by Mel Valentin
The return of Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne’s singular stuffed bear, to the big screen after a six-year hiatus is, at least among the adults who grew up with Milne’s books or Walt Disney’s adaptation of same beginning in 1971, a cause for celebration. Fans of traditional, hand-drawn animation can also rejoice as Pooh’s latest big-screen appearance, a reboot of sorts for one of Disney’s most valuable properties, uses computer animation to enhance the traditional animation rather than to replace it. Aimed squarely at the younger set (as in eight or younger) and their nostalgia-minded parents, "Winnie the Pooh" is a visual and aural pleasure (thanks to a handful of new songs written by Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez, plus a new version of the title song by actress-singer Zooey Deschanel).Adapting several stories from Milne and his artistic collaborator, E.H. Sherman, Winnie the Pooh returns to the Hundred Acre Wood to follow the titular character, Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), a slightly dim, honey-obsessed bear, and his friends, the boisterously one-of-his-kind Tigger (also voiced by Cummings), the perpetually depressed Eeyore (Bud Luckey), Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and her son, Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall), the not-quite-all-knowing Owl (TV personality/host Craig Ferguson), the seemingly always put-upon Rabbit (Tom Kenny), and last (and sometimes least), the easily swayed Piglet (Travis Oates), Pooh’s best friend. Collectively, they’re friends with Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter), the Hundred Acre Wood's only human inhabitant. Unsurprisingly, Milne's real-life son served as an inspiration for and a name with his fictional counterpart.
"More than just a story about a bear and his honey addiction."
Pooh and friends in the Hundred Acre Wood appear in Christopher's room as stuffed animals. Christopher, however, isn’t the narrator, or if he is, it’s a significantly older Christopher who never talks about himself in the first person. That same, off-screen narrator, voiced by John Cleese, pays aural homage to the first adaptation’s narrator, the late Sebastian Cabot (best known as the benevolent butler from Family Affair, a mostly forgotten late ‘60s/early ‘70s family comedy). Ever playful, the narrator occasionally “breaks” into the onscreen action, talking directly to the characters and, on occasion, nudging them back into the predetermined narrative.
That may sound like too much meta-fiction for small children or even some adults, but it’s effortlessly interwoven into the overall narrative (such as it is). Winnie the Pooh’s first section turns on the haphazard attempt by Pooh and the others to find Eeyore’s missing tail and, barring finding said missing tail, obtaining a replacement. Pooh, of course, goes off-track repeatedly (blame Pooh’s addiction to honey). The remainder of Winnie the Pooh’s running time, however, turns on a misreading, a misinterpretation of a misspelling. Incapable of admitting fault or ignorance (as in lack of knowledge), Owl makes up a not-quite terrifying story about the “Backson (Huell Howser),” a heretofore-unseen denizen of the Hundred Acre Wood who’s kidnapped Christopher Robin for reasons unknown.
Owl’s on-the-spot prevarication allows veteran co-directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall to switch from the traditional Pooh style of textured backgrounds, clean lines, and vibrant color for a no less imaginative tangent into animated chalkboard art accompanied, of course, by song. The remainder of Winnie the Pooh’s running time turns on the attempt to capture the not-so-fearsome Backson and save Christopher Robin from his clutches, interspersed with the occasional music number and Pooh’s honey-centered hallucinatory dream. While Winnie the Pooh segues effortlessly from Pooh to Eeyore’s missing tail and, finally, Christopher Robin’s disappearance, with little actual danger to the characters (the better not to terrify small children), it fails in one important respect: the all-too-brief running time.Whether due to budget limitations or a studio-imposed running time, "Winnie the Pooh" feels too short (because in all honesty it is), ending just when most moviegoers, young and old, have completely given themselves over to Winnie the Pooh’s considerable charms and delights. On the other hand, the brief, 65-minute running time (not including an unrelated short, “The Ballad of Bessie,” narrated by Billy Connelly) will leave children wanting more, a deft strategy (if, indeed, it is one) to get new and old converts to the Pooh universe to visit or revisit Pooh’s earlier adventures on film or Milne’s timeless books for children (and adults too, if we’re being honest).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20786&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/16/11 04:48:15