‘Winnie the Pooh’: For children at that tender age of whimsy

“Winnie the Pooh” is not for everyone. There’s a dividing line children cross where the nonsensical adventures of a bear and his friends without violence or special effects will have lost its charm. Adults who have come to their senses and can re-embrace their childhood will love this reboot of this lucrative Disney franchise because it celebrates the original illustrations.

The movie starts and ends (sort of) in the room of Christopher Robin with a charming collection of toys, most looking as if they could have been from that pre-World War II time period (The books were both written in the late 1920s), but centering on Pooh and his friends.

The storyline uses three stories from two different books: “In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One” and “In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump” from the 1926 “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day and We Learn What Christopher Robin Does in the Mornings” from the 1928 “The House at Pooh Corner.”

Of course, there has already been a Heffalump movie by Disney in 2005. So the creature striking fear in the hearts of the Thousand Acre Forest is a Backson.  You’ll have to wait until the very end of the movie–meaning wait through the credits, to find out exactly what happens and it should give the adults a little chuckle.

The story begins with Pooh waking up after a bit of persuasion. He finds he’s hungry but has no honey. As he searches for breakfast, he runs into Eeyore who has lost his tale. Pooh, Tigger, Owl, Kanga, Roo and Christopher Robin decide to hold a contest to see who can find a new tail for Eeyore and the prize if a fresh pot of honey.

The next day, Pooh visits Christopher Robin’s house, but finds a note. Being a bear of very little brain, he takes the note to Owl who misreads the note and declares that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by a Backson and then describes just what a Backson is.

Bravely attempting to save their friend, the animals attempt to set a trap for the Backson, but the plan backfires. In the end, Christopher Robin returns, Eeyore gets his tail back and Pooh gets his honey.

Books may be on their way to extinction, but this movie uses them as part of their storytelling conceit. The scenes in the book comes to life, but the characters (using the original illustrations by Ernest Shepard) from the book interact with the text. Even during the credits.

Directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall got on board with Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter when he suggested taking Pooh bear  back to his roots. They visited the East Sussex Ashdown Forest where A.A. Milne wrote and set the adventures. The real Christopher Robin spent his summers there. They looked at E.H. Shepards’ original drawings. They also turned to veteran Disney animator Burny Mattison who worked on the original Disney features.  He had worked on the 1964 “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, ” the 1974 “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” and the 1977 collection of animated shorts,  “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.”

The set for Christopher Robin’s bedroom was based on pictures of his real room. The stuffed animals, however, are by Disney except for the homemade Pooh bear by Mattison’s wife. The real toys that inspired the stories–Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga (but not Roo who was lost in the 1930s)–are on display at the New York Public Library. Owl and Rabbit were creations of A.A. Milne’s imagination.

John Cleese provides the narration with Jim Cummings voicing both Pooh and Tigger.

The original songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are pleasant enough and mixed with two older songs by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. Zooey Deschanel is featured singing on  three songs including the Shermans’ “Winnie the Pooh.”

It’s a shame to realize that the real Christopher Robin came to distance himself from these stories. He was apparently taunted by his classmates although he was fond of his association with the stories before starting school. Yet according to one website, PoohCorner.org, his bitterness was taken out of context, coming at a bad time during his life. Christopher Robin Milne died in 1996.

His father, A.A. Milne, died in 1956 and the original illustrator, Ernest Shepard, in 1976. Christopher Robin’s daughter Clare, who has cerebral palsy, is still alive. The Clare Milne Trust was established in 2002 to support the disabled and was established from funds from A.A. Milne.

Perhaps those children who can’t appreciate Pooh now and once did will be able to return to him some day. As PoohCorner.org notes, Christopher Robin did in his biographical book “The Enchanted Places”:

Some years ago I had a letter from a small child in America. She was very, very angry with me because—so she had heard—I didn’t like being Christopher Robin. If she had been Christopher Robin, she told me, she would have been VERY PROUD, and I ought to be ashamed of myself for not feeling proud, too. It was a “Wol” letter, naturally: I doubt if she expected it to be otherwise. She will be older now. Older, wiser, more tolerant. And if she happens on this book she may perhaps understand just how and why it all came about.

“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I—if I’m not quite—” he stopped and tried again— “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”

I like to think that Pooh understood. I hope that now others will understand too. (The Enchanted Places, 169)

Winnie the Pooh isn’t for everyone, and not for children of all ages. If your child can still delight in 2D animation where friends have small adventures, then this charming feature will work its magic. Adults without children who enjoy the gentle humor of another time, another age can also enjoy this feature. The chalkboard sequence is particularly winning proof that 2D animation that at least looks hand drawn can still produce winning effects.

“Winnie the Pooh” opens in Pasadena on 15 July 2011.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.