by Tim Ross
It was just a couple of years ago that I was reading A. A. Milne’s “Winnie The Pooh” stories to my two little boys. As I read about the Hundred-Acre Wood, Christopher Robin, his Pooh Bear and friends, I remembered my first experience with the tales when I was a kid.
I even tried to emulate the distinctive tone of Hal Smith, the second of three voice actors to inhabit the famous stuffed bear. Smith’s voice received the most exposure in a television series called “Welcome to Pooh Corner” in 1983.
If you’re of a similar age and take your children to Disney’s latest offering of “Winnie the Pooh,” you’ll know the feeling of nostalgia that quickly overtook and stayed with me for the rest of the film.
Jim Cummings, who rotated with Smith in the role early in his career, has been voicing the honey-loving bear for more than three decades now. Cummings embodies Pooh with the same tender and slightly scratchy tones as Smith. Likewise, virtually every element of the storytelling and animation utilizes the best of the Pooh stories and enhances them with modern animation rather than introducing slick new techniques that would only diminish the story.
Pooh Bear is always a delight because his stories unfold like a lazy summer day, even the moments of action and adventure, and because they spring from the imagination of a young boy.
Director Stephen J. Anderson, who is also credited as a co-writer, does the film a great service. The most popular edition of the Pooh books incorporates the pictures in and around the text as opposed to being separate from it. Often paragraphs are fragmented around the action the words describe and the characters can be found laying on sentences, hanging from words and using words to climb somewhere.
Anderson and the Disney animators take that creative license one step further so the words in the book become a character in the film. In a business where almost nothing is sacred, Disney protected the tradition of the Pooh stories more faithfully than anything I’ve seen in some time.
This is your parents’ Winnie the Pooh, and that makes the film a delightful experience for you and your young ones.
As with all Pooh stories, there is a core plot that follows through to completion and a series of smaller tangential plots involving various members of the group.
This film is no exception.
Pooh is stirred from a long slumber by the narrator (John Cleese) and, in no time at all, his tummy rumbles. Much to his dismay, he finds nothing but empty honey pots in his little house so he sets off in search of honey. Soon his friends Tigger (also Jim Cummings), Owl (Craig Ferguson), Rabbit (Tom Kenny), Eeyore (Bud Luckey) and the rest join the hunt, but they’re sidetracked by a note from Christopher Robin that contains the words “back soon.”
That phrase is misconstrued as meaning there’s a monster loose in the woods named the “Backson” and a series of funny, sweet misadventures follows. As always, the denizens of the Hundred-Acre Wood solve the mystery through faith and friendship and, as always, Pooh finds some honey.
There’s nothing new to be found in this update of “Winnie The Pooh” and that’s reason enough to take your young child out to the movies. Sometimes it’s wise to not mess with a good thing and, in the case of Pooh, Disney took that lesson to heart.
Grade: 3/4 stars