[This was originally posted as part of our Los Angeles Film Festival coverage. We’re reposting it now, along with some extra opinions, now that the film has hit its theatrical release. Enjoy!]
Full disclosure: I can’t write about Winnie the Pooh without a healthy dose of nostalgia influencing most of the things I intend to write about. You know how everybody’s got that one cartoon character they absolutely adore as a youngster? Winnie the Pooh was absolutely my one cartoon. I wore those VHSes out with a vengeance. I watched the cartoons nigh-daily on television, when they were on. The only thing I ever wanted in the entire world was to play with Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood. The closest I’ll ever get is the couple levels in Kingdom Hearts. So where does that leave me trying to write professionally about a movie that it is completely impossible to remain professional for?
Here’s how this is going. I’m going to write the review, attempting some measure of objectivity. Then, I’m going to let me six year old self tell you what he thought.
Winnie the Pooh, if you’ve been sorely deprived as a child, is about the exploits of several stuffed animals owned by Christopher Robin. Using his imagination, Christopher plays with his stuffed friends Rabbit, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, Roo, and, of course, Winnie the Pooh. Together, they’ve had all kinds of adventures over close to a hundred years since A.A. Milne first created the characters in 1926. In Disney’s latest addition to the franchise, Pooh and his friends, while trying to find a new tail for the perennially-depressed Eeyore, believe that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by an angry creature, so they must help Christopher Robin out and still find Eeyore a tail. All the while, Pooh Bear searches for honey, the fat little bastard.
I like to watch Winnie the Pooh because I love Pooh Bear! He plays with Christopher Robin and Piglet and Tigger and all their friends. I don’t like Rabbit, though. He’s mean to everyone. And they have to find a tail for Eeyore, but I don’t know why Christopher Robin doesn’t just give him a new tail. If they’re all his stuffed animals, why doesn’t he do it? Mom makes me take care of my toys.
Well said, little me. The film manages to encapsulate a large amount of the charm all the classic Pooh cartoons had. The narrator, a dry, warm John Cleese, interacts with the characters, and they also interact with the book they find themselves in. There’s some good mileage out of the characters bouncing off of the letters of the book and floating across sentences. The humor, while a bit more fast-paced than classic Pooh, never feels like it’s been too heavily modernized. It’s a throwback in the best way. However, that’s not to say there aren’t problems. Some of the jokes go on a little too long, some some fall flat. It’s hard for me to say whether or not the actual jokes were just plain bad, or if they’re the kind I’m just too old to enjoy. The kids in the audience seemed to be laughing when I wasn’t, so that’s good for you parents out there. Trust me, though, these moments are relatively few and far between,
Pooh is funny. He is a “bear of very little brain,” which means he is not very smart. Owl says he is smart, but he makes things up a lot, which is funny too. I like how they made all of the characters funny in different ways. Everybody was really funny.
A key component to Winnie the Pooh is the score, specifically all the original songs. Think back on old Pooh songs. There are some catchy, classic kid’s songs there. The song about the blustery day, Pooh’s “working out” song. Fun stuff. All but one of Winnie the Pooh‘s song are found lacking, sadly. The one great song is great. Absolutely in the spirit of Pooh’s roots. It’s a song all about, oddly enough, Pooh being hungry and wanting some honey. The song features him harmonizing with his own rumbly tumbly. It’s really fun stuff. Nothing else ever holds up to that standard, though, and it’s a shame. The remaining songs feel are retreads, at worst, and merely boring at best.
Tigger sings a song about wanting Eeyore to be a tigger too! It’s silly. Tigger jumps on Eeyore and makes him jump too!
The film looks absolutely beautiful, serving as yet another reason why the death of hand-drawn animation is a sin on par with the Holocaust. It’s cleaner than older animation, as computers allow for a lot more cleaning up of messy pencil lines. That said, there are all kinds of moments where you can really see the pencil work. As an animation geek, nothing makes me happier than seeing the pencil lines in Tigger’s stripes, or the shifting of Pooh’s eyebrows. Everything is in rich watercolors, bringing to mind illustrations in a book, which is exactly what they are. So that works out well!
Winnie the Pooh may be a throwback to a bygone age, but it’s a damn well made throwback. It’s great for the kids, and it hits the nostalgia right where you live. It’s not perfect, but its shortcomings are mostly minor. I can’t wait to see it again.
Mommy, can you buy me Winnie the Pooh?
Li’l Alex’s Score: POOH BEAR!
Jenika Katz: Winnie the Pooh manages to keep the feeling of the older movies and TV series while updating it a bit to keep up with modern youngsters. The pacing is quicker and the characters are updated just the tiniest amount. For example, Rabbit is probably the least-liked character in the series, and his normally grumpy disposition is downplayed in favor of his less-seen heroic side. The jokes are pretty good for the most part, and the eight-year-old girl next to me laughed at a lot of the same parts I did. The only downside is that they drag a bit at times. There are a few laughs just for the parents, but they never overshadow the ones for the kids. It’s hard to accept change in your childhood favorites, so it should say something that the modifications didn’t bother me. The story itself is adorable and the animation is gorgeous. I plan on owning this immediately once it’s out, and possibly seeing it again in theaters. 87 – Spectacular
Sam Membrino: 8.20 – Great. Winnie The Pooh succeeds on a great many levels, which is surprising for any franchise that has laid (relatively) dormant for so long. Taking a lesson from failed reworkings of other beloved franchises from our youth (I’m looking at you, Professor Jones), Pooh instead attempts to bring back exactly what made the franchise great in the first place. Pooh is just as we remember him; his familiar voice that piqued our interest those many years ago returns triumphantly to reascend the throne. We have the familiar tropes of characters interacting with the book’s print, the dream sequences that introduce our (harmless) antagonists, and some wonderful wordplay that should keep adults satisfied while the kids laugh at the on-screen antics of our favorite woodland crew (sorry Hoodwinked). Behind it all is the marionette master himself, John Lasseter, who has his hand in everybody’s animation honey pot these days. I can’t help but feel that he tweaked a few things along the way to satisfy our itch for a good, wholesome family film without the need for crass humor or flashy visuals. A few pacing issues and the appearance of some decidedly modern (and flat) songs keep this from being a masterpiece, but those with children looking to escape the heat this summer should do well to catch this one in theaters. 82 – Great