Our review of The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh: Friendship Edition, published July 20th, 2007, is also available.
Silly Old Bear
In 1960, British author A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard published When We Were Very Young, the first in a series of children's bedtime stories. Based on Milne's own son, the adventures starred a young boy named Christopher Robin and his animal friends. Walt Disney, enthralled by the tales he would read to his own children, acquired the rights to these stories, in hopes of sharing them with American children. In 1966, U.S. audiences were introduced to the residents of the Hundred-Acre Wood in Disney's animated short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. Its tremendous success was followed by two more short films, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968 Academy Award Winner) and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974). Three years later, in 1977, these three shorts were woven together into a feature length film entitled The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Disney celebrates the film's 25th anniversary with this special edition DVD, a treat for young and old alike.
Facts of the Case
Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree tells of Pooh's (voiced by the legendary Sterling Holloway) quest to replenish his depleted supply of honey. Along the way he attempts numerous unsuccessful maneuvers such as the classic "little black rain cloud" ploy. Meeting with little success, he visits his friend Rabbit (Junius Matthews) for a "spot" of honey, only to consume a bit too much and become wedged in the doorway while attempting to leave. A lesson to those of us who tend to overindulge on our favorite things.
Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day tells of the storms that once visited the Hundred-Acre Wood, bringing strong winds and seemingly never ending rains. In the midst of all the commotion, Pooh is visited by a mysterious beast and is later tormented by nightmarish visions of Heffalumps and Woozles. He awakens to find himself and friend Piglet (John Fielder) overtaken by the floodwaters and must find a way to rescue them both. An award winning tale of friendship and sacrifice.
Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, our final story, focuses on Tigger (Paul Winchell) and his passion for bouncing. Rabbit, irate by the damage Tigger continues to cause, attempts to lose his adversary in the deep recesses of the woods, only to have his plan backfire. In the end, Tigger gets himself into trouble by getting stuck high up in a tree and offers to give up bouncing in exchange for a safe return to the ground. A tale that shows the futility of revenge, as the universe eventually provides a suitable lesson learned for those inconsiderate of others.
Since his first appearance almost 40 years ago, Disney has turned Winnie the Pooh into a merchandising juggernaut, second only to the Mouse. Today, you can find Pooh on everything from bed linens and bath accessories to clothing and cookware, not to mention a slew of CDs, videos, DVDs, and a new Muppet-esque television series. Despite the recent mass marketization, Pooh's humble origins were something much more meaningful. Milne's characters represent a mirror to the world in which we can all catch a glimpse of ourselves and our flaws—Piglet's timidity, Eeyore's pessimism, Tigger's exuberance, Owl's wisdom, Rabbit's cynicism, and Pooh's naïveté. Disney's first three Pooh films—Honey Tree, Blustery Day, and Tigger Too—exemplify these qualities quite well. Of the three, Blustery Day is the most entertaining, showcasing the musical talents of the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats) and the imagination of Disney animators during Pooh's nightmare sequence. It's not difficult to see why this short took home an Academy Award.
While the repackaging of existing material as new has long been held in low regard with the American public, this feature does an exceptional job of using the storybook motif and narration, by the impeccable Sebastian Cabot, to carry the viewer through one cohesive adventure. Remember how as kids we used to want just one more chapter of a bedtime story before going to sleep? The same concept holds true here, except these characters have the power to break the "fourth wall" to amuse and entertain. In the end, when Christopher Robin must say goodbye to Pooh—and in essence his childhood—we can't help but be touched by the sentiment. Two later Pooh shorts, Winnie the Pooh Discovers the Seasons (1981) and Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore (1983), along with numerous direct to video releases, never attain the level of quality and emotion displayed here.
Interesting trivia—While the general public is well aware of the voice talent supplied for Pooh and Tigger, most are unaware of several other famous names/faces who lent their dulcet tones to the residents of Pooh-ville. Clint Howard, famous character actor and brother of Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, provided the voice for Kanga's son Roo. John Fielder, best remembered for his role as Mr. Peterson on the original Bob Newhart Show, long supplied the voice of Piglet. Hal Smith, best known as Mayberry's town drunkard Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show, was the voice of the sometimes bombastic Owl. Last but not least, Howard Morris—Mayberry's legendary Ernest T. Bass—provided the spittle and lisp for Gopher. But I digress.
The 1.33:1 full frame format does nothing to distract or dissuade the interest of the DVD consumer growing increasingly accustomed to the widescreen presentation. The animated musical menus are understated and nicely done. The transfer itself is beautiful, given the sketchy style of 1960s/'70s Disney animation—a bit rough around the edges. At one point, as Pooh falls from the honey tree, you can even see the cleanup team has overlooked removal of the foundation pencils within Pooh's body. As for sound, Dolby 5.1 Surround is a welcome addition, giving new appreciation to the musical themes, with each character being represented by a different instrument—Pooh: Baritone Horn, Christopher Robin: Trumpet and Guitar, Rabbit: Clarinet, Owl: French Horn, Kanga: Flute, Roo: Piccolo, Eeyore: Bass Clarinet, Piglet: Oboe, and Gopher: Bass Harmonica—an homage to Prokofiev's masterpiece Peter and the Wolf.
The extras on this disc are plentiful and contain something of interest for every age range. For adults, the 25-minute featurette "Story Behind the Masterpiece" is a great look back at the origins and evolution of Milne's characters. I would also recommend checking out the "Art Gallery," which serves as a wonderful companion piece. For the kids, the "Hundred-Acre Wood Challenge" is an interactive game the little ones will find mesmerizing, as well as the read-along story "Pooh's Shadow," the "Wonderful Thing About Tiggers" sing-along, and the Carly Simon music video. For multiple viewings with the kids, you can spice things up by activating the "Pop-Up Fun Facts" feature providing insights into the characters and the film. On the other hand, I would skip the Day for Eeyore short, as it is noticeably weaker than the film and the 1990s television series The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The differing voices may throw the kids, who have just finished watching the film itself. Rounding out the disc are the studio add-ons, a collection of trailers showcasing upcoming Disney theatrical and video/DVD releases—Lilo and Stitch, Beauty and the Beast, Piglet's Big Movie, and A Very Merry Pooh Year.
Despite teetering on the edge of overexposure, Winnie the Pooh remains one of Disney's most endearing characters. This disc returns us to where it all began and the visit is well worth the journey. For adults looking to recapture their childhood, this is a wonderful rental. For Disney-philes and parents with small kids this is a definite must buy.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is hereby acquitted of any and all charges. This film is a treasure to be enjoyed for years to come. However, this court warns Disney Studios of not stretching this franchise too far. Creepy puppet versions of Pooh border on criminal activity. Don't push your luck. This court now stands in recess.
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Scales of Justice
• Animated Short Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore (1983)
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