Sunday, July 17, 2011

Movie Review: "Winnie the Pooh"

In the frenzy surrounding the final movie of the Harry Potter franchise, another childhood favorite sneaked into theaters under the radar this weekend. Disney released a feature-length (if somewhat short) Winnie the Pooh film based on several of A. A. Milne's original stories, and the entire enterprise makes for an enjoyable movie experience, particularly for those little ones who might be a tad too young for the daring exploits of Mr. Potter and his companions. That said, much of the audience in the showing I attended on a warm Saturday afternoon were adults, signaling that the nostalgia and affection for our bear of very little brain transcends age (even if some of us might have felt a little silly going to the ticket desk and asking for the 12:30 showing of Winnie the Pooh).

The 60-minute movie (I told you it was short) has three interweaving storylines involving our favorite silly old bear and his 100 Acre Wood friends. Besides Pooh's usual quest for honey, we also have the search for Eeyore's tail and some confusion over the whereabouts of Christopher Robin (who looks and sounds a lot more British than earlier incarnations). If this doesn't sound like an awful lot to sustain a film, it is because it isn't. However, it is light, fluffy, and very enjoyable. As Roger Ebert noted in his review, it would make the perfect first film for small children, since there isn't anything terribly menacing or disturbing about it. It is just innocent, gentle fun from beginning to end.

The characters are much the same as you remember, even if they seem a little broader and less subtle than they were in the original shorts. My brother and sister found them to be caricatures (for instance, Pooh seems much, much more honey obsessed than he did in other incarnations, which is saying something), but I didn't have this problem. Perhaps it is because my nostalgia goggles were firmly in place, but I had a lot of fun seeing the characters on the big screen.

Perhaps one of the real reasons to see the movie (especially on the big screen) is the animation. Simply put, it is gorgeous and is a fitting tribute to the original Winnie the Pooh films made by Disney. Besides Christopher Robin, all of the characters look much as they always did, and the lush but familiar depiction of the Hundred Acre Woods is beautifully rendered. Eschewing than the creepy, computer-generated characters found in other animated movies and shows (including the terrible My Friends Tigger and Pooh on the Disney Channel), the hand drawn quality of this film makes it that much more enjoyable. Imagine the difference between going to an old-fashioned movie theatre and the multiplex behemoths that most cities have, and that is the difference between seeing a soulless, CGI version of Pooh and this animated version.

The voice actors do a nice job; joining Jim Cummings (the original voice of Pooh) are John Cleese as the narrator and Craig Ferguson as the blustery Owl. The other voice actors are not necessarily people you would have heard of, and that, to me, is an excellent thing. Without having to be dwell on being vocally recognizable to their audience (think of the numerous Dreamworks animated movies that seem obsessed with featuring stars' voices), these actors can slip into the familiarity of the characters that thousands (millions?) have grown up with.

The songs are fun if not super memorable. There isn't anything that comes close to the wonderful Sherman brothers' songs, even though Robert Lopez (of Avenue Q fame) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez do a serviceable job of it. I also wasn't too taken with the Zooey Deschenal cover of the original Winnie the Pooh theme. However, Ms. Deschenal more than makes up for it in the fun "So Long," which plays over the clever ending credits. Do yourself a favor and stay through all of them. They are charming and entertaining without being too wry, and they have some lovely callbacks to the Milne stories. Even my disenchanted brother and sister loved the credits (and thought they were the best part of the film).

If you are feeling fatigued by the Harry Potter hoopla (or, if you are like me, you never really got into Harry Potter in the first place), do yourself a favor and spend 60 minutes in the 100 Acre Wood. Sitting in the back of a theater and seeing little kids clutching their stuffed Pooh bears and watching their friends on the big screen for the first time is a truly magical experience (no broomsticks or Hogwarts required).


Anonymous said...

Listening to "So Long" again, I thought that the song itself was rather sad. But in thinking about how the movie used it, it was actually quite perfect. Its placement over the ending credits was fitting, and the lyric "It's been so long since I've had a friend/like you" was an accurate way to describe the return of "old-school" Winnie the Pooh. Also, doesn't the bouncy piano intro make you think of Randy Newman?

tgs said...

You're right about the Randy Newman-esque intro vamp. The entire song has a very retro sound to it, which I appreciate. I don't know if the song is sad; perhaps the lyrics are more on the ambivalent side, but the bounciness of the music makes it sound very cheerful.