Release Date: 07/15/2011
Runtime: Not Yet Available
Director: Don Hall
Cast: Jim Cummings, Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson, Tom Kenny
I’m as big a fan of the modern computer-generated animation style as anyone, but there’s something simple, refreshing and heart-warming about Disney’s more traditional take on A. A. Milne’s children’s book series, “Winnie the Pooh”. The hand-drawn animation style captures the art of the original books — there no hyper-realism to be found here. In fact, the characters themselves interact with the print of these books in sometimes silly, sometimes clever ways, as when Pooh uses the letters that have fallen down a hole to build a staircase so that he and his pals can escape from the pit, and the letters are revealed to form a sentence that describes the on-screen action to a T.
The film is based on three of Milne’s short stories, but they are seamlessly integrated into a story arc that holds together better than most modern animated fare. Christopher Robin’s collection of stuffed animals are off to find poor Eeyore’s lost tail (or “tael” as the characters here spell it, being limited by their young master’s own spelling ability). Along the way, they come across a curious note that leads them to believe (mistakenly, of course) that Christopher has been captured and taken prisoner by a horrible monster, the “Backson”. Owl describes the nature of this creature in great detail and the troupe decides their only option is to set a trap for the beast and capture it in order to rescue young master Robin.
Along the way, the ever-hungry Pooh is also in search of a bit of “hunny” to satisfy his grumbly tummy. All manner of antics ensue as Tigger enlists Eeyore as his reluctant apprentice — “Tigger 2″ — replacing the despondent donkey’s missing tail with a spring, and poor Piglet flees in terror from what he believes to be the Backson (actually Tigger in disguise). Don’t worry about frightening the little ones as this is pure G-rated fare: Piglet’s escape from the “scary monster” was the scene that elicited the loudest and most heartfelt giggles (bordering on a bout of hysterical laughter) from my 6-year-old daughter who accompanied me to the screening.
In the end, Christopher returns to his friends, completely unharmed and the friends all laugh about the misunderstanding. Meanwhile Pooh discovers something in his quest that presents him with a dilemma: should he help a friend in need or satiate his own cravings? Needless to say he makes the right choice and is ultimately rewarded for it. By the way, stick around through the credits for a bonus scene that all are sure to enjoy.
Although the animation style is decidedly retro, the film-makers have updated the story by adding a few modern songs to the mix. Several numbers are written by husband and wife song-writing team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, performed by the writers and the voice talent of the film. Three numbers, including a version of the classic “Winnie the Pooh” theme, are performed by actress/singer Zooey Deschannel, one of which — “So Long” — she even penned herself.
If I could criticize anything about the film, it’s that it glorifies simple-mindedness. Pooh unabshedly admits his complete inability to understand the finer points of one of Owl’s more erudite elucidations, and even the wise Owl himself shows a distinct lack of common sense at times. But perhaps this tact is to let even the smallest and youngest among us feel comfortable, perhaps even more advanced than the characters, thereby providing them with a sense of mastery. Or maybe it’s just funny to laugh at animated stuffed animals who say dumb stuff?
Whatever the case, “Winnie the Pooh” is a wonderful film for younger kids, and as for for the parents, the simple joy of seeing the sparkle in our children’s eyes is worth the price of admission.