With the property of Winnie The Pooh, Walt Disney Studios has something truly special. The books by A.A. Milne are perennial children's classics, read to kids by their parents, read by kids themselves, and beautiful examples of a writing style and sophistication accessible to all ages while offensive to none.
The previous animated features Disney had produced based on the books are timeless classics as well; beautiful works of hand-drawn animation and wonderfully cast voice acting that precede the Eisner Era of "Bad, Direct To Video Disney."
Thus, when word came that the revitalized-under-Lasseter Disney were coming forth with a new, mostly hand-drawn set of Winnie the Pooh adventures, fans worldwide simply sat back and prayed the customary prayer: "please be good."
Thankfully, their prayers were not in vain. The beauty of the Hundred Acre Woods, the personalities of Pooh and his friends, are all very much intact. Winnie The Pooh approaches the subject matter brilliantly, delivering a set of adventures tied tightly together with a common thread, done in the classic style. The short preceding the film is a bit more modern, evoking the animation style of the Monsters, Inc credits, and tackles the myth of the Loch Ness Monster with the short, sweet Ballad of Nessie, a story about a displaced monster trying to find herself a new puddle to live in. It's cute, though not quite as beautiful nor well written as the adventures of the beloved "silly old bear."
Thankfully, as soon as the Ballad of Nessie finishes, theatergoers get a wonderful treat. The opening Disney title, a short clip from Steamboat Willie, is enough to help remind moviegoers of the glorious classic days they're about to reenter. The Disney castle logo screen, a bit more modernized but still using the classic "When You Wish Upon A Star" music, kicks off. And then... we're in. Not to an animated place right away, but instead, to a physical bedroom. The bedroom of one Christopher Robin, complete with knick-nacks, toys, pieces, bits, and... lovable, memorable old friends, the stuffed animals of the Hundred Acre Woods.
I suppose at this point is where I probably should get into the casting. It's been 34 years since the original Disney classic was compiled into The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, and even longer still since the originals narrated by the late, great Sebastian Cabot were created. In the intervening time, Disney's done many things with the characters, recast the voices a few times, including the 2005 Pooh's Heffalump Movie. This time, they've gone for the gusto. It takes a moment to recognize the narrator, but believe me when I say that John Cleese does an absolutely beautiful job taking over the role - starting with the simple task of getting Pooh out of bed, which involves rotating the book in various ways before finally turning it upside down to dump him right out of bed and get him up with an "oh, bother" and a rumbling tummy in need of some "hunny."
And that's part of what really makes the whole story so charming. Short homages to some of the classic score are in order - a bit of "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers", for example - but the new music is just as good with the cast all jumping in. The small things, here and there, like Pooh walking right out of the panels and navigating the text of the book from time to time, the over-the-top reaction of the group to Owl's pronouncement that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by a fearsome beast called the "Backson" (a misreading of the words "back soon" on a note), the fate of Eeyore's tail, and even the more-CG-than-needed hunger hallucination when Pooh simply can't handle the lack of sustenance any longer.
Indeed, artistically, Winnie The Pooh goes back to the roots. What little CG is in the movie is used very effectively, and as much as possible of the film is done in the classic, watercolor hand-drawn style that fans deserved to see return to Disney's arsenal. Disney's return to hand-drawn animation, The Princess and the Frog, had left some doubts in some minds as to what the remaining artists at Disney could do, but if you still were one of those doubters, Winnie The Pooh is just the thing to convince you that they've found the magic once more. The subtleties of the backgrounds and even the chalk-drawing section in which the crew discuss what a "Backson" does were even enough to keep the scores of children in the movie theater at the showing I attended quiet - a rare feat indeed, given that normally there is talking and constant questions to the parents. Again, that's part of the beauty of Winnie The Pooh; like the original before it, what is delivered is a wonderful romp through the imagination of a child, the menial adventures as simple as looking for a lost toy or good friend that turn into a silly and entertaining adventure while allowing adults and children alike to be drawn right into that world without a worry of something being too silly to comprehend.
Please, I know that Disney made a very silly mistake by launching Winnie The Pooh on the same weekend as the final Harry Potter movie, but do yourself a favor - go and see Winnie The Pooh in a theater, while you can. You'll be coming home that day with a recovered piece of your childhood you probably didn't know you were missing, a spring in your step, and a smile on your face. Guaranteed.
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right here for everyone to see!