Winnie The Pooh (2011) : A Review

Directed By: Stephen Anderson & Don Hall
Produced By: John Lasseter
Written By: AA Milne & Bernie Mattinson
Starring: Jim Cummings, Tom Kenney, Craig Ferguson, John Cleese, Travis Oates

Music By: Henry Jackman
Edited By: Lisa Linder

Distributed By: Walt Disney Pictures
Budget: $30 million
Runtime: 63 minutes

Rating: 7/10

Have you ever been so scared of your reaction to a movie that you have not had the guts to view the film in the theaters? Have you ever thought that a film was treading so far onto sacred ground that you could not bear to watch it on the big screen if there was a chance that you would not enjoy it? Has there ever been a movie that you wanted to watch at home just in case you had to turn it off in revulsion? Yeah, I have been there too.

[Warning: this post contains spoilers from Winnie the Pooh (2011)!]

Let me preface this by saying several things. Devoting a movie to a heffalump, tigger, or Piglet is not the same as calling a movie Winnie The Pooh. A television show where everyone dresses up and plays detective is not an attempt to re-create the work of A. A. Milne. In short, when you release something under the banner of Disney Toon or Television Studios – there is no expectation that you are legitimately trying to add to the canon of the Hundred Acre Wood. That is what upped the ante for John Lasseter producing Winnie The Pooh and having it be a new addition to the overall Disney canon. At this point, you are saying that this is a follow-up to a line of succession that includes Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Fantasia, and a crowning jewel called The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I will leave no doubt on where I stand on the 1977 classic. It is quite possibly one of the top five greatest animated movies of all time. You have to earn the theme. A theme that should and does bring tears to the eyes of grown men. It was even sung by the legendary voice of Tony The Tiger Thurl Ravenscroft.

“Deep in the hundred acre wood….where Christopher Robin plays…”

We are talking about the theme song written by the Sherman Brothers. These would be the same guys who wrote the songs for Mary Poppins. I felt the same way about watching Winnie the Pooh that I felt about watching Return To Neverland. I was going to declare Return To Neverland a complete disaster if there was no scene of Peter near the adult Wendy. Without that, I would have hated that film forever. They made me wait the whole movie for it, but finally at the end there was the scene I craved. I will put this bluntly. If any other theme song opened 2011’s Winnie The Pooh, I was going to shut the movie off right then and there. That would have been it. That is how closely guarded and nervous I was about the next 64 minutes of my life to follow.

When the familiar strains started to play and they panned through Christopher’s real playroom, my eyes welled up with sentiment right there. The Sherman Brother’s theme gets me every time. The opening sequence was a throwback to the movie that I loved and adored. I let out a sigh of relief. That only encompassed five minutes. There was fifty seven left to go and it was daunting with anticipation where they would be taken. There was a lot of expectation and a lot of fear. I am a grown man with a serious connection to this work. Three months before my niece was born, I was shopping online to make sure that she had a proper Pooh bear.

There are three stories in the movie that intertwine in a fairly magical way. First, Eyeore has lost his tail and they scramble to find a new one for him. Second, Christopher Robin leaves a note that says he will be ’back soon.” The note Is misinterpreted by Owl (working on his memoirs) to read that he has been taken by the fearsome Backsun creature. Third, Pooh can not seem to get a drop of honey to save his life. The strong points of the movie to me are the interactions between the classic characters. For instance, Tigger trying to recruit Eyeore as a new Tigger with a bouncy tail. Eyeore ultimately decides against being ’Tigger 2’ in one of the best lines of the movie.

Eyeore: “You know the wonderful thing about Tiggers?”
Tigger: “What’s that?”
Eyeore: “You’re the only one.”

Another high point include the almost callous treatment towards Piglet’s well being throughout the movie. Lines such as “Get the pig to do it” or “Send the swine” were comedy gold. There were also little touches like mama Kanga putting on earmuffs the moment Owl started to speak. It was fun, light, and kept the movie going. However, that is not really what I watch and love Pooh for. There had to be a moment of true heart for me to declare it a pass. There also had to be a scene of Winnie the Pooh walking alone with Christopher Robin. Disney seems to have again gotten my memo and my requirements for a film.

Pooh’s search for honey (which actually seems to be a character in the film) goes into an almost Dali’esque dream sequence in which Pooh (wearing a honey bee outfit) dances lovingly through what seems like a Hanah Lee of Honey. In the end, Pooh is offered a vaunted honey pot. At that exact moment, he finds Eyeore’s tail. Pooh gives up the honey pot to give his friend back his tail. In that moment, I knew that they got the essence of Pooh the same way that I did. They knew what it was all about. And after sending my girls away, I could shed a couple tears of joy.

All that said, I would call Winnie the Pooh (2011) a worthy movie that met the essentials. There were some good moments of comedy. The first ten minutes of the film and the last ten minutes of the film were works of art. They other forty two minutes of the film were a little too formulaic and a little too like recent Pooh cartoon fare. Literally, there is an entire section of the fim spent with all of the characters trapped in a pit. Showing an actual Backsun after the end credits kept with some of the better Pixar traditions. Bottom line is that I got everything I wanted and needed out of Winnie The Pooh (2011) but there could have been more.

The movie was shamefully light on interaction between the characters of Winnie The Pooh and Tigger. That, to me, is an essential dynamic that needs to be explored. There were also no new characters introduced into the work. This is not a major issue but it is kind of like watching the Addams Family in a way. Seeing the Addams Family in a house all together is nice, but it is when they interact with the ’normies’ that it really starts to hit its stride. The film could also have benefited from a scene or two of true peril as well as a bit more emotion (particularly in the second act.)

Overall though, it was definitely a worthy addition. I would not call it a classic but Disney did not do itself a disservice with this film. This is honestly more than I was expecting and hoped for. When given such a legacy, it is admirable the job they actually did on it. So, watch it, love it, and own it. This film will not evoke great images later but it will not diminish any that you already have either.

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