So as part of Disney’s recent tendencies to update and re-new their various brands, Winnie the Pooh is the latest of the old Disney franchises to get a bit of a change. This is actually the bears second reinvention of the past 5 years, though “Pooh, Tigger & Me” didn’t go down as well as its Playhouse Disney stable mate “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”. Likely because the format change was so drastic (Christopher Robin replaced for a girl character and emphasis on Pooh and Tigger only), thankfully for those that loved the original shorts and books, the movie goes back to its roots a lot more.
Before we begin on the main film, a note about the short that plays before this film, “Ballad of Nessie” it’s a fantastic little short that’s very reminiscent of the one shot character films Disney did in their package films and some shorts of the 30’s to early 50’s. The story being about Nessie, who lives contentedly in a pond till driven out by commercial development (which seems like a large allusion to the Donald Trump Golf Course saga) and tries to find a new home. The animation is lovely, the narration by Billy Connolly very fitting and the ending will leave anyone a little dewey eyed but happy
But onto the main film, the story opens on a new shot of Christopher Robin’s room, re-introducing us to the stuffed animals that make up the Hundred Acre Wood. We open in on Pooh waking up to the day…though he’s hardly as eager to get up as the Narrator (John Cleese) describes. The Narrator decides to take direct action, first shaking the book, then tipping it over to get Pooh out of bed. This sets the precedent for the rest of the film, the book and narrator having much more involvement in Pooh’s world. Unlike the shorts where this happened only every so often, here the text literally plays a major role in the story and is a great gag device.
Theres also some subtle tweaking to the characters and the personalities, Pooh in particular is a little more self-aware and capable of being (dare I say) a little selfish and callous, while his friends are still important and he’s still the bear we know and love, there’s a slight edge to the character that’s rather welcoming. The rest of the cast is written more like their short counter parts with the characterisations that had been around since “Tigger Movie” gone.
In terms of plot, the movie is a lot like older Pooh stories wherein the characters are going through everyday life and deal with perceived dangers. The most disappointing aspect of the film is the recycling of Owl mistakenly translating a note from Christopher Robin (a plot point that made up the main reason for Pooh & co.’s journey in “Most Grand Adventure”) thankfully the film stays pretty light despite fears of the “Batson” – with the stuffed animals setting a trap for the apparent monster and eventually foiling their own plan in the end.
The music sets the tone well, sadly outside the Sherman Bros. originals that almost always work their way into a Pooh film, the new Songs here are almost completely forgettable. It doesn’t help that the film seems to have ADD about these song sequences, starting them and ending them almost as quickly. The Honey song comes close to being noticeable, if only because the scene itself is a huge blown-out fantasy with a couple of giggles. Though the ending song “So Long” is pretty good (I also suggest sticking around for the credits if you like seeing some fun character animation)
So is Pooh worth a view? Well if you liked the original shorts, but hate how Disney nerfed the characters into absolute do-gooders over the years, this film is worth a few. It’s a feel good film, though it suffers from a slightly lazy plot and a number of uninspiring musical numbers. It’s a step in the right direction for the series and the humor makes the film. The animation is fantastic and it’s an honest joy to see these characters move in smooth traditional animation again, though it’s got to fix some things if it wants to attract a bigger audience