“Oh Bother”A.A. Milne was quite an eclectic writer. He wrote murder mysteries that even appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. From that fertile mind would also come a place known as the 100 Acre Wood. In that select place some of literature’s finest characters had the greatest adventures any boy could imagine. And adventures are certainly no fun on your own. Young Christopher Robin was joined by Piglet, Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Eeyore, and, of course, Winnie-The-Pooh. Who didn’t fall in love with that silly old bear… Winnie-The-Pooh. OK, so maybe Dahmer or Bundy might have been exceptions. Still, anyone growing up in the last 30-40 years who isn’t a psychopath has had a love affair with Winnie-The-Pooh, all stuffed with fluff.
Often when a company gets the rights to such classic characters they end up doing more harm than good, particularly if they include some quite radical changes to the beloved material. Walt Disney was first introduced to the stories after seeing his own children delighted by their adventures. His quick mind told him that this English story needed to be more formally introduced to American children. It took several years for the versions of these characters to evolve into what we so instantly recognize today. The original characters were quite different from these uniquely Disney inventions. I know the folks at Disney claim they stayed very true to the originals, but that simply isn’t true. Today the characters are recognized all over the world more in their Disney incarnations. More than the drawings, the voices of these characters have become very distinctive with those of us who grew up with them. Jim Cummings has done the voice of Pooh for years, but it was Sterling Holloway who originated the voice for these feature pieces. Paul Winchell gave us his giddy Tigger voice for over 40 years now. John Fiedler supplied the shy stuttering Piglet. These last two voice actors died just one day apart in June of 2005.
The Many Adventures Of Winnie-The-Pooh was a long time in coming. Walt intended to produce four 25 minute shorts to introduce his audience to the characters and over a four year period he did just that. He then envisioned a film made up of at least three of these shorts combined with a bookend story, which is what this film is. Walt never saw his dream realized, but lucky for us he left us with a dream alive enough to finally be realized. The animation was so perfect. It created a storybook world complete with the book. It is a shame Walt didn’t live to see it all come together.
“Winn-The-Pooh and the Honey Tree ” This was the first of the Pooh shorts created. Pooh displays his famous love for honey and it gets him into a lot of trouble. He plots ways to sneak up on a beehive high up in a tree with the expected results. Not content with that failure, Pooh finds himself at Rabbit’s where he doesn’t mind if he does have a smidgen of honey. He eats so much that he gets stuck in Rabbit’s entrance. While this may not be Pooh at its best, it does serve to do what Walt intended which was to introduce us to Pooh.
“Winnie-The-Pooh and the Blustery Day” This is without a doubt one of Disney’s greatest films. Not only is it here where we meet both Tigger and Piglet, but Blustery Day sets the template for what a Pooh story really is. It’s a story about friendship. Pooh is afraid as a rather blustery day becomes a blustery night. He hears voices. The voices turn out to be Tigger. Tigger warns Pooh of heffalumps and woozles who love to steal honey. As Pooh drifts off to sleep, he has a most remarkable nightmare. 40 years later I still can’t get that song out of my head. The blustery day eventually floods the 100 Acre Wood, and the friends must help each other through trying times. A wonderful heroes’ party ends this memorable short.
“Winnie-The-Pooh and Tigger Too” This short finishes out the segments of the film. Rabbit is getting tired of Tigger’s carelessly bouncing all the time. He devises a scheme to take Tigger out into the woods and get him lost. He doesn’t really want to hurt Tigger but teach him a lesson. Rabbit ends up with the lesson as his plan backfires and it is he who is lost and eventually rescued by, you guessed it, Tigger. All of this is wrapped up nicely with Christopher Robin and Pooh having a talk about Christopher’s growing up and eventually away from Pooh. This is heartwarming stuff. Sebastian Cabot pleasantly narrates the entire thing, frequently interacting with the characters.
The Many Adventures of Winnie-The-Pooh is over 40 years old. While this compilation wasn’t assembled until 1977, most of the parts were created in the 60’s. This full frame presentation looks rather good for its age. Obvious care was given to this restoration. I have the 1980’s laser disc, which also looked good, but not this good. Colors are remarkably alive. There is very little of the softness one might expect from an older animated feature. Detail is what surprises me the most. You can clearly make out each of the drawn lines for these characters. I’ve seen a few cels from these pictures, and this looks even better. I doubt even moviegoers from the 1960’s saw this thing look any better. Even the small elements of grain were kept to a bare minimum. I never even hoped to see this sharp a presentation of this film ever. The opening and closing segments, which were not animated, show the wear I expected to see throughout the film. At first I was ready to accept these flaws until the animation kicked in and blew me away.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is really nothing more than a spread out mono audio. Age is far more noticeable on the audio. Some gentle hiss and crackle comes through again, particularly on the opening and closing segments. Unfortunately the entire sound offered little in the way of dynamics. Most everything is flat, likely avoiding high-end distortion. Even the melodies come off a little muffled without any real range up or down. Dialogue is understandable, and likely we have no right to expect anything else.
“A Day For Eeyore” This was that fourth segment produced at a later time than the others and so not included in the finished film. It’s a nice touch to get it here. It’s Eeyore’s birthday, and at first no one seems to notice, that is until Pooh finds out.
”My Friends Tigger and Pooh” This was a CG 3-D Pooh show that worked a bit like Blue’s Clues. Tigger, Pooh and friends solved mysteries like finding the group’s stolen shadows. This is more an educational device than a straight adventure.
“The Story Behind The Masterpiece” This is a wonderful feature. You get to see many stills and footage from Walt’s days beginning Winnie-The-Pooh. Some of the then living participants are also included. If you ever wanted to know the full story behind Winnie-The-Pooh Disney style, this will answer all of your questions.
“100 Acre Wood Trivia Challenge” You get to play for Pooh, Tigger, or Rabbit and answer some questions either related to the film or simple visual puzzles.
“Carly Simon Music Video” Carly sings the main theme with her guitar. Silly old song.
“Pooh’s Pop Up Fun Facts” With this setting you can cause little Pooh pop-ups to appear during the film, loaded with small points of trivia about a character or scene.
“Pooh’s Shadow Read Along” The words of this short story are displayed so that the kids can read along with the narrator. It is self guided, so the kids can take as long as they want or need with each page.
“Sing Along” You get to sing along with Tigger for his song. It’s a bit fast after awhile. Try and keep up. There’s also an art gallery to finish out this great list of extras.
If I really have to sell you on getting this DVD, then just go back to pulling wings off flies. For the rest of you, you know what to do. This is a well packed disc with a sweet transfer of the film. Three Cheers for Disney: “Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!”
Special Features List
- Bonus Pooh Episode “A Day For Eeyore”
- Sing Along With Tigger
- Pooh’s Shadow Read Along
- 100 Acre Wood Trivia Game
- Pooh’s Pop Up Fun Facts
- Carly Simon Music Video
- Story Behind The Masterpiece Feature
- Art Gallery
- Disney’s “My Friends Tigger and Pooh” Episode