In addition to my fondness of Harry Potter that was discussed in my last movie review, I also must admit that I have a soft spot for Winnie The Pooh and company. Their cheerful and blithe escapades in theaters and on the small screen were a big part of my childhood (you don’t even know). The most recent full-length animated adaptation of the classic A.A. Milne creations, simply titled “Winnie The Pooh,” harkens back to the aesthetic of the 1977 Disney feature “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh,” which is what most people think of upon hearing the title bear’s name.
Having watched it in preparation a few days ago, I have got to say that it holds up as an extraordinarily delightful and beautiful example of children’s entertainment that grown-ups can also gather enjoyment from. This one borrows a few familiar tricks and techniques from that original work, from the storybook art style to the text in each paragraph, which is concrete and tangible to the illustrated individuals. There are even some clever moments of breaking the fourth wall when the narrator (John Cleese) interacts with the characters and even gives them their motives for the particular scene.
The film of course takes place in the Hundred Acre Wood, a merry retreat for our only human character, a young English boy named Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter). Here, Christopher goes on all sorts of adventures with his charming and eccentric animal friends including Eeyore the donkey (Bud Luckey), Kango and Roo (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Wyatt Dean Hall), Tigger (Jim Cummings), Rabbit (Tom Kenny), Piglet (Travis Oates), Owl (Craig Ferguson) and most of all, the bear of very little brain himself, Winnie The Pooh (also Jim Cummings). All of this is described to the viewer in a reworked version of the classic Winnie The Pooh tune performed by Zooey Deschanel.
Now as I was writing the above paragraph, I couldn’t help but notice that there was not a single celebrity billing on the level of Will Smith or Johnny Depp or Eddie Murphy to be found. Of the entire cast, the biggest names are Craig Ferguson and John Cleese, whereas the rest are legitimate voice actors for hire. It is oddly refreshing for an animated film in this day and age not to rely on an all-star voice cast to sell itself.
At the heart of the story, we have Pooh Bear on a mission to get some more honey (or “hunny,” as it is spelled), which is like his manna from heaven. But his craving for the sticky stuff leads him directly into all sorts of sticky subplots with his good friends. One of them involves finding a replacement tail for Eeyore, the perpetually discouraged resident of the woods. Another is about a big, furry and supposedly intimidating monster called the Backson, whom the gang attempts to trap by means of a big hole in the ground (all of which is played for laughs). We even have a new “character” in the mix: a non-living bright red balloon.
The interesting thing about Christopher Robin’s friends is that they all seem to represent some facet of childhood behavior and mentality, like the Wild Things in “Where The Wild Things Are.” Pooh is kind and gentle, Piglet represents anxiety, Tigger is all energy and Rabbit is the perfectionist of the group. We identify and relate to these characters through their distinctive personalities. Even addiction is dealt with in a mild and unobjectionable way during a scene in which Pooh suffers from hallucination due to lack of honey (kind of like “Requiem For A Dream” intended for toddlers). The biggest argument that could be made about not going to the theater is its length, an extremely short 69 minutes. I felt like it was over before I even knew it.
“Winnie The Pooh” does not have the ageless appeal of its classic counterpart. But that said, there are very few movies nowadays that are truly for children. During a time when unnecessary 3D technology pervades cinemas everywhere, animation is all about meticulously rendered three-dimensional models, and pop culture references are thrown about like free candy, here is a genuinely innocent and inoffensive family film whose traditionally hand-drawn look is absolutely gorgeous to gaze at upon the big screen. Very young kids will undoubtedly get a kick out of the movie. Adults may not be as enamored, but they should still have a fun time escorting the young ones.