July 15, 2011

It’s refreshing to see a family film that is completely without cynicism or even awareness of pop culture.  Winnie the Pooh opens with a live-action shot of the bedroom of stuffed animals and the narrator (John Cleese) tells us, without the slightest hint of irony, that the bedroom could belong to any young boy.  The room has no video games, posters, or other mass-produced merchandise.  It’s a bedroom for a young boy in 1920s England which is when and where Winnie the Pooh was created.  The new Disney film based on A.A. Milne’s popular characters firmly holds to that time period and that innocence and comes away with an absolutely charming and lovable movie that is clever, funny, and adorable.

I’m still astonished that Winnie the Pooh doesn’t feel stale.  It has stories you’ve come to expect: Pooh wants honey, Eeyore has lost his tale, Tigger needs to be the center of attention, but there’s also a fresh tale where Pooh and his friends misread a note from Christopher Robin and believe their friend/creator has been kidnapped by a monster known as the “Backson”.  Intertwined with this story to catch the mythical Backson are some cute musical number and delightful storytelling that breaks the fourth wall but never in a self-congratulatory fashion.

The greatest contribution to keeping Winnie the Pooh fresh is how it frames the story.  Cleese narrates the story and we can see the characters as part of a book.  But then the animators—who have drawn a beautiful film that makes me long for more 2D animation—start playing around with the format and have the characters start interacting with the letters on the page.  It even goes so far as Pooh asking what a paragraph is and the narrator having to explain it as Pooh climbs down the sentences.  That small creative spark goes a long way to helping set this movie apart from the forgettable Pooh films of the past decade.

Winnie the Pooh has never been my favorite property simply because I find all of the characters so irritating.  Pooh is an addict in withdrawal, Piglet is a coward, Tigger is obnoxious, Owl is pretentious, Eeyore is a depressive, and Rabbit is selfish.  There’s no reason I should like Winnie the Pooh but the movie is handled with such innocence in tone but confidence in its familiarity that I wasn’t bothered by the defining personality trait of each character.  The filmmakers managed to make all of the characters work off each other so that while individually they may be slightly annoying, together their flaws become cute and humorous.  There’s a quick wit that parents will appreciate but the movie never makes it a point to go over the heads of the young children its intended for.  This is the first real G-rated movie to come along in a while and it’s comforting to see a movie that doesn’t need a fart joke to make kids laugh.  The movie also doesn’t overstay its welcome and comes in at slightly under 70 minutes long.  It’s a smart move because you can really only have Pooh whining for so long about how he wants honey.

I went into Winnie the Pooh expecting some quality 2D animation and not much else.  Instead, Disney Animation Studios have not only produced yet another gorgeous and inspired 2D animated movie, but provided a charming story to go along with it.  Winnie the Pooh is a rarity in today’s marketplace.  It’s not about trying to sell you more stuff or calculating how many demographics it can hit.  It simply wants to give young kids a movie they can love and let adults set their cynicism aside to enjoy clever humor and delightful characters.

Rating: B+


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