Disney // 2002 // 64 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // November 6th, 2013
"It all started one windy Winter's night."
It may only be early November, but as far as retailers are concerned we're in the Christmas season. With a full two months until the actual holiday, Disney is hoping you'll fill that time with something of theirs. It's been that way since the early days of home video and now that Blu-ray players are commonplace, so are repackaged versions of classic and not-so-classic Disney films. Their latest hi-def offering is the 2002 direct-to-DVD Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year, arriving on Blu-ray in a "Gift of Friendship Edition" set.
The residents of the Hundred Acre Wood gather to celebrate Christmas and reminisce about a past holiday that almost wasn't -- when Pooh forgot to ask Santa for anything in the group's letter to Santa. He and Piglet intercept and rewrite the letter, but their attempt to resend the letter is thwarted by a Southerly wind blowing away from the North Pole. Rather than admit what happened, Pooh takes matters into his own paws by masquerading as Santa with disastrous results. Back in the modern day, as New Year's approaches an unhappy Rabbit is considering moving away, and his friends are willing to do whatever it takes to keep him around.
A Very Merry Pooh Year is an odd entry in Disney's Blu-ray library, coming from two different aging sources. The full Pooh Year feature debuted in 2002 on DVD, comprised of a new story wrapped around the 1991 TV special, "Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too." (To put that in context, that's long enough ago that the original special had a preview for Beauty and the Beast.) The half-hearted anthology approach doesn't entirely work, but considering the whole stitched together movie only runs 64 minutes, it's a slightly better value proposition.
The included Pooh stories aren't as memorable as those inspired by Milne but they stay true to his creation. Kiddos will love the Pooh-focused Christmas tale, with their favorite honey addict playing Santa for his friends; while the fun of "Pooh Year" -- one of a very few holiday specials dedicated to New Year's -- is seeing his characters take on each other's personas, including a smiling Eeyore who wears a red shirt and loves honey, bouncing Piglet, and timid Tigger.
Compared to Disney's various Diamond, Platinum, and Cubic Zirconia (I assume) editions of their classic films, A Very Merry Pooh Year is at best a minor entry aimed at families already in the shopping spirit. It certainly doesn't seem like a title in need of a multi-disc set, but here it is anyway. The full frame 1080p image betrays its TV and direct-to-video roots. Given recent controversies over Disney's DNR-smudged "restorations," it's nice to see this movie remain mostly untouched. The downside is that it comes from middling source material. The newer wraparound stories are much brighter and a bit sharper than the muddier 1991 middle, but the whole affair is at best a small step up from DVD. The soundtrack is lossy 2.0 stereo in English, French, and Spanish. While no powerhouse, it's a clean mix.
There aren't many bonus features here, unless you count the DVD and Digital Copy:
* Disney Intermission (8:21): This collection of "games" and Pooh-themed distractions starts automatically when the movie it paused unless you turn it off in the "Set Up" menu.
* Disney Song Selection (5:33): The movie's musical numbers pulled out and available to watch individually or altogether, with or without on-screen lyrics: "Winnie the Pooh," Trimming the Tree with "Jingle Bells," "Snow Snows," "Jingle Bells" in the Snow, "Happy Pooh Year," "Hunny, No Not For Me," One Last Round of "Jingle Bells," and "Auld Lang Syne."
* "Sing Along with the Movie": Turn this on in the bonus features menu to display the lyrics whenever the gang sings.
* "Enchanted Environment" (24:01): This musical holiday-themed screensaver is perfect if have 24 minutes to fill -- with the option to watch with music and sound effects, music only, or sound effects only.
* The set also comes packaged with a physical "Letters to Santa" kit, which contains two decorated red envelopes, two glossy wish list postcards, a small sheet of stickers, and a cardboard hybrid Pooh pen. It's not worth the premium, but it will keep your kids occupied for a few minutes.
Winnie the Pooh fans have had it good the past few years, with an excellent 2011 feature film and the Blu-ray release of the original The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year doesn't quite fall into the cash grab category. Enough time has passed since the 2002 direct-to-DVD release that there's bound to be some lingering nostalgia. Even so, there's little here to justify a full-price multiformat release considering minimal extras and a marginal hi-def upgrade.
A big box for such a small present.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 64 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Letters to Santa
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy