No matter what side you happen to fall in regards to the Walt Disney Company, it is difficult for anyone to deny the brilliance of its creative output. Disney created the concept of a full-length animated feature film, transforming the perception of cartoons from silly little shorts targeted squarely at children to a dramatic artform that people of all ages could enjoy. Often using classic stories at their jumping-off point, Disney would flesh them out with expanded plots, new characters, comedic asides, songs, and lush animation in such an entertaining, iconic manner that to this day, for the majority of people, the Disney version of any given fairy tale or children’s book is the most widely known and loved.
Though practically everyone has seen the major films in the Disney canon, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc., there is actually a surprisingly large number of Disney films that aren’t generally watched today–some because they are dated or have fallen out of favor, some because they are considered lesser efforts and don’t have as dedicated a following. I’ve always wanted to watch every full-length animated Disney film in chronological order, to experience the entire sweep of the studio’s animated film history, both to see the ones I’ve never seen before, and to revisit childhood memories.
There are currently 52 full-length Disney animated theatrical films and 9 that combine live-action and animation (such as Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, etc.), so I decided that in 2013, I will be watching the entire Disney animated film canon (yes, even Song of the South) and blogging on at least one film a week–two on those weeks when I reach the hybrid films. I cordially invite you to join me on my Year of Disney.
We continue today with Disney’s charming sequel, Winnie the Pooh…
Disney has a huge output of Winnie the Pooh material, but before this 2011 film, only the three shorts that were earlier combined into the compilation film, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and one additional short, “A Day for Eeyore” were based on events from A. A. Milne’s original books. All of the others created completely new adventures for Milne’s characters, many of which lacked the simple charm of Milne’s stories and Disney’s earlier Pooh shorts.
Which is why the 2011 film, Winnie the Pooh is such a delightful surprise. Going back to the gentle style of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and combining three chapters from Milne’s two Pooh books, Winnie the Pooh is a warm slice of nostalgia for adult fans of Disney’s Pooh cartoons, with fantastic voicework from a new cast, all of whom beautifully replicate the voices of the originals (Jim Cummings’ Pooh Bear, in particular, is practically indistinguishable from the legendary Sterling Holloway’s voice and performance). Pooh lovers will be charmed by numerous, imaginative nods to/riffs on earlier continuity, as well as the numerous meta references to the storybook in which the characters exist. As in the earlier cartoons, the literal text of the book often appears around the characters, sometimes having a direct impact on the plot, and other times, the characters interact with the Narrator.
Winnie the Pooh may not be rip-roaringly exciting, but it isn’t intended to be. I do admit I found myself getting a little antsy by the end. It is, after all, a very simple story mostly revolving around Owl misinterpreting a sign on Christopher Robin’s door that said he’d be “back soon” as instead being a cry for help that he’d been abducted by a scary creature called the “Backson,” leading the friends to unite together to try to capture the beast and free their friend, crossed with the story of when Eeyore lost his tail. In retrospect, my impatience with the last 20 minutes or so of the film is probably related to the fact that in the earlier Pooh film, the three adventures were divided into separate chapters, each with its own beginning and end, whereas here, all three stories are conflated and, even at a mere 61 minutes, feel a tad too stretched out, at least for someone my age. Being accustomed to Pooh stories of about 20 minutes in length, I think I would’ve liked the film far more had it stuck to that earlier structure.
With that said, it was wonderful to see Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, and most of all, Tigger, again, especially when their characters are written and performed this well, and unlike the majority of modern-day Disney films, this one really is intended mostly for children, but unlike a lot of other animated companies’ output, is never condescending or crude. I may have preferred this as a half-hour short, or a series of shorts, but it’s still a sweet, lovely, little film, and it’s nice to see that amidst the company’s modern, more action-oriented CGI, they’re still interested in making a calm throwback such as this.
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