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Movie Review: 'Winnie the Pooh'

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“Winnie the Pooh”
Directed by: Stephen J. Anderson, Don Hall
Featuring the Voices of: John Cleese, Jim Cummings, Bud Luckey, Craig Ferguson, Jack Boulter, Travis Oates, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Wyatt Hall, Tom Kenny,  Huell Howser
Rated: G

In the early 1960s, Walt Disney tried something no other animation mogul had attempted. Up until that time, cartoon heroes were either brand new, self-contained characters or ones borrowed from the public domain. Fairy tales such as “Pinocchio” and “Cinderella” had long been in the public domain and could be used in new works for very little trouble and money.

But “Uncle Walt” wanted something different, so he set out to acquire - for his studios - the rights to A. A. Milne's beloved stories about a sweet (if not so bright) bear named Winnie the Pooh and his friends Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga and Roo. Also along in every tale was the human friend of Pooh, the young boy Christopher Robin.

The first feature, “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree,” came along in 1966, followed by “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” in 1968 and “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too” in 1974. These were collected in 1977's “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.” The look of these films stayed true to the illustrations in the book. Those wonderful, whimsical drawings were done by E.H. Shepard, and the Disney team kept the soft and comfortable watercolor look as seen in the books.

A mainstay of the early Pooh movie years was character actor Sterling Holloway voicing the beloved little bear. Holloway's voice was unmistakable; it was a bit scratchy but soft, mellifluous and absolutely comforting.  

Holloway's last Pooh film was “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.” After that, Hal Smith took over in 1981, followed by Jim Cummings in 2000. Smith and Cummings (who is still voicing Pooh) did credible jobs copping Hollway's original voice characteristics. Pooh just wouldn't be Pooh without the voice.
A great number of Winnie the Pooh features have been released directly to the home video market. TV specials also abound. But “Winnie the Pooh” is the first Pooh feature film to come along since “Pooh's Heffalump Movie” in 2005.

I'm happy to say that the new Pooh feature fits in perfectly with Disney's previous offerings, from the classics to the newer fare.

The plot is typically simple; enough so to make it possible for younger viewers to follow the storyline. Older viewers will enjoy the simplicity nonetheless and by clocking in at 69 minutes (including a short cartoon featuring a sweet Loch Ness Monster), the producers have ensured this movie doesn't have a chance to get boring.

While Pooh's heart and soul are beyond measure, he lacks some of the essential skills many of us take for granted.

One day, while searching for Christopher Robin, he finds a note from the boy explaining that he would be “back soon.” Pooh misreads the note and is under the impression that young Master Robin has been captured by some horrible monster called the “Backson.”

Another fly has gotten into the ointment when Eeyore (who is sweet but always on the edge of depression) notices his tail is gone.

Pooh is also on his usual daily mission to find food - honey, preferably.

While there is, in fact, no Backson, Pooh and pals imagine one (with a little help from a friend). He's more bumbling than scary, but Pooh and the others take him on bravely.

Everything ends as you would suspect. All is well in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Pooh and his friends always have lived.

I love this movie, and I also appreciate the fact that the Disney folks were not afraid to make it. I'm sure their viewer research division was against “Winnie the Pooh” from the initial pitch.

The people who green-light films at any studio are sticklers for the bottom line and nearly always looking out for their stockholders.

My guess is that the target demographic for this film is upper-grade school kids on down and older viewers who remember the original Winnie the Pooh films and welcome a throwback to sweetness and calm. That sweetness, calm and gentle spirit never slips into saccharine sappiness.

I saw “Winnie the Pooh” amid a week filled with doctor's appointments and the usual pressures of everyday life. I have to say that some small (but noticeable) weight was lifted as I watched the movie, and by the time I left the theater (and long thereafter), I had a nice warm and fuzzy feeling.

Welcome my funny, furry friends. You all are wise in spite of the way you appear to be.[[In-content Ad]]


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