Winnie the Pooh is one of those characters and series of stories that I cannot write about without giving you a bit of personal information to help put things in perspective for the reader this way you, the reader, can understand where I’m coming from and you can then gauge what your reaction will likely be. I’ve loved this character and the world he inhabits since I was very young. However, as I grew older, more knowledgeable and perhaps a bit more cynical I cast a leery eye on the modern renditions of Winnie that Disney was creating. However, I recently gave one a chance and while it wasn’t great it was much better than I expected. So I came into the film open-minded and cautiously optimistic.
Immediately, I fell in love with this film because they brought back the live action introduction wherein we see Christopher Robin’s room. It sets the tone for the rest of the film where a new story was being unfurled in a very traditional manner but to a new generation. From there on in all the choices are a very delicate balance between trying to recapture some of the old magic and also advance the narrative in some new directions.
One very clear way in which this was done is in the brilliant job that was done in casting this film. Firstly, you have Jim Cummings not only doing double duty as both Tigger and Pooh but his Pooh is eerily similar to Sterling Holloway’s original version. What’s more stunning is Craig Ferguson’s performance as Owl because I literally had no idea who played Owl but he’s fabulous. The last and most important cog in any of these films is the narrator. John Cleese, of course, does wonderfully and the Narrator is very involved in this tale.
Which brings to mind an interesting point about this film is that the book and the text within that act as interstitials between the occasional scene gets very involved in the telling of the tale. This I’m sure must be fun for kids but it’s a great treat for the parents and adults as it’s a joke that works on a couple of levels.
What’s most refreshing about the film is not even that it manages to be very funny but that most of it stems from a series of misunderstandings. The timing is crisp and the jokes do have variety some are cutesy but some are also rather smart. What’s also fantastic is that the morals of the story fold themselves in very naturally and aren’t overly-apparent when they’re happening and also not overly on the head when told to Pooh at the end.
It also manages to be a genuinely touching and heart-warming film without needing to be cloying or schmaltzy. The characters to those familiar to us are well-established but for those new to them they are quickly and clearly re-established as is their relationship to one another and their search for the “creature” they believe has Christopher Robin and for Eeyore’s tail reflects all that’s great about each of them and it jumps off the screen.
There are used in the film many different techniques that make the film feel more modern such as the chalky animation to describe the mythical “Backson” during the musical number that accompanies it and the fantasy sequences as Pooh through most of the film cannot sate his hunger for honey.
In summation I would not hesitate to call Winnie the Pooh a great film. In little more than an hour you had two searches and two other characters had their own subplots, the songs are all good and well sung and there’s a great bit of comedy and philosophy as per usual. As a post-script I’m saddened that those who were not inclined to see Harry Potter were likely averse to going to the movies that weekend and thus you get the returns for Winnie the Pooh were less than stellar. With that in mind I urge you, if it’s no longer playing at a theatre near you, to see this film on home video please. You won’t regret it.