Judge Erich Asperschlager is a reviewer of very little brain.
"Excuse me Owl, but what does 'Crustimoney Proseedcake' mean?"
There were two animated sequels released by Disney during the summer of 2011. One was a flashy CGI follow-up to a movie that spawned one of the most lucrative kids' franchises in recent memory. The other, a 63-minute hand-drawn sequel to a movie more than 40 years old, based on a series of books even older than that. That first film, Cars 2, squandered a full-on marketing blitz, falling short of its predecessor critically and commercially. The second, Winnie the Pooh, hit screens with little to no fanfare, lost in a sea of blockbuster popcorn flicks and forgettable kids' fare—and blew them all away.
It doesn't matter that Winnie the Pooh won more hearts than box office dollars. It's one of the best movies of the summer, and one of the best animated films to come out of Disney in more than a decade. If you missed it at the multiplex, now you can watch and re-watch it with your family at home, and in gorgeous high definition, with the release of Winnie the Pooh (Blu-ray).
Facts of the Case
Set in the Hundred Acre Wood of A. A. Milne's classic children's books, Winnie the Pooh follows the title character's very exciting day, in which he searches for honey, a contest is held to find Eeyore a new tail, and everyone bands together to save Christopher Robin from a creature called the "Backson."
When it comes to the books and movies we share with our children, nostalgia is king. Even though most cherished childhood memories don't hold up under the harsh light of adulthood, some fuzzy feelings only get warmer with age. For many people, that short list includes A. A. Milne's books about a young boy and his stuffed animal friends. Written for the author's son, Christopher, his stories capture the imaginative spirit and endless possibilities of youth.
Parents have plenty of options when it comes to sharing Pooh bear with their kids. My own daughter has a stuffed animal, beanbag chair, books, and a DVD of the 1977 Disney classic The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. They are all played with, read, and watched in an endless cycle I couldn't be happier about. I'm even happier to add Pooh's latest movie adventure to that list.
The wasteland of kids' entertainment is littered with subpar remakes having more to do with brand recognition and marketing opportunities than genuine affection. In their finite wisdom, studio execs try to modernize beloved (or simply "remembered") franchises with bad CGI, pop culture references, and the song "What I Like About You." Winnie the Pooh breaks the cycle, giving parents a movie to show their kids that doesn't feel like a compromise.
This film isn't so much a reimagining of Milne's characters than it is a reintroduction. The character models look slightly different than they did in 1977, and the voice actors have been replaced by a talented new cast that includes Jim Cummings (the voice of Winnie the Pooh since the late '80s), Tom "SpongeBob" Kenny (Piglet), Craig Ferguson (Owl), and newcomers Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Kanga) and Jack Boulter (Christopher Robin). Even with the changes, this new movie feels like it could have been made shortly after the original. Winnie the Pooh shares more with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh than just a visual style, though. They share Milne's spirit, and the love of reading that his stories inspire.
Plenty of books have been made into movies, but Winnie the Pooh is one of the few adaptations to incorporate the book itself. From time to time, Pooh and his friends wander off the drawing and onto the page, breaking a kind of third-and-a-half wall between the animation and the open book. Characters walk on, and even get buried in, the words on the page. In one scene, Pooh and the narrator—played by the great John Cleese—have a conversation about paragraphs and whether or not they contain honey. In another, the characters get out of a jam by using oversized words that have spilled into the drawing. This playful back and forth between reading and viewing is a welcome break from all the movies that seem determined to make kids turn off their brains.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was an anthology of Pooh stories, based on the books, that had each been released as standalone short films prior to being gathered into a feature. Winnie the Pooh is also broken into three main plot threads, but those threads weave together to create a satisfying whole. The simple plot allows the screenwriters to create a "best-of" mashup of characters and moments from the books and original movie.
