Winnie the Pooh (2011) – Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall – Starring Jim Cummings, Travis Oates, Tom Kenny, Bud Luckey, Craig Ferguson, Jack Boutler, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Wyatt Hall, and John Cleese.
A half-year before Walt Disney let loose their attempt to relaunch the Muppets with, erm, The Muppets, they sent WINNIE THE POOH out into the world in the hopes of re-establishing the importance of the 100 Aker Woods.
While the relaunch of A. A. Milne’s franchise didn’t get the attention Jim Henson’s did, WINNIE THE POOH is a completely charming, old-fashioned animated kids’ film. It’s simple, straightforward, playful, and wonderfully clever.
Where The Muppets took their classic characters and brought them into the modern world, POOH takes theirs and escapes back into the past. There’s nothing cool or hip about POOH (despite hipster goddess Zooey Deschanel singing three songs for us, including the theme song); instead, it’s an ode to childhood imagination and the joys of storytelling.
POOH beautifully blends the real and the fantasy; opening with live-action footage of Christopher Robin’s room and all of his Pooh-related stuffed animals scattered around, the film then takes us inside A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh book with the action turning to hand-drawn animation. The story is narrated by John Cleese and he oftens interacts directly with the story, such as when he reads that Pooh gets out of bed and Pooh refuses to wake up. In response, the unseen narrator turns the book upside down to force Pooh into action.
Many of the classic bits are here: Pooh is desperate for honey, Eeyore is eternally depressed, Tigger is rambunctious, Owl is a know-it-not-at-all, Rabbit is flustered, Kanga is motherly, Roo is childish, and Piglet is, well, Piglet. What’s wonderful about this group of companions is that there’s little tension in the group as they generally work together and feed off one another instead of against each other.
The story opens with Pooh out of honey and having the rumbly-tumblies, so he goes out in search of some sustenance, only to find that Eeyore has lost his tail. Being the generous guy he is, the search for Eeyore’s missing tail takes precedence, though the search for honey is never too far from Pooh’s mind. Christopher Robin suggests holding a contest, with a big pot of honey as the prize. Everyone takes a shot, but nothing really works, and Eeyore is left with a scarf that Kanga was knitting as his new tail.
Don’t worry, it unravels.
The next day Pooh goes to Christopher Robin’s to ask for some honey, but the boy is gone. He’s left a note saying, “Gon Out – Bizy – Back Soon,” which Owl misinterprets as a note left by the monster “Backson” after he kidnapped Robin.
Much of the rest of the movie involves the companions building a pit to trap the Backson and rescue Christopher. There’s a really nice animated sequence that looks like chalk as everyone sings a song about what the Backson is capable of, and it’s the musical highlight of the film. The whole group ends up falling into the pit, effectively trapping themselves. Owl can fly out, of course, but no one seems to realize this is possible, even after he actually does it. They eventually get out of the pit when Pooh takes the fallen letters from the book (another blending of reality and fantasy) and constructs a ladder to get them out. Christopher Robin shows up then and explains that he wasn’t kidnapped at all, but rather that he’s had to go back to school and so doesn’t have the time to play with them like he did during the summer.
Pooh eventually finds Eeyore’s tail hanging at Owl’s place. Owl “found” it and turned it into a pulley for his doorbell.
The credits sequence is rather playful and cute and post-credits we see that the Backson is actually real and decent instead of monstrous.
He does fall in that pit, though, and the movie ends with him needing help to get out.
The movie barely clocks in at an hour, so it’s short, sweet, and to the point. I wouldn’t have minded more, but what is here is a nice little snack of a movie. Like honey itself, I suppose, it’s a tasty treat without being wholly satisfying. WINNIE THE POOH doesn’t reinvent the wheel or take the characters in any new directions, but it is a completely family friendly production and a darn good one at that.