe were able to build a relationship. We worked together three-quarters of the time [in the studio] and had a lot of fun.

You’ve certainly made a mark here in Chicago over the years – what are you looking forward to while you’re back?

I love being back here. I’m going to be hanging over at House of Blues. I’ll probably go over to Wise Fools’ Pub, Kingston Mines, Blues on Halsted, Buddy Guy’s Legends tomorrow night – Kim Wilson’s there so I’m going to go catch him. Of course I have memories of Chicago. I think about John [Belushi] every day, but more so when I’m here.

You’re voicing the Scarecrow in the upcoming film, “Dorothy of Oz.” That’s two classic family roles in a row: Are you getting a little nostalgic here in your later years?

I’m honored to take these parts on. When you consider the iconic status of both Yogi Bear and the Scarecrow. Dorothy of Oz is based on the original writing of L. Frank Baum and in it, Dorothy comes back to save Oz, because everything’s been left in the hands of the scarecrow, and that’s not such a good idea. But it’s really a joy at this point to be able to pick up these classic roles that people grew up with and still connect with.

At the risk of assigning an underlying ethos to an animated bear that steals picnic baskets, is there a lesson to the movie, about connecting with nature?

Absolutely. [Jellystone Park in the movie] a real park in New Zealand, and it’s just beautiful. I think the message is: Put up the electronica, put up the laptop, put up the blackberry, put up the texting, put up the tweeting, put up the Facebook, for at least a long weekend in the summer. Leave all that at home and get out.

Get a dipper and bend the handle and look up in the sky and see the Big Dipper and contemplate the universe. How did the forces of the universe know that we would go camping and bend the handle of the dipper not to burn ourselves and we look up and there’s an exact replica? These are the things to contemplate. Put away the electronica, put out the Judaica, and get back to our roots and nature.

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