Winnie the Pooh isn't just about looking to the past, though. The first film stayed close to Milne's books, while this new film uses those stories as a jumping off point. The mysterious "Backson" in the latter half of the film, for example, references a story in the second Pooh book. In both cases, Christopher Robin's note that he will be "back soon" is misinterpreted by Owl. In the book, the misunderstanding is cleared up right away. In the movie, it gives rise to full-on panic, as everyone worries that Christopher has been kidnapped by a fearsome creature responsible for sock holes, scribbled-in books, and broken dishes.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is more sweet than funny. Winnie the Pooh is both. Drawing inspiration from vaudeville and early cartoon shorts, this new film trades pop culture references for actual jokes that range from sight gags and pratfalls to clever wordplay. One memorable bit plays like an animated version of "Who's On First?," as the characters get into an argument based on the confusion between "knot" and "not." Most kids' movies go for laughs the way a dog goes for a dropped T-bone. Winnie the Pooh doesn't have to try hard to be clever—it just is.
Winnie the Pooh might not be the Blu-ray you use to show off your home theater rig, but the 1080p transfer is the perfect way to enjoy the subtle beauty of hand-drawn animation. The fine detail is most obvious in live action footage of Christopher Robin's room at the beginning and end of the movie, but the clarity shines throughout. The background paintings are as stunning as any Disney art book, and the characters, though clean and simple, show the artist's hand in a way you won't see in computer animation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is more interested in creating an immersive soundscape than rattling walls. Instead of strong directional effects, the track uses the speakers to give dialogue, music, and Henry Jackman's score plenty of room to spread out. Like the hi-def presentation, the effect is subtle, but impressive. The surround mix has the most power during the musical numbers, written in the style of early Disney films. My personal favorite is "The Backson Song," a spooky cautionary tale set against chalkboard animation. There are also several songs performed by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, a.k.a. She & Him, including a version of the "Winnie the Pooh" theme song updated to include Tigger.
Winnie the Pooh's Blu-ray adventure comes with a solid collection of HD bonus features to extend your visit with Pooh and his pals:
• "Winnie the Pooh and His Story Too" (8:33): Narrated by John Cleese, this nifty making-of featurette covers the history of the books and film series, with input from Winnie the Pooh's producers, artists, and director Stephen Anderson.
• Deleted Scenes (15:06): Four scenes, with introductions by the directors: an extended version of the "The Tummy Song"; an excised sequence introducing Rabbit's "friends and relations"; a different version of Eeyore's first scene; a longer Tigger intro; and a funny bit in which Pooh searches his home for a replacement tail for Eeyore.
• "The Ballad of Nessie" (5:32): When Winnie the Pooh played in theaters, this lovely Scottish fable preceded it. Although you don't have to watch the short film and movie together at home, I recommend that you do.
• Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: "Pooh's Balloon" (2:47): If you've seen The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, you've seen this sequence—in which a muddied Pooh tries to steal honey while pretending to be a little black rain cloud. The origin of the short is unclear; a title card says that it is "based on" The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and that Cummings and Butler provide the voices of Pooh and Christopher Robin. As far as I can tell, however, the animation is the same as the original film—with a few edits—except much cleaner and brighter. No announcement has been made, but I've got all my fingers and toes crossed that this means we'll be getting a Blu-ray version of the 1977 film. If so, this odd extra suggests it could be a real stunner.
• "Sing Along With the Movie": This subtitle option lets you watch the movie with onscreen lyrics—complete with bouncing balloon—during all the musical numbers.
• "Disney Song Selection": Provides the same songs and lyrics as the sing along, without having to sit through the whole movie.
• "Creating the Perfect Winnie the Pooh Nursery" (2:52): Featuring Ellie and Melissa, The Baby Planners®, this forgettable extra provides a few quick tips for incorporating Winnie the Pooh into the design of your new nursery. There's a reason it's last on the bonus features list.
The two-disc Winnie the Pooh combo pack also comes with a DVD version of the film with all of the extras except the making-of featurette and the sing-along, and a small fold-out poster that you can use to play "Pin the Tail on Eeyore."
Those who value quantity over quality might have a hard time with Winnie the Pooh's 63-minute run time—less than an hour if you don't watch the credits (and you really should watch all of the credits). Those people are missing out. Pooh's latest adventure manages to pack more humor, sweetness, and charm into one hour than most kids movies have in two. Winnie the Pooh shows that children's entertainment doesn't need to be dumbed down, and that classic movies, like classic books, are worth of being passed down from one generation to the next.
A tubby little cubby, to be sure, but no fluff. Not guilty!
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