REVIEW: Winnie the Pooh [2011]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: G | Runtime: 63 minutes | Release Date: July 15th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Stephen J. Anderson & Don Hall
Writer(s): Stephen J. Anderson, Clio Chiang, Don Dougherty, Don Hall, Kendelle Hoyer, Brian Kesinger,
Nicole Mitchell & Jeremy Spears / A.A. Milne & Ernest Shepard (Winnie the Pooh works)

“I’m a bear with very little brain and long words bother me”

Written in the 1920s by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepard, Winnie the Pooh has been a children’s favorite for almost a century now. First adapted to film by Disney in the 60s and last seen in 2005’s Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, it is no surprise to see the Mouse House’s reworked animation department under John Lasseter reboot the franchise.

Animated like I remembered it from my own youth, this new story decides to forego the allusion each adventure shown is a representation of young Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter) playing with his stuffed animals by portraying exactly that. With John Cleese‘s fantastic narration, our adventure begins through a glimpse into the real life room of a boy possessed by a large imagination. Plush dolls are set everywhere with a striking resemblance to the characters we’re about to follow searching for Eeyore’s ‘tael’. It’s an interesting move to blatantly explain everything as the fanciful actions of a child rather than allow its audience to come to that realization with age. I don’t necessarily agree the film’s eight-headed writing monster should have gone in this direction, but the end credits payoff it sets up is a brilliant bit of fun.

A ‘very important day’ for Pooh (Jim Cummings) and his Hundred Acre Woods friends, Cleese asks why but the poor simpleton doesn’t know. With a rumbly tummy providing background instrumentation for “A Pooh Bear Takes Care of His Tummy”, we learn every day is important because they all provide a twenty-four hour clock to find and consume honey. Not to be selfish, however, it isn’t long before a new task supercedes his insatiable appetite while on the hunt. Finding Eeyore—Bud Luckey‘s overly gruff voice made me sad Peter Cullen wasn’t cast to reprise the role—Pooh discovers his friend is once again without his tail. The empty nail remaining on his behind, the gloomy donkey resigns himself to the situation and expresses how he’d rather sulk in his thistled home than engage in the contest Christopher Robin organizes to find a new one.

Silly replacements like a cuckoo clock, dartboard, and yo-yo prove futile no matter how hard his friends try. Pooh would attempt anything since the prize is a pot of honey, but the continuous series of failures eventually leads the group to see what Christopher thought they should do next. Arriving at his door to find a note reading ‘Gon Out, Bizy, Back Soon’, the troublesome words call for a visit with the most intelligent creature they know, Owl (Craig Ferguson). Complete with bolstered ego and pomp to spare, a convoluted yarn about the giant beast Backson kidnapping Christopher is told with song and a nicely orchestrated sequence drawn in chalk. A bit worse of a disappearance than poor Eeyore’s tail, the group takes up the new task of capturing the monster and demanding their friend be returned.

From here comes a steady stream of wonderfully whimsical wordplay with and without the gimmicky camera zoom showing Pooh and chums walking about a book’s pages. The black letters become their own character as the animals interact by walking, climbing, and dragging them away as well as jumping over the book spine to get into the next page’s drawing. Never looking to hide the construct of what Winnie the Pooh truly is—a children’s book—the charm so many generations of children have found through these adventures remains intact. Every movie adaptation can have them search for Eeyore’s tail for all I care; each journey is as cute or more than the last through their creativity and general ability to bring imagination to life.

Cute is the operative word with jokes that will make even the most curmudgeon of us all blush with laughter. Whether its Tigger (Cummings) battling against a red balloon and static electricity, Owl’s unceasing superfluity orating his memoirs, or Pooh’s child-like misunderstanding of English and situations, magic through simplicity is in no short supply. Songs like “Everything is Honey” may make us think Pooh could use a lengthy stay at Promises to stave off his addiction, but they enchant us more through fantasy, dream, and wonder. Whether it’s finding a tail or Christopher Robin, the animals never cease to uncover ways to teach morality, modesty, humility, and friendship. To those ends one can find no better educators.

She & Him‘s Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward provide flashy vocals when the cast isn’t singing, Spongebob actor Tom Kenny brings Rabbit to life with as much short fuse temper as Ken Sansom did in my youth, and Travis Oates does a great job filling John Fiedler‘s shoes by voicing my favorite Hundred Acre resident, Piglet. It’s through their performances—as well as Cummings and the rest—that allow the words to bounce off the page and captivate our hearts. Silly gags like Pooh mistaking Owl’s use of ‘issue’ for a sneeze succeed because of his innocence and Piglet’s crippling fear of the unknown allows botched attempts to be the hero much more resonate. Each character embodies an aspect of humanity kids possess and feel weak or excluded as a result. To see lovable iconic figures represent those same attributes and overcome them is an empowering exemplar for them to follow.

A warning to parents spending their money with a ‘more for less’ mentality, please put the issue of cost aside. While billed as a feature length film, Winnie the Pooh is only around fifty minutes—sixty-three if you count credits. What the movie lacks in length, though, it more than makes up for in quality. Your kids will love it and you too will become engrossed as memories of youth flood back and return the child-like laughter of a soul unencumbered by societal horrors experienced growing up. And the credits are required watching anyway as they touch our hearts with a live-action slideshow of stuffed animals mimicking scenes from the film and create smiles as our woodland friends play amongst the scrolling list of names. A Backson (Huell Howser) epilogue doesn’t hurt either so make sure your kids put the remote down and bask in the abundance of glee Pooh and the rest have to share.


photography:
[1] Winnie The Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings). ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
[2] (L-R) Tigger (voiced by Jim Cummings), Kanga (voiced by Kristen Anderson-Lopez), Roo, Owl (voiced by Craig Ferguson), Rabbit (voiced by Tom Kenny), Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), Eeyore (voiced by Bud Luckey). ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
[3] Piglet (voiced by Travis Oates) in Winnie the Pohh. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

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