Disney’s Winnie the Pooh is one of the most altogether pleasing family films in some while. For very young children, its straightforward narrative is bright and friendly without the adult sensibility of Rango, the violence of Kung Fu Panda 2 or the potentially overwhelming scariness of Toy Story 3. For parents, it is a diverting reminder of things they enjoyed as children. For Disney aficionados, it is an affectionate revitalization of the style initiated in the 60s and 70s Pooh cartoons. For anyone, the whole film is simply smashing.

I would like to clarify something; this feature is a genuine article. Some may remember spin-off movies like The Tigger Movie and Piglet’s Big Movie from several years ago. The new movie is not related to those movies. The spin-offs were made by a subsidiary studio and used animation suited for a direct-to-video production. The new Winnie the Pooh was created by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ best artists, many of whom also animated The Princess and the Frog. Directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall were assisted by Senior Story Artist Burny Mattinson, a Disney veteran for over 50 years. This crew was committed to reviving the classic Winnie the Pooh form, and they have succeeded.

The movie’s story is akin to stretching one of the shorts out to three times its length. It combines chapters from A.A. Milne’s books, beginning with a search for Eeyore’s tail and continuing with a hunt for a monster called the Backson. The narrative is padded out with a few extra joke routines and longer songs, written by Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez. The script may occasionally slip into something a bit too modern, but it is well paced without lagging and ends with a nice lesson. The movie is only 69 minutes long and no longer than it needs to be. This should satisfy impatient children and adults who only want to pass time.

As in the shorts, the backgrounds take inspiration from Ernest Shepard’s simple, almost half-complete illustrations, and the characters interact with the narrator (John Cleese) and the storybook typeface. Certain changes have been made, like Christopher Robin’s eyes being modified to be more expressive, but nothing drastic. We also get a musical number that switches to a chalkboard aesthetic evocative of experimental Disney shorts like Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom. The most welcome touch is that the characters show occasional strands from the animators’ foundation lines, which suggests the scratchy Xerography used for inking character cels back in the 60s. Details like that show how attentive the crew was in recreating Disney’s elemental Winnie the Pooh design.

The aspect of this movie I was most cautious about was the voice cast. Except for Jim Cummings, who has been playing Pooh and Tigger for over 20 years, everyone is a newly chosen actor, and I feared they would deviate too much from the original actors. Hearing them, it’s clear they were cast for fitting the personalities above anything else. Craig Ferguson, for instance, succeeds at playing Owl by nailing the character’s pomposity despite having a higher pitch than Owl’s originator, Hal Smith. The same goes for the rest of the cast, with Bud Luckey as Eeyore and Travis Oates as Piglet doing especially funny work.

The only truly negative remark I have is about the short that precedes Winnie the Pooh, The Ballad of Nessie. It’s the story of how the Loch Ness Monster found her home, told in rhyme and with a tartan-colored design reminiscent of cartoons like Pigs is Pigs. The trouble is it is far too short to make any impression. If it had been a few minutes longer, perhaps by including a recurring theme song like in Paul Bunyan, it could have been a memorable auxiliary piece with a very cute leading character. As is, it’s unremarkable and serves to either keep the animators in practice or keep audiences from thinking they are paying too much for a short movie.

Otherwise, I very strongly recommend Winnie the Pooh. I know anybody single is unlikely to attend this movie unless they are diligent Disney supporters like me, but I don’t think anyone would regret seeing it. It is lovingly animated, boundlessly appealing and a heartening continuation of Disney tradition.


Post a Comment