By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
My, my — a mild movie for moppets. Will wonders never cease!
At multiplexes in mid-summer, it’s nice to deal with small problems for a change. Especially for small children, who are not all that interested in the doings that beckon teens and tweens.
Thus the animated musical adventure Winnie the Pooh, with its brief running time (under 70 minutes), cuddlesome creatures, gentle interactions, simple plot, subdued charm, and casual enchantment. Pitched directly at preschoolers, it would, it just so happens, do nicely as a youngster’s first theatrical movie.
It’s a playful, modest reboot of a franchise that has enthralled young children for decades about a rotund “bear of very little brain” who’s always on the lookout for his next pot of honey, and his woodland friends, the amiably bumbling residents of the Hundred Acre Wood — Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo, and Eeyore.
On this day, they are in search of a new tail for Eeyore, the depressed donkey who has somehow apparently lost his, and in hopes of rescuing their friend, Christopher Robin, whom they mistakenly think has been abducted by a ferocious creature they refer to as a “backson” — which is simply their misreading of the message, “Back soon.” Nobody said these were high-powered intellects.
And so it goes.
Inspired by five stories from the A. A. Milne books, including Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, and David Benedictus’s Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, the low-key narrative merely smooshes a couple of incidents and storylines together.
Gripping it’s not, but then it needn’t be. What it is is sufficiently absorbing for the target audience members and their indulgent chaperones.
Voiced by Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh and Tigger), John Cleese (Narrator), and Craig Ferguson (Owl), among others, the characters parade through the not-so-tall tales like the group of stuffed animals come to life that they are, sometimes even jumping on and off the storybook’s words and interacting with letters and punctuation marks — an understated but refreshing reminder that there are books to be read out there.
Here’s a film that doesn’t exactly champion correct spelling, but certainly pays homage to the joy of reading.
Directors Stephen J. Anderson (Meet the Robinsons) and Don Hall have acknowledged the timeless quality of the source material and kept the retro charm on the front burner by, for the most part, eschewing CGI accoutrements and instead employing the warm, old-fashioned, hand-drawn style of animation, continuing to celebrate the original illustrations by E.H. Shepard. They also let the characters whimsically interact with the narrator and sing a few simple songs, as does Zooey Deschanel.
Winnie the Pooh is neither dazzling nor exhilarating, because it doesn’t try to be. It’s offered as if nothing technological had happened between the time, decades ago, when Pooh-poohed shorts dotted the media landscape, and now, in the era of 3-D and special effects.
Instead, this pleasant visit with a honey-obsessed teddy bear bearing a message about friendship is not Ice Age but “Nice Stage,” not The Incredibles but “The Huggables,” not Shrek but “Shhh.”
So we’ll grin and bear 2½ stars out of 4 for this short and sweet, G-rated treat for tots that also offers a tinge of nostalgia for their parents. It may not win the Poohlitzer prize, but Winnie the Pooh is a modest pleasure for an underserved audience.