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"Winnie The Pooh" – Alive and Well in The Year 2011

Looking at the latest movie in the "Winnie the Pooh" canon which brings these classic characters back to that rare world of hand drawn animation. In it, Eeyore loses his tail, the gang believes Christopher Robin has been kidnapped, and Zooey Deschanel sings some nice songs.

You know something? I was looking forward to this more than I was “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.” Granted I saw the latter first, but anyone who knows me best will more than understand my sheer desire to see this one: I am a die hard Eeyore fan! I got my first Eeyore plush toy before the start of the 5th grade, and I’ve lost track of how many I have collected since; my niece told her friends I have over 3,000, but I beg to differ. To see him play such a pivotal role in “Winnie the Pooh” was a huge delight for me after seeing him get reduced to a mere cameo in “Pooh’s Hefalump Movie.”

 

Oh yeah, I should talk about the rest of the film as well. That “silly old bear” once again headlines the proceedings as his grumbling tummy develops a mind of its own as it uncontrollably yearns for honey. Sure enough there are beehives nearby with a wealth of Pooh’s favorite food, but the bees are understandably protective of their export. Then there’s the case of Eeyore’s missing tail which has everyone giving him another which (to put it mildly) doesn’t exactly compare. To cap it all off, this classic gang mistakenly believes that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by an evil monster known as the “Backson” (see the movie, you’ll understand).

 

For some reason, watching Pooh hurriedly pursuing that sticky substance kept reminding me of Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” with its characters becoming increasingly desperate for heroin or whatever their minds craved more than their bodies. But that’s just me. I somehow doubt the animators at Walt Disney had any intention of making a G rated movie reminding you of one of the most seriously disturbing films ever made.

 

“Winnie the Pooh” brings the 100 Acre Wood back to traditional hand drawn animation, something of a rarity these days. While the characters would have looked fantastic with computer animation a la Pixar, doing things the old fashioned way was the right choice. The “Winnie the Pooh” films and shorts have been long since relegated to the Disney channel and direct to DVD realm, and this brought about a drop in quality. But seeing Pooh bear and company on the big screen is a terrific reminder of why we grew up loving these characters in the first place.

 

Jim Cummings once again provides the voice for Pooh bear as well as Tigger, and he captures the distinctive voices of each character perfectly. Travis Oates gets the innocent stuttering of Piglet down to perfection, and late night talk show host Craig Ferguson makes Owl as jolly as he is oblivious to his own pomposity. Rabbit on the other hand has always been the most anal of A.A. Milne’s characters, so I thank Tom Kenny for making him more likably bearable than he typically is. As for Christopher Robin, Jack Boulter gives a strong British accent and still sounds like a girl at times (just like the actor who voiced him in “Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore”).

 

Now back to the good part! Eeyore has been a great source of dry humor, and his brand of it is on fully display here. Watching him try on the tails others have given him (Pooh’s clock doesn’t quite do the trick) should at the very least put a smile on your face even if it doesn’t on Eeyore’s. One of the movie’s most hilarious moments comes when Tigger trains him to be the second Tigger, leading to a montage that I would love to say (but can’t quite get myself to believe) would put Rocky to shame. Bud Luckey, who delighted us all with his great animated shorts on “Sesame Street,” memorably voices Eeyore with all his gloominess and reduced expectations in life.

 

One great addition to this particular version of Winnie the Pooh is of Zooey Deschanel. She doesn’t appear in this movie, but she does sing many of its songs including the classic opening track which introduces Christopher Robin’s friends. Her voice is lovely and it also has a whimsical quality which makes her contributions to this soundtrack all the more wonderful. While the songs by Robert and Kristin Anderson-Lopez aren’t as memorable as anything you heard in “Beauty and the Beast” or “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut,” they fit the material nicely without indulging in cringe-inducing cheesiness.

 

By bringing Pooh and his friends back to basics, “Winnie the Pooh” really proves to be a wonderfully innocent and nostalgic stroll to the stories our parents read to us at one time or another. It’s the perfect family movie to see this summer even over the more popular (and ridiculously maligned) “Cars 2.” Not once does it boil things down to the lowest common denominator of an audience, and it is a rare piece of cinematic innocence in a world filled with loud explosions and seriously crappy 3D effects. It’s a mere 69 minutes long, but there is more story to this than its running time might suggest (BTW, stick through the end credits).

 

Now let’s get Eeyore’s name in the title of the next one! Tigger and Piglet both had enough charisma to get a headliner’s status above Winnie the Pooh, so you can’t convince me that Eeyore can’t. It’s not like Owl, Kanga or Roo could upstage him anyway. And regardless of what Tina Fey and Seth Meyers said on “Saturday Night Live,” Eeyore did not commit suicide. As to whether auto-erotic asphyxiation was involved, I have no comment.

 

EEYORE MOVIE FOR 2012!

 

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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