Winnie the Pooh | Stephen J. Anderson & Don Hall, 2011
This last decade, we have gotten updates for some of the most beloved animated characters. Garfield, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and even later on this month The Smurfs, have gotten “rebooted.” This means that the characters are put in our modern world, the act “cool,” get into all sort of stupid shenanigans, and wear sunglasses in the posters. When it was announced that Winnie the Pooh was getting the reboot treatment I was worried. My mind immediately picture the characters in CGI, Pooh wearing a red hoodie, Rabbit wearing a baseball hat and bling, etc. Thankfully, when the first trailer came out, all my fears were put to rest and my expectations went way up. In the end, the movie ended up being everything I expected for a movie about the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood, and it set the bar high for the animated movies of the rest of the year.
Much like the feature from the 70s, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh it doesn’t follow a single story, but rather it shows Pooh going about in his never-ending quest to find honey, and the adventures that he gets into along the way. First, after waking up to find that he is out of honey, he goes out to find some. He first visits his friend Eeyore, and he is depressed as always. But this time he has something to be depressed about as he has recently lost his tail. So, he puts off looking for honey to find Eeyore’s tail. Later on, he goes to Christopher Robbin’s house to ask for some of that substance that he is addicted to, but finds a note. Owl reads it and comes to the conclusion that he was taken by a very busy moster called the Backson. And so, Pooh, Rabbit, Pigglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl, Tigger, and Eeyore set a plan to capture this beast, and rescue Christopher Robbin. But then he continues to search for that yellow and gooey elixir of life known as hunny.
The reason why I loved this is the same reason that I loved The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It is short, simple, with plenty of lighthearted humor that hits all the right notes, and without illusions of grandeur. It is a very simple movie, with a very simple story, and a very simple moral, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. This is actually refreshing in a world where movies like Rio, Cars 2, and most of the Dreamworks output lack the earnestness of Pooh and don’t admit that they are just great visual spectacles, but are empty inside. This movie packs much more morally and emotionally in its short running time (just over an hour) than most of the recent animated features. But if there is one thing that was missing from this was a scene similar to the one in the end of the one that came out in the end. That other movie ends with an unexpected emotional sucker punch that made it even more memorable.
In the other departments, it is as great as expected. The 2D animation is freaking fantastic. It is not as visually impressive as The Princess and the Frog, but they wanted to stay true to the rough look of the original movie. And while it does look rough, particularly the backgrounds, the character animation is fantastic. The only scene that is not rough is a delightful head trip caused by Pooh’s hunger. There is also an musical number that is actually animated as if it was drawn with chalk. The animation of the whole thing is even more impressive when you find out that it only cost about $30 million to make.
The music is equally great. Sure, none of the songs, other than maybe the one written by Zooey Deschanel that plays during the credits, are deep and require the audience to pay attention, but they are catchy and fit the movie perfectly. And Deschanel’s rendition of the Winnie the Pooh song is lovely.
Another impressive thing that about the movie that stands out in todays’s animation world is that there really are no celebrities voicing the characters. The only person that one would recognize is Craig Ferguson as Owl. Yes, he is a great comedian, but he is someone that would draw people to the theaters. Even so, he was perfect for this particular character, and you never thought about the fact that famous people were voicing them. But, of course, Jim Cummings as Pooh is the best performance of the bunch. He is not quite Sterling Holloway, but after twenty years or so of voicing the character he has become a great substitute.
Despite it’s technical greatness and its simplicity, the thing that makes the movie is that the characters stayed the same even in an era where young kids are tech savvy and obsessed with MTV reality shows. Pooh is still a bear with little brain but a big heart, Rabbit is still a control freak but with great tolerance, Tigger is still an energetic guy with illusions of grandeur, Pigglet is still a nervous wreck, Eeyore is still the ultimate emo with a heart of gold, and Owl is still a wise-ass. Seeing these character as they were originally conceived for the big screen kept me with a smile on my face for the whole movie and took me back to a time when I didn’t have to worry about all the bad things that are happening in the world, if only for an hour.
Winnie the Pooh is good, old-fashioned Disney, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many years. I’m still of the mind that animation needs to be more edgy and mature, but there is still plenty of room for sweet and simple stories like this.
Welcome back Pooh, we missed you.