'Heffalump': Warm and Fuzzy
Friday, February 11, 2005
EVEN THE HARDEST-hearted critic can't possibly malign "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," a benign, baby blanket of a film about embracing those who seem a little different. If a writer did feel compelled to scrutinize this sweet-natured story, what would she say anyway?
"Despite all the buzz surrounding his performance, I was unimpressed by Eeyore's exploration of the depressed-donkey psyche. And Pooh -- who brought such masculine charisma to 'Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!' -- sleepwalks through this picture like a bear who's gotten too big for his top-billing britches."
Please. We're talking about Pooh, Piglet and the rest of the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood. Their goal is to make little children chuckle and maybe teach them a lesson or two. Objecting to them is like staging a protest against wide-eyed innocence. Fortunately, there's little need to harrumph over "Pooh's Heffalump Movie." Sure, its running time is on the short side (68 minutes to be exact). And yes, you can see the plot developments and the honey-coated moral coming from an A.A. Milne mile away. But there's something refreshing about a traditional animated movie that tells an old-fashioned story without attempting to win over adults with double entendres or pop-culture references. Plus, 5-year-olds just love saying the word "heffalump."
Pooh's name may be in the title, but it's Roo -- the tiny, adorable son of the doting Kanga -- who's really the star here. After a heffalump -- an ominous-sounding creature that turns out to be a lavender-colored elephant with a British accent -- trounces through the neighborhood, everyone in the Hundred Acre Wood goes into high-alert mode. With the ever-alarmist Rabbit leading the charge, Pooh and his posse set out to capture the seemingly destructive animal. Roo is eager to tag along, but the others tell him he's too young. Naturally, he goes on a solo expedition, which leads him to a playful young heffalump nicknamed Lumpy (voiced with charm by Kyle Stanger). If you're thinking that the two become fast friends while gentle music composed and performed by Carly Simon plays on the soundtrack, then clearly you know your Pooh.
The narrative is amusing and straightforward: Rabbit, Tigger and the rest engage in their share of bumbling as they search for the dreaded heffalumps, while Roo and Lumpy cavort through their own series of misadventures. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but it's all pleasant enough. It's the sort of mild feature that makes a fine first moviegoing experience for tots: Nothing will cause nightmares, and the whole thing wraps up before any squirming can kick into overdrive. Also, beneath all the cuteness, the film communicates subtle messages -- like a respect for wildlife -- without being overly preachy. Actually, the most important lesson "Pooh's Heffalump Movie" advocates is one of tolerance. But don't tell any of those groups who recently sounded alarm bells about SpongeBob SquarePants and a "controversial" episode of PBS's "Postcards From Buster." They might mount a letter-writing campaign against "Heffalump." As Pooh himself might say, "Oh, bother."