A.A. Milne would be proud, and illustrator EH Shepard would have absolutely nothing to complain about either. In Winnie the Pooh, the former’s characters remain true to themselves as they are brought back to life and illustrated with slightly more polish but unmistakably akin to the latter’s classic hand-drawn animation, all derived from a pleasingly pastel palette. For this latest addition to the Pooh franchise, the filmmakers have clearly gone old school and largely abandoned the jazzed-up look of the more recent movies; and for this new film, the screenplay draws upon the first Winnie the Pooh book while some of it takes inspiration from the literary followup, The House at Pooh Corner. In the end, a handful of Milne’s tales are woven into a relatively seamless narrative that’s not quite as remarkable as 1977’s Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (which included three shorts: Blustery Day, Honey Tree, and Tigger Too), but it’s a close second and will not only charm its theater audience but also find endless replays on home video.
When it comes to evaluating this new Pooh movie, one need only to apply the standards of our main character; he’s a bear of very little brain, and large words bother him. Likewise, this is a very uncomplicated movie about a collection of very simple-minded creatures who endure and enjoy relatively tame adventures. However, there’s a lot of beauty in such an honest production that manages to stir up all sorts of nostalgia without seeming at all contrived. Narrator John Cleese lovely interacts with all of the creatures in the Hundred Acre Wood: Winnie the Pooh and Tigger (both voiced by Jim Cummings); Piglet (Travis Oates); Owl (Craig Ferguson); Rabbit (Tom Kenny); Eeyore (Bud Luckey); Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez); and Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall). Of course, Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter) is also front and present. The story meanders in the way that only Pooh should be allowed with the filmmakers taking great advantage of the endearing, old-school Pooh method wherein the characters often interact with the lines, and paragraphs of the story book with Pooh himself even hopping from page to page just like he used to do.
By contemporary, break-neck speed standards, not a lot happens in Winnie the Pooh, but that’s much more of a strength than a weakness. Together, the friends help Eeyore replace his lost tail and defeating the villainous Backson (which is quite reminiscent of the famed Heffalumps and Woozles). Pooh makes a sacrifice much like Piglet’s heroic act from Blustery Day; and of course we are reminded throughout of the Yellow One’s eternal quest for hunny and the amusing (and surprisingly not-obnoxious) withdrawal effects when the silly old bear goes too long without his favorite form of sustenance. While the look of this movie is undeniably more detailed and refined than the classic cartoons, the animators have taken great care to preserve the old-fashioned technique, and the visual results are rather amazing. So it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that good old Pooh can stay himself and still hold his own with a few modern touches.
All together, I’m a damn happy camper after watching Winnie the Pooh; but if I had to make one complaint, it would be that Kristen Anderson-Lopez doesn’t sound at all like Kanga. Otherwise, the voice work here is pretty stellar, particularly when it comes to Ferguson’s outrageously pompous Owl and Luckey’s chronically depressed Eeyore. Billy Connolly even pops in for a few minutes to narrate a pre-movie short called The Ballad of Nessie, and a couple of songs are nicely performed (and without too much whimsy) by Zooey Deschanel. Overall, this experience makes me long for the time I could curl up in my dad’s lap and enjoy a nice, soothing bedtime story. Winnie the Pooh doesn’t push things too far and, even though it clocks in at just under an hour (without the final credits), this movie takes its time while making its way to the conclusion, which is oddly comforting and entirely rare in today’s wham-bam, ADD-riddled kiddie flick terrain. In other words, Winnie the Pooh might not be as garishly gorgeous as Rio or as hip and obnoxious as Hop, but it does something that these two films (and most other children’s movies these days) could even approach — it’s timeless.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.