*spoilers may be contained within the review below, so please read at your own risk!
Tonight my daughter and I were treated to a screening of Winnie the Pooh, which opens nationwide this Friday, July 15th. Competing with the final installment of the Harry Potter series sets the bar high for expectations but I think with the older age range for Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh is a great alternative for younger families or those with little siblings.
The film opens with a live-action view of Christopher Robin’s home – the hallway leading up to his room as the narrator (John Cleese) tells us all about Christopher Robin’s collections, including his favorites, his stuffed animals. The narrator lets us know that all of their adventures take place right here, in the 100 Acre Wood, as the classic Winnie the Pooh book opens up and we are taken inside. The film continues in this informal manner, with the narrator conversing with Pooh and Pooh and the other characters using the letters and words as props within the movie. In this way, fans of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction at Walt Disney World will feel an instant connection between the movie and the child-friendly ride. In the way that so many musicals become movies or movies become musicals, I felt like the ride had become a movie in a way. Of course both take their content from the classic A.A. Milne stories and this new take on Winnie the Pooh was definitely a proper treatment and handling.
I felt as though Tigger’s voice and character got a bit of ‘updating’ and was a bit Jim Carey-ish, which appealed to the youngest audience members. Piglet, always my favorite, was definitely not as main a character, nor was Rabbit, compared to the attention spent on Owl, Eeyore, Pooh and to a lesser extent, Tigger. Pooh was definitely the main attraction with his hour-long quest for “hunny” and the lesson he learns about friendship along the way. Another ‘character’ within the story is actually the “rumbly in Pooh’s tumbly” which sort of takes on its own personality throughout the film and kept the laughs going.
I won’t give too much of the storyline away but I will say that it was short and sweet and full of physical gags and hi-jinx that kept every child in attendance entertained. Older fans that were lured in by the Zooey Deschannel and Keane music used in the ad campaigns may be a little disappointed in the lack of real emotional pull. I was going in fully expecting to be tearing up at one if not several points in the film, based on the teasers I’d seen. The story was nice and sweet, but not sad or overly sentimental.
Two of my favorite aspects of the film were the way Tigger was drawn and Kanga’s personality. Tigger was very sketch-like, where you could see his little shaded in stripes. It didn’t really look like any of the other characters were drawn in that manner, but I really liked Tigger’s look and it seemed to mesh with the letters/pages that we kept seeing as the movie progressed.
Up to now Kanga has been the ever-perfect mother in the 100 Acre Wood, who takes care of not only little Roo but everyone else as well. There are a few jokes in this story that let you know the writers understand a mother’s/parent’s plight and understand parents are who will be in the audience with their little Roos. In particular, there is a song all the characters sing when each person ‘wins’ the contest to find Eeyore a new tail. When Kanga finally finds a tail, they all start to sing and she says, “No, no, no singing, thank you!” which is certainly an emotion parents know all too well, when the best reward to a parent is sometimes just silence.
Also shown with feature is the short film The Ballad of Nessie. In discussing the short with friends after the show, we all seemed to have different opinions of it, but I loved it. It reminded me in style and design of the classic Disney shorts from the Tall Tales – Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, even Pecos Bill and Slue-foot Sue from Melody Time. Narrated by Billy Connolly (which works nicely as a segue to the upcoming Disney Pixar film Brave), Nessie herself does not speak. The theme of the short also reminded me of the Pixar short Boundin’, my favorite of the Pixar shorts.
Nessie’s happy home is taken away when a greedy golfer decides to make it into a course for his own personal use. The villain is not the real antagonist of the short, however. Rather it’s Nessie’s fruitless struggle to find a home and her being told at every turn to keep her chin up and not to cry, which plague Nessie as she deals with no one wanting her around. After holding in her tears for so long, Nessie finally cannot contain her sadness and cries and cries until she forms the entire Loch Ness – her new home. The lesson the narrator leaves us with is that it’s okay to cry and sometimes tears allow the best of us to shine through. And yes, I *did* tear up at that!
If you are a Winnie the Pooh fan or have little ones, you will not be disappointed with Disney’s newest treatment. The Zooey Deschannel songs sound like they came right out of the original time period of the very first Disney film featuring our favorite stuffed friends, and the sight gags and short length (right about an hour) will ensure happy faces on all family members. For those who think it’s not worth it, all I am saying, is give Pooh a chance.