Winnie the Pooh had to go up against Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 when it was released. This is unfair. I have to get that out of the way, because I imagine that many of you will not have seen the film by the time you read the review.
Walt Disney Animation Studios is having difficulties with their films reaching the audience, can we agree on that? Since John Lasseter and the Pixar crew came over, the in-house animation arm of Disney has produced some films that would rank up there with the best of the Second Golden Age, only to find them fall flat with audiences because of release dates and marketing issues. Pooh has been no exception, getting crushed by Potter.
With this film especially, that is a crying shame. Winnie the Pooh is a return to the Hundred Acre Wood by Disney’s core group of animators. Mark Henn, Eric Goldberg, Andreas Deja – these may not be names you now, but you should. Unlike the direct to DVD sequels or the cheap TV style animated films that have dominated Pooh product recently, this is a real sequel to 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
The thing that struck me about this while I was watching, though, was how exceedingly funny it was. The entirety of the film is laugh out loud funny for kids and adults. This is the sort of thing you would expect from a Pixar film or even a Dreamworks film, but in Winnie the Pooh, Disney manages to make a film that can be hilarious for adults without using suggestive humor or entendres. That’s very difficult to do, but it’s brilliant in this movie.
There’s no grand message or revealing story in this movie, instead it’s like the Seinfeld of films. Nothing happens of much consequence throughout, but that’s sort of the point. The filmmakers drop us into the world of the Hundred Acre Wood and allow us to stay there and enjoy ourselves. We live in that world and its ethos for around 70 minutes, and it’s fantastically fun.
This is a world where the stresses we all face day-to-day do not exist. It’s a world where the major issues of the day are not debt ceilings, phone hacking or unpaid bills, but lost tails, where to find honey, and imaginations run wild. The characters don’t have to grow or adapt, because they are as familiar as a warm bed or a comfy shoe. We know them, and, by knowing them, we can settle into this world easily and without regret.
Each of the characters has been updated in some small way to be more contemporary, either with their voice or their look, but they still remain timeless. Craig Ferguson as Owl is perfect, and the combination of Goldberg animating Rabbit along with Tom Kenny’s voice is sheer genius. Everything works in this film, from the little details to the big overarching story. It stands out as a work of charm and heart in a summer full of dark and ominous.