Winnie the Pooh Wins Viewers’ Hearts
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2011 14 Jul
DVD Release Date: October 25, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: July 15, 2011
Genre: Animation, Kids/Family
Run Time: 69 min.
Director: Stephen J. Anderson, Dan Hall
Actors: Voices of John Cleese, Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson, Bud Luckey, Travis Oates, Tom Kenny, Jack Boulter, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Wyatt Dean Hall
When film studios take on beloved stories and characters, they usually update them, reinvent them or otherwise spin them to make them more appealing to contemporary audiences. For example, Dreamworks has reworked fairy tales in its Shrek series, while Disney has spun Shakespeare into a story about gnomes (Gnomeo & Juliet). With Winnie the Pooh, Disney has chosen a different route, resisting the temptation to modernize either the characters or A.A. Milne’s gentle storytelling style. The studio’s new adaptation of Pooh captures many of the qualities of the Pooh books—quite literally in some ways.
Incorporating strong voice talent and jaunty musical numbers, Winnie the Pooh is a refreshing throwback to a time when big-screen animated features weren’t feverishly paced or loaded with rapid-fire jokes. One of the most laid-back family entertainments of recent years—the film is content to be merely enjoyable. If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s that the slight plotline makes the film’s 69-minute run time feel a bit long, although never painful.
The new Pooh begins with a live-action shot of Christopher Robin’s (Jack Boulter) bedroom and a narrator (John Cleese) who points out several stuffed animals therein—some of the beloved characters that inhabit the Hundred Acre Wood. These include Pooh (Jim Cummings), Rabbit (Tom Kenny), Eeyore (Bud Luckey), Owl (Craig Ferguson), Piglet (Travis Oates), Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall).
Live action cedes to animation as we enter the world of Hundred Acre Wood, where nothing much is happening. Pooh is, as he often is, hungry. His stomach is growling. He wants some honey but there’s none to be found, so he sings a song about his search for sustenance.
Even a song can’t help his morose friend, Eeyore, who’s always expecting the worse. Eeyore’s world gets bleaker still when Pooh informs him that Eeyore’s tail is missing. Where did it go? Did someone take it? They gather their friends around and declare a contest to see who can find a tail for Eeyore. The prize? A pot of honey.
Joining the hunt are Owl, who can barely be bothered with the adventure given an ongoing writing project about his favorite subject—himself; Tigger; Kanga; Roo; and Piglet. The group is soon offering Eeyore a variety of tails, such as a clock and a knitted scarf, but none of them suit the donkey.
The friends are sidetracked from their task by a misconstrued note left by Christopher Robin that leads the gang to a more urgent search. They do so fearfully, believing Christopher Robin has been taken captive by the dreaded “Backson”—a forest creature no one has ever heard of prior to hearing Owl’s recitation of Christopher Robin’s note.
This is all charming, helped immensely by a visual presentation that pulls back from the main action to frame the story and its settings within the pages of a picture book. The story, written by the two co-directors plus five other scribes, goes so far as to incorporate words on the page into a crucial story development late in the film, and by then the film’s winning qualities have coalesced in a way that makes any objections to such boundary bursting seem churlish.
Another key to the success of Winnie the Pooh, in addition to the whimsical, relaxed quality of the story, is the film’s soundtrack, with original music by Henry Jackman and breezy, up-tempo songs performed by Zooey Deschanel ((500) Days of Summer).
Less appealing is an opening cartoon, The Ballad of Nessie, which lacks the punch and invention of the shorts that precede Pixar’s features. Given the quality of the feature-length Winnie, this soft opener is forgivable, even as it shows how far Disney still has to go to match Pixar’s inventiveness.
All in all, this brief Winnie the Pooh feature is no full-course meal, but it’s as sweet and flavorful as Pooh’s elusive pot of honey. Hopefully, there will be future Poohs—a prospect that’s all the more appealing given the long list of soulless sequels and much less family-friendly blockbusters that have already been green-lit by the big studios. The prospects of those projects make this gentle, wise film even more worthy of your support.
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: None.
- Sex/Nudity: None.
- Violence/Crime: A few cartoonish moments, such as when the characters fall into a pit, or Rabbit pounds Pooh’s head in frustration, or Pooh accidentally catapults Piglet into a beehive; Eeyore says, resignedly, “We’re all gonna die.” In the dark woods, a frightened Piglet mistakes an unrecognizable Tigger for the “Backson” and tries to run away.
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