This Pooh is worth a bother
By Sandie Angulo Chen
Friday, July 15, 2011
Summer family movies generally tend to be huge Pixar-scale productions or pandering duds, so it’s a relief to see one of our favorite childhood stories retold with old-school simplicity and obvious joy. Disney’s new take on the adorable honey-loving “Winnie the Pooh” is a memorable return to the Hundred Acre Wood and a lively, interactive adventure that should delight everyone from wide-eyed preschoolers to nostalgic grandparents.
Inspired by the simplified lines and water-color palette of Disney’s original Pooh cartoons, this hand-drawn tale opens with a narrator (perfectly poshly voiced by John Cleese) introducing us to Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings), a tubby little cubby who single-mindedly thinks about feeding his grumbly tummy some honey.
But Pooh must put his honey-quest on hold when he encounters his melancholy donkey pal, Eeyore (Bud Luckey), who’s missing his gray tail. Pooh rounds up his entire enchanted neighborhood crew (bashful Piglet, bouncy Tigger, mother-and-child Kanga and Roo, know-it-all Owl and sensible, if easily exasperated, Rabbit) to embark on a competitive search for Eeyore’s replacement tail, with Christopher Robin offering a pot of honey as a reward.
The film offers several visual treats of Eeyore trying several unworkable, though amusing, appendages. After reading a note left by Christopher Robin, Owl (Craig Ferguson, sounding appropriately pompous) manages to convince everyone that their human friend has been kidnapped by a hairy horned beast, the “Backson” of Pooh lore. Owl cements his concerns by leading a trippy cartoon-within-a-cartoon musical sequence (think “Pink Elephants on Parade” but without the hallucinatory creepiness) detailing the monster’s more formidable traits. Somewhat abruptly, the woodland pals redirect their energy away from the tail-replacement project to conduct a military-style mission to capture the monster and rescue Christopher Robin.
Clocking in at a zippy 63 minutes, the story is precisely the right length for squirmy tots and concludes before the minimal plot grows stale for adults. Over the hour, the writers include plenty of laughs for grown-ups and older children as well. After several renditions of a musical ditty threaten to annoy, Kanga sensibly suggests, just in time for both her friends and the audience, “How about we celebrate with silence?” in a way only a fellow parent could appreciate. Eeyore’s deadpan gloom also contains doses of surprisingly funny black comedy. And, in a brief but sophisticated wordplay, the friends engage in a well-executed “Who’s on First” routine that both parents and kids can appreciate — and will undoubtedly repeat after the credits roll.
Reflecting the way the characters in A.A. Milne’s books spoke with the narrator, Pooh Bear and his mates on-screen cleverly interact with the words on each displayed page, crashing into the letters, rearranging them as props and using them to communicate with the audience. The narrator regularly breaks the fourth wall, creating an adaptation in which the words themselves turn into supporting players. This meta layering may, however, require some whispered explanations of omniscient narrators and cinematic voice-overs when the youngest audience members ask, “Who’s that man talking?” every time Cleese intones from off-screen.
Combining the best of the innocent Pooh stories with a dash of parent-friendly humor, this adorable throwback is as refreshingly tasty and sweet as, well, honey.
Contains nothing objectionable.