“Now this might be the room of any small boy, but it happens to belong to a boy named Christopher Robin, and like most small boys, Christopher Robin had toy animals to play with. And together they had many remarkable adventures in an enchanted place called The Hundred Acre Wood. But out of all of his animal friends, Christopher Robin’s very best friend was a bear called Winnie The Pooh.”
“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 Hundred 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.
“Oh dear, that is tragic.”
Now after many decades the friendly denizens of the 100 Acre Wood have returned. Gone are the computer-generated versions of the most recent television incarnation. Disney has finally returned with the same storybook hand-drawn animation style that we all fell in love with those many years ago. It was the correct decision but one that I’m afraid hasn’t been rewarded by the box office returns. The film fell short of its budget and disappeared from screens as fast as hunny in Pooh’s pots. I’m afraid that it might well be a long time before the studio gives us another of these classically rendered features, if ever. Hopefully, the studio might look to other causes for the film’s failure to perform. It had the unfortunate disadvantage of opening the same weekend as the final Harry Potter film. I mean, really. The guy that needs to be fired is the marketing guy who came up with that idea.
“There’s a very important thing to do.”
Let’s start with the story, shall we? The material is taken from a hodgepodge of Milne stories and, of course, some Disney tinkering. The story begins when Pooh discovers that Eeyore has lost his tail. Owl suggests that the friends gather and come up with a solution to Eeyore’s problem. The result is a contest. Whoever comes up with the best new tail wins a jar of hunny. But, the contest is sidetracked when Pooh finds a note on Christopher Robin’s door. Owl interprets it to mean that Christopher Robin has been captured by the infamous Backson. What do Backsons do? They break your crayons and cause you to oversleep. They put holes in your socks and generally cause all sorts of unfortunate things to happen. So the friends develop a plan to capture the beast and save Christopher Robin. But it may be the team of friends who need rescuing after all.
The film is certainly a simple enough story. The biggest disappointment for me is the short 62 minute running time which includes 10 minutes of credits. It’s even more disappointing when you hear the directors talk about trimming scenes to time issues and pacing. Another disappointment is in the musical selections. The score sounds like something from Toy Story, which is well and good for that film, but it’s not Winnie The Pooh at all. While I find the overall Pixar influence to be a positive thing, I feel let down by the unremarkable music. Of course, my expectations are the result of such a wonderful childhood and beyond memory of the Sherman Brothers and their magical songs from the original Pooh film. Still, this is Disney’s least memorable musical output in quite some time.
The magic of the original animation remains. These guys did a sweet job of reproducing the style and images from the classic film. It looks like it could have been cut from the same cloth. It helps to have had at least one animator on board who actually worked on the original feature in the person of Burny Mattinson.
Jim Cummings returns to provide the voice of Pooh and Tigger. Travis Oates has recently picked up the voice of Piglet. Craig Ferguson is an odd choice for Owl, and he sounds the least like his traditional counterpart. Bud Luckey who voiced Chuckles on Toy Story 3 takes over Eeyore and is quite good in the role. Until recently, Bud was in the character design department at Pixar and not voice acting. Wyatt Dean Hall takes over for Clint Howard on Roo and Tom Kenney takes on Rabbit. Jack Boulter is the young Christopher Robin, and John Cleese is the perfect man to take over the narration duties from the late great Sebastian Cabot.
Winnie The Pooh is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of nearly 40 mbps. There’s not much that could go wrong with this transfer. Colors are exceptionally bright, and the animation is flawless. The picture is plenty sharp.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is as good as it needs to be. The music is often dynamic, and the dialog is always crystal clear. There aren’t a ton of , and you wouldn’t call this an aggressive mix by any means. It’s simple.
Deleted Scenes: (15:06) There are 5 with intros from the directors. They range from simple storyboard through crude black & white animation to completely finished. I’m not sure that any of it wouldn’t have been welcomed in the film itself.
The Ballad Of Nessie: (5:32) This is the animated short that played with the film in the theaters. It’s a very Dr. Seuss-styled origin for Loch Ness and her famous creature.
Pooh’s Balloon: (2:47) Ultra-short recap of an earlier Pooh piece.
Sing-A-Long With The Movie and a Disney Song Selection are pretty self-explanatory.
Creating The Perfect Nursery: (2:52) Learn how to build your own Pooh-themed nursery.
There’s both a DVD and Digital Copy of the film.
For Director Don Hall this is his first time behind the chair. Co-director Steven J. Anderson has just a little more experience in that department. It’s good to see such young filmmakers so willing to keep to the traditional styles and images for the film. There must have been some temptation to put a more personal stamp on the feature. Still, the effort might go for nothing because of the poor showing at the box office. Whatever you’ve heard, this is the kind of filmmaking they don’t even do at Disney much anymore. It would be a shame if it were to be lost altogether. I hope you’ll consider supporting the home video release and let Disney know that under the right circumstances you still support the old-school methods. “Isn’t that how you do it?”