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Winnie the Pooh
Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall
Screenplay by Stephen J. Anderson and Clio Chiang
John Cleese as Narrator (voice)
Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh / Tigger (voice)
Bud Luckey as Eeyore (voice)
Craig Ferguson as Owl (voice)
Jack Boulter as Christopher Robin (voice)
Travis Oates as Piglet (voice)
How long is Winnie the Pooh? 69 minutes.
What is Winnie the Pooh rated? ‘G’
A Big Pot Of Honey
As we join our beloved nursery animals, Winnie The Pooh has a Very Important Thing To Do. This we know, and once informed by the faithful narrator, Pooh comes to know it as well. Naturally the most important thing he can imagine is answering the call of his stridently honey-hungry tummy. However, on a meandering quest for his favorite sweet treat, he learns that young Christopher Robin and his animal pals may need help with an entirely different kind of problem.
Along the way, Pooh and his friends toddle about the Hundred Acre Wood, often getting tangled in the prose of their own storybook, and applying their simple minds to everyday problems with touching and hilarious results. The shocking part is the faithful way in which the makers of this movie recreate the charm of A. A. Milne’s original stories, as first interpreted by Disney “when we were very young.”
Co-directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall have trustworthy credentials, having lent creative hands to several pretty good animated features and one excellent one – Disney’s outrageously funny left-field surprise The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). The most important thing, really, was to save the contract from the influence of baser minds, such as that of Tim Hill. Go on and imagine Winnie The Pooh refitted in the style of Alvin And The Chipmunks. Weren’t we all secretly dreading that when we heard this movie was on its way?
Congratulations to the Disney studio for making a movie like this. The advertisements promised a sincere effort at capturing the old magic, but the simple title of Winnie The Pooh suggests, to a seasoned and cynical movie watcher, that some clever young producer is trying to apply a “reboot” to the franchise. It would not be the first time Disney has reinvented the Hundred Acre Wood for a new generation, but could they resist the temptation this time around to get snarky and crass? Sure, it would have been high blasphemy of the first order, but what if the wrong hands had gotten hold of this project and chosen to – if I may – “Shrek it up?” If there is one thing that does not belong in Winnie The Pooh, it is a “pooh” joke.
Despite the many precedents for dumbing down and scumming up children’s entertainment, the makers of Winnie The Pooh chose instead to work along the lines of the original Disney features which began in 1968 with Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree. Naturally, some replacement casting has been necessary since then, but the studio has a good enough grasp of the franchise by now to know who to cast. It is the rare cartoon indeed that still employs proven voice actors when inferior but instantly recognizable celebrity voice talent can be gotten within the means of the production. The most high-profile addition to the cast in this respect is Tom “Squarepants” Kenny as Rabbit. Calling on his sharpest work from shows like Futurama and Dilbert, he makes the character more resourceful and less fussy than we have ever seen him. An excruciatingly posh Craig Ferguson hams it up as the stuffy old Owl. John Cleese, taking over from the jolly warmth of Sebastian Cabot, lends his gently clipped cadence to the role of narrator.
Jim Cummings, however, takes the prize for his leading role. The task of preserving Pooh’s one of a kind tone and manner of speech, made famous by the late Sterling Holloway, is a staggering one, and Cummings (who also plays the spirited Tigger) does it so well that Winnie the Pooh is the only character who sounds just as he did almost fifty years ago. Even considering how well the years have treated them, none of The Muppets could manage that.
Amid all the praise, let us not forget Eeyore (“…everyone always does…”). He is definitely the best written character in this movie, and the plot revolves in large part around the loss, failed replacement, and eventual restoration of his tail. It is one of the most familiar and popular story lines from A. A. Milne’s books, and it provides a chance for some fantastic physical comedy as Eeyore’s friends saddle him with objects as diverse as cuckoo clocks, umbrellas, and balloons. Ultimately we learn that nothing means as much to a gloomy donkey as his very own tail.
Piglet is around too, of course, and Kanga, and Roo, as well as the irrepressible Tigger. The part where he tries to instruct Eeyore in advanced “Tiggering” is the best bit in the whole seventy minutes, and a polite nod to the original fan favorite Winnie The Pooh And Tigger Too.
The notable absence is that of Gopher. No big deal; he was a Disney addition and best suited to a “B” story in a longer movie. Or was he killed off in Pooh’s Heffalump Movie? It is hard to remember canon properly when dealing with reboots…
Speaking of which, there are also no Heffalumps or Woozles, the honey-thieving nightmare animals that Pooh fears so desperately. Not a problem, but they would not have been out of place. The segment in which the animals believe their pal Christopher Robin has been captured could have allowed for Heffalump or Woozle complicity, but the writers managed fine without them.
A good peppering of whimsical music completes the throwback to “classic” Pooh. These stories work nicely as light opera, guaranteeing each character a share of the spotlight. The soft crooning of Zooey Deschanel is, fortunately, all the hipness this movie seems to need, and she fits in wonderfully.
Also worthy of mention is a cartoon short which plays before the main feature – “The Ballad Of Nessie,” a button-cute fable about the creation of Loch Ness by a sweet and lonely monster. Billy Connolly provides narration in verse, accompanied by much bagpiping and no doubt constantly resisting the urge to break out in hilarious profanity. The style and tone of “Nessie” set a reassuring tone for the main attraction to come. Traditional-looking animation hearkens to classics like The Reluctant Dragon and The Sword In The Stone, as well as the old Goofy shorts.
The sly wit of Winnie The Pooh has always been the key to making A. A. Milne’s on-the-nose fables about friendship and common sense entertaining to all ages. The writers of this movie still trust the familiar characters and time-tested sense of humor to keep things lively. And it works. And it feels so good to know that it works. If ever we needed reassurance that entertainment like this can survive (even prosper) nowadays, Winnie The Pooh has shown up like a champ. Take your kids, take your date, take anyone sufficiently nostalgic and unselfconscious to have fun in a kids’ movie. And if you are heartless enough not to enjoy it, remember that it runs only a little over an hour.
Bravo, you silly old bear.