Judge Dan Mancini depends on the kindness of fictional stuffed bears.
"This could be the room of any small boy, but it happens to be the room of Christopher Robin…"—Narrator
In 1926, British author Alan Alexander Milne unleashed the world's cuddliest fictional bear on Western civilization with his children's book Winnie-the-Pooh, about the pets and stuffed toys of a young boy named Christopher Robin and their adventures in an idyllic imaginary landscape called the Hundred Acre Wood. But let's face facts: These days, when we think of Winnie the Pooh, it is Disney's version of Milne's creation that comes to mind. 1977's The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh collected three short-form Pooh animated adventures—"Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree," "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day," and "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too"—into a critically and financially successful theatrical feature that launched a franchise for the House of Mouse. A string of follow-up features as well as animated television series and home video releases followed.
Winnie the Pooh: A Valentine for You isn't a theatrical feature or a direct-to-video movie, but a repackage of a made-for-television holiday special augmented by a few episodes of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, an animated series that ran on ABC for four seasons in the late '80s and early '90s. The disc contains a pair of main programs that can be played individually or strung together with a Play All option.
• A Valentine for You (22:14)
A Valentine for You doesn't look much better than an elaborate episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (which isn't bad per se, but definitely not up to feature animation standards), but its musical numbers and narration by David Warner (Time Bandits) infuse it with at least a tiny bit of the charm of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (that film is a musical adventure with memorable narration by Sebastian Cabot). A Valentine for You is also notable because it is voice actor Paul Winchell's final appearance as Tigger (Winchell was the first to voice the mad cat for Disney, and owned the role for over 20 years). It's an entertaining show that, like the best of Disney's Pooh adventures, expertly mimics the gentility and sweetness of Milne's original stories. It doesn't hold a candle to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but it is arguably the best of Pooh's many made-for-television adventures.
• "Un-Valentine's Day" (27:32)
"Un-Valentine's Day" was the first episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh's second season. Here it's coupled with the second half of the season's fourth episode, "Three Little Piglets," a story that finds Winnie the Pooh telling his version of "The Three Little Pigs," full of honey trees, Big Bad Bunnies, and masked Tiggers. The two episodes of the show are innocuous but disposable. "Un-Valentine's Day," in particular, comes off as a mish-mash of two plots, neither of which is particularly engaging.
In addition to the two main features, there's a bonus episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh called "My Hero." When Piglet saves Tigger from drowning, the enthusiastic cat insists on paying the pig back, even if his efforts are more bothersome than helpful. There's also a "Catch the Love Bug" game that involves using your DVD player's remote control to catch virtual fireflies in a virtual jar. Extremely young children may enjoy it, but it'll bore anyone else to tears.
The transfers of the various programs are a mixed bag of disappointment. "A Valentine for You" appears to have been fully restored. The animation is crisp and the color palette bright. Unfortunately, the image is riddled with persistent combing artifacts. "Un-Valentine's Day," "Three Little Piglets," "and "My Hero" are more stable, but also softer with murkier colors.
All of the programs have Dolby stereo audio tracks (along with French and Spanish dubs). Again, the restoration work on A Valentine for You is obvious. Its track is crisp and bright, limited only by its age and two-channel source. The other programs offer tracks that, while clean and well-mixed, are slighted muted with pinched dynamic range.
To put it bluntly, there's nothing all that special about this Special Edition of Winnie the Pooh: A Valentine for You. Priced lower, it would be a decent enough time-waster for preschoolers. The fact that it'll set you back the same amount as the far superior The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, even though its four made-for-television stories have a combined running time of only 50 minutes, is a deal breaker. Rent this one for the kids, but don't buy it.
Guilty as charged.
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