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Winnie the Pooh

July 17, 2011
Winnie the Pooh

Things looked promising: an ink-and-paint animated feature of Winnie the Pooh, promising an original story. The trailer even indicated a return to the spirit of the original animated versions. Alas, it was not quite to be.

I’ll fully admit that the movie’s greatest sin may be not being the original. But I remember the original animations collected in 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and I loved them, and I can’t just pretend they didn’t exist in order to give this thing a pass. No, this is a continuation in the style of the lackluster Disneyfied version that’s turned me off of the franchise since the ’90s.

At least it’s gone back to Milne’s stories — “In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One”, “In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump”, and “In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day and We Learn What Christopher Robin Does in the Mornings” — although this does give the lie to its purported originality. Still, the Pooh stories always had a very dry, English style to them, rather than the zanier, American, Saturday-morning-cartoonishness we’re now stuck with. It’s hard to say whether this is better or worse, seeing the violence that must be done to these stories to fit them into this alien style, and on reflection it may have been better to come up with new stories rather than to mangle old favorites.

It’s not all bad. The look is much the same as the original animations, and they’ve kept the device of a book which opens at the beginning and closes at the end. In fact, much is made of the “textuality” of the stories, with characters leaving the illustrations and careening off of the printed text on the page. It’s an interesting idea, to be sure, but do they really have to slap it onto Winnie the Pooh, of all things?

And yes, Milne wrote a number of little ditties into the stories, but they were used judiciously. Maybe some stories need a break every ten minutes with a song halfheartedly ripped off of a mid-century Broadway musical, but again, does it have to be Winnie the Pooh?

Anyway, John Cleese’s narration is bright and affable, and most of the actors manage to do all right with the voices. Travis Oates manages to come fairly close to John Fiedler’s iconic Piglet, though Craig Ferguson is further from Hal Smith’s Owl. Jim Cummings manages to do a fairly decent job of both Sterling Holloway’s Pooh and Paul Winchell’s Tigger, probably from having much more chance to practice, and in the latter case to learn directly from the original. Bud Luckey’s Eeyore diverges notably from Ralph Wright’s, but I’m going to give him a pass since he made it sound almost exactly like Ed Asner, and if there ever was an Eeyore, it’s Asner.

While it’s being marketed and shown more widely, I think that this movie really falls more into the niche of the Barbie and My Little Pony “movies” that some theaters show relatively early on weekend mornings. It’s family-friendly — even more so than most G-rated fare these days — and short. It’s probably got some better production values, and it’s not such a transparent ad for a line of toys, but if had kids I was looking to do something with, I’d rather sit down and read the original stories with them than take them to this movie. You can get all four volumes of Milne’s as a boxed set for the price of three or four movie tickets, and read them again and again as often as you like.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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