Winnie the Pooh Review
How nice to see Winnie the Pooh and the other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood again in a new, feature-length film done in the classic hand-drawn style. As it turns out, Winnie the Pooh is a perfectly charming movie with a brisk pace to match its simple story. The wonderful animation retains a warmth largely unseen from recent Walt Disney Studios efforts. It was clearly made with younger audiences most in mind but adults too can appreciate such light and timeless fare. There's very little that could be considered slick or glossy about this picture. A number of songs, performed by the actress and musician Zooey Deschanel, further the sincerity of the affair while also providing a break from some of the more repetitive story elements. These are not characters blessed with much dimension but Winnie the Pooh admirably stays within their comfort levels and never tries too hard to stretch any of the established notions about its beloved figures.
The story includes a narrator (voiced by John Cleese) who provides a pleasingly even account of the various little strands contained in the larger narrative, which is derived from a few separate tales by A.A. Milne that had not previously been adapted for the screen. Throughout, the actual storybook from which the narrator is reading can be frequently seen, including the words and individual letters, and even serves a key function in the plot. The two primary points in the story involve Eeyore having lost his tail, and the subsequent search for him a new one, and preparing for the dreaded Backson monster, who is seemingly born out of a misunderstanding. Pooh's perpetual quest for honey and Owl's insistence on writing his self-important memoirs provide further areas for the story to explore.
All of Milne's familiar characters return, though some now sound a little different (with the voices of Craig Ferguson, as Owl, and Bud Luckey, as Eeyore, making particular impressions alongside the work by Jim Cummings, who does both Pooh and Tigger). Only Gopher, who never appeared in the original stories and was created solely for the earlier cartoons, is absent. He's never missed, especially since a few of the other peripheral characters like Rabbit, Kanga and Roo mostly just blend into the background. It's the titular bear who is clearly, and deservedly, the star of the show. His exploits become the group's exploits. Much of the picture depends on the general affability, despite some questionable moments of greed and stupidity, of Pooh. That he's so cute and lovable means we can accept his less than ideal qualities. A dream sequence detour of swimming through vast amounts of honey is the perfect break from the line of the plot, also giving Pooh a chance to display how determined and irrational his hunt for that taste of honey unavoidably is. Some sympathy emerges for him as he's, clearly, a honeyaholic.
You might notice while viewing Winnie the Pooh that all of the characters lack what one would assume to be a basic level of intelligence, even for animated wood-dwelling creatures. Pooh references this at least twice, including a song where he admits to being a "bear of very little brain." Their dimwittedness is played for laughs, including some choice screw-ups by the ever-skittish Piglet. It would seem wrong to criticize them for not being too smart, and indeed that humor coming from things like Owl's blind arrogance works quite well. So the joy in the end more or less justifies the means.
From a purely visual standpoint, Winnie the Pooh deserves nothing but praise. It looks outstanding - richly detailed, true and necessarily nostalgic considering how computer animation has become increasingly dominant. That's the primary appeal, and it cannot be overstated. Feature animation has become too predictable and soulless in its clinical anonymity. A simple film like Winnie the Pooh, harboring no obvious ambition beyond classical entertainment for children of all ages, suddenly feels very special and unique. It's animation that looks like it was made by people rather than machines, and it's a welcome respite.
(Make sure to stick around past the film's ending credits.)
The Disney folks have served up three separate releases of Winnie the Pooh in the U.S. One is simply a DVD-only edition and another contains separate DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Copy discs. If you're not interested in paying a little extra for the Digital Copy but still want the film on BD then you'll have to settle for a DVD + Blu-ray release that's in a traditional DVD keepcase. That's the one being reviewed here.
The region-free Blu-ray offers the film in a simply beautiful transfer to show off its rich, painterly animation style. In the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the image looks sharp and crisp, with brilliant colors. No digital imperfections to speak of either. The detail is wonderful, as the drawn characters merge nicely with the various watercolor-like backgrounds. Joyful textures. The few live action scenes are similarly impressive and display a real warmth to them. When the movie tries something different, as with the chalk-drawn scene or Pooh's honey bath, the results are still a treat to witness.
Audio emerges on the BD in an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. It's great for the songs and the many little sound effects incorporated, as well as the spoken dialogue and narration. It's also refreshing to not have the mix be unnecessarily overpowering. There's really no need for too loud or too active of a track. What's here is effective and clear without feeling excessive. A Dolby Digital Descriptive Video Service 2.0 option is also available, in English, as are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs. The DVD replaces the DTS-HD track with an English language DD 5.1 offering. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.
The extra features in this package, all in HD on the high-definition disc, are much like the film itself in that they prove satisfying before becoming tedious. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is "Winnie the Pooh and His Story Too" (8:33) a short (perhaps too short) detailing of the honey-loving bear's history with narration by John Cleese.
Also just for the Blu-ray is the option to Sing-Along with the Movie, which puts the song lyrics on the screen and lets you and/or your loved ones follow along as the musical scenes play out in the film. The option is there to turn this feature on before starting the picture or, for convenience, of just choosing the seven songs one-by-one in a Disney Song Selection area of the menu. These are all brief and harmless, between just over half a minute long for "A Very Important Thing to Do" to "The Backson Song" lasting a shade under three minutes. The others are roughly in the one to two minute range.
Available to watch from either the DVD or the Blu are five Deleted Scenes and a pair of quick shorts. The Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: "Pooh's Balloon" (2:47) short lives up to its name, a play on words, and is really more of an excerpt, animation-wise, from the 1966 featurette "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree," which also later served as part of the theatrical feature The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. For some reason, Pooh's vocals seem to have been replaced, with Jim Cummings stepping in for Sterling Holloway, and Cleese serves as the narrator here too, instead of Sebastian Cabot. The widescreen presentation is a little jarring.
"The Ballad of Nessie" (5:32) is a cute animated short that was also attached to cinema showings of Winnie the Pooh. It features rhyming narration by Billy Connolly and tells the humorous story of how Nessie came to settle in Scotland's Loch Ness.
The Deleted Scenes (15:06) can be viewed using the "Play All" function or one-by-one. Each has a short introduction by the directors of the film explaining what you're about to see and why it didn't make the final cut. "The Tummy Song" (2:07) is an extended version of Pooh's performance, with the deleted parts in black and white unfinished. "Rabbit's Friends and Relations" (4:16) was an idea that never seems to have gotten past the storyboard stage, and shows characters not in the movie. The fully animated "Original Eeyore Intro" (4:09) is an extended version of what did end up in the completed film, but the "Original Tigger Intro" (2:08) has its cut sequences still in black and white. "Pooh Searches for a Tail" (2:08) remains in storyboard form.
There's also something on here called "Creating the Perfect Winnie the Pooh Nursery" (2:52) that features "baby planners" Ellie and Melissa. It plays like a thinly veiled advertisement for Disney's Pooh merchandise and is annoying to boot.
Sneak Peeks (8:00) is highlighted by a teaser for the upcoming The Muppets movie but also is filled with ads and trailers for less promising things.