DVD Review: Amid the usual animated bombast and kid-targeted sensory overload, Disney’s all-new Winnie the Pooh is a welcome corner of relative calm. This return to both the Hundred Acre Wood and whimsical storytelling is as imaginative and fun (and gently instructive) as it is warm and cuddly.
For its first Winnie the Pooh theatrical film in six years (and only its second hand-animated feature in almost a decade), Walt Disney Animation Studios—now under the creative direction of Pixar’s John Lasseter—has gone back to a kinder, simpler style, more tonally in line with the original 1977 Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
The new Winnie the Pooh intertwines elements from three of author A.A. Milne’s original tales: “In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One,” and “In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump” from 1926’s Winnie-the-Pooh and “In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day and We Learn What Christopher Robin Does in the Mornings” from 1928’s The House at Pooh Corner.
On hand are all Milne’s beloved characters: Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings), Piglet (Travis Oates), Owl (The Late Late Show’s Craig Ferguson), Rabbit (Tom Kenny), Eeyore (Bud Luckey), Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall), and of course Tigger (Cummings again).
Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter) sometimes oversees things, but the most fun is had when he’s not around to correct Pooh and Co.’s delightful misunderstandings and mishaps. John Cleese narrates the proceedings and actress Zooey Deschanel and her She & Him musical partner M. Ward sing several of the film’s songs.
As directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall and produced by Lasseter, Winnie the Pooh’s steady, cuddly charm and G rating are clearly aimed at preschool-or-younger viewers, but there’s enough warmth and silliness (plus some light meta-textual wordplay and the occasional wry aside) to keep grown-ups plenty entertained.
The film deliberately keeps things a little quieter (“Let’s celebrate with silence,” Kanga wisely suggests after a contest to replace Eeyore’s tail generates rounds of clamorous singing) and more thoughtfully paced (“This story is going too fast,” pleads Pooh as he literally tumbles down paragraphs of text), but it’s never dull, never anything less than enchanting.
Winnie the Pooh loves to remind us we’re watching a movie based on a book (the characters often interact with the words and letters on the “page”) and that winking sense of play fills the film and carries you away.
At one point–as our “bear of very little brain” and his easily befuddled cohorts set out to capture the mischievous “Backson” creature—you become so enwrapped in the quest, so caught up in Pooh and pals’ determination, you forget the Backson is merely a figment of their imagination spawned from a misread Christopher Robin note. (Or is it? Be sure to stick around after the film’s credits.)
Adults watching Winnie the Pooh may be taken back to unsupervised summer afternoons spent in nonstop creative play with friends, hatching plots and plans both while inside away from the rain and when roaming freely through backyards.
But don’t think the delights of this new film are just the product of Gen-X childhood nostalgia. Milne’s characters are so lovingly crafted and Disney handles them with such care here, they hold up beautifully, passed along (like a treasured stuff animal) from parents to children for 85 years now.
Not bad for a silly old bear.