A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood and the characters that inhabit it are among the most indelible literary creations, so it’d have been pretty hard for directors Stephen J. Anderson and John Hall to mess things up in their new Winnie the Pooh.
And they haven’t. With its appealingly retro hand drawn animation, low-key aura and narrative reliant on gentle misunderstandings, the film offers a welcome return vehicle for Pooh, Christopher Robin and their motley band of Hundred Acre dwellers.
The movie, which clocks in at 68 minutes, adapts three short stories taken directly from the Milne canon. Each is centered on charming miscommunications, sly G-rated jokes and some questionable decision making on the part of the protagonists.
First, the animals join in a search for Eeyore’s missing tail, and each proposes replacement solutions that don’t quite work (a blackboard, etc.). Then, a note from Christopher Robin (“Gon out Bizy Back Soon”) spurs a panic, as Owl warns of the sinister “Backson” monster. Owl, Pooh, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger set out to trap this vicious beast. The third story, “In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day and We Learn What Christopher Robin Does in the Mornings” appears to be more of a peripheral influence.
The picture trades in sweetness without drowning in it. This isn’t some soppy flick with a tacked-on moral about living in harmony with nature, or whatever. The filmmakers smartly avoid any inclination to update or modernize Pooh. His love for honey is a love for honey, not some sort of honey app. Further, the film rejects the hackneyed contemporary allusions family movies often make in a blatant drive to rouse likely comatose adult audience members.
This Winnie the Pooh is, in every respect, a fitting tribute to Milne and his illustrator E.H. Shepard. It’s resolutely rooted in the stories they told, the characters they created and the witty banter Milne perfected, with an amusing dose of self-reflexivity in Pooh’s interactions with the stern narrator (John Cleese). An anachronism in a cinematic age rife with movies of grand, impractical ambition, this new Winnie is content to be exactly what it would have been decades ago.
It’s a welcome phenomenon, a movie that actually cares about fidelity to its source, no matter how old-fashioned and “dated” it might be. I’ll take Winnie the Pooh and its ilk over the vomit-inducing prospect of an Australian set, 3D Great Gatsby directed by Baz Luhrmann.
Of course, Harry Potter mania is sure to leave this picture behind during the weekend, but one hopes that others will follow its lead.
The Upside: The movie is sweet and faithful to its source.
The Downside: If you don’t want to feel ripped off, make sure you check out a matinee. The film is only 68 minutes.
On the Side: Jim Cummings, the longtime voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, is still going strong here.