Like its pot-bellied little protagonist, the new Disney film, Winnie the Pooh, is faithful, familiar and, with a running time of little more than an hour, short. Made in relaxing two-dimensions, with pastel-coloured illustrations and uncomplicated character motives, this is Winnie the Pooh more or less as we remember him from childhood.
After the action-flick plots of the last two Pixar films, Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, Disney, under animation head John Lasseter has tipped his hat to Disney animation tradition. Based on Ernest H. Shepard's original illustrations of A.A. Milne's books from the 1920s, the style here shows little change from the series that ran on television and the Disney movies over the past 50 years.
So, yes, adults fearful of CGI revisionism and modern Shrek-style in-jokes can relax: This is not the version of Pooh where he and Eeyore go on Oprah to talk about eating disorders and depression. On the other hand, Disney doesn't offer much here that it hasn't done as well before.
The narrative, cobbled together from various Pooh stories by an army of writers, is held together reasonably well by John Cleese's soothing narration. We begin with Pooh (the querulous voice of Jim Cummings) waking up, hungry as usual. When he goes on a quest for honey he finds Eeyore (Bud Luckey) feeling even more miserable than usual because he has lost his tail.
The forest animals - including the excitable Piglet (Travis Oates), the pedantic Owl (Craig Ferguson), the motherly Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and rambunctious Tigger (Cummings again) - join in a hunt for the tail. They are distracted when Pooh finds a misspelled note from Christopher Robin saying he will be "back soon." Owl misinterprets the writing and the animals now believe the forest is inhabited by a fierce creature called a "Backson," which they set out to trap with the expected screw-ups.
The old-fashioned illustrations are charming and the tricks with on-screen text are clever, but the narrative is too thin to sustain much adult interest. As compensation, the filmmakers have included a couple of musical numbers that are animated in different styles.
The best tune, The Backson Song, is handled with an ingenious chalkboard animation sequence, For the song, Everything is Honey, sung by Pooh, the bear hero wears a bee-striped suit and imagines himself visiting a golden, honey-dripping island paradise (reminiscent of The Simpsons episode in which Homer has a deep-sea chocolate experience). As well, the reliably winsome Zooey Deschanel performs a couple of numbers, including a warm, if wobbly, version of the old Sherman Brothers title song, over the closing credits.
Winnie the Pooh is accompanied by another short animated film, reminiscent of the Disney style of the early fifties (especially 1950's Cinderella). The Ballad of Nessie, told as an illustrated poem, is the story of how Nessie, and her duck friend, MacQuack, ended up in Loch Ness when they were kicked out of their original home. The pink, blue and green pastels are gentle on the eyes, though the doggerel poem, recited by Billy Connolly, is like falling into a loch full of twee.
Winnie the Pooh
- Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall
- Written by Stephen J. Anderson, Clio Chiang, Don Dougherty, Don Hall, Brian Kesinger, Nicole Mitchell, Jeremy Spears, based on the books by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard
- Featuring the voices of Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson and John Cleese
- Classification: G