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It’s extraordinary that the filmmakers of the new Winnie the Pooh have been able to replicate the sweetness and humor of the original shorts without succombing to modern-day cynicism. We return to the Hundred Acre Woods, where we find all the original characters, exactly as we saw them last. While the original shorts are beloved by everybody, it still doesn’t seem as if today’s world would be accepting of a film with such innocence, and yet here we are.
There are no pop-culture references and no low-brow humor. Pooh’s actions are still dictated by his stomach (literally at times), Owl is belovedly condescending, Eeyore is charmingly depressed, etc. This feels like a lost film from the past, but with beautiful animation from the present. While there might be some occasional CGI (I really couldn’t tell), the film feels completely handdrawn. There is an elegance to the artwork. The backdrops are painterly, as if lifted from a storybook. The characters have genuine personality. This isn’t the product of a shrill marketing machine, but a genuine love and respect for the characters.
As for the story itself, there are several elements at play. The film details the quest for a replacement for Eeyore’s lost tail, a bold attempt to rescue Christopher Robin from the clutches of an imagined monster, and Pooh’s growing hunger as he can’t find any honey. As these story elements seamlessly weave in and out of each other, I found myself captivated by the sheer simplicity of what I was watching. The humor is derived from basic wordplay and character reactions, which seems almost effortless here.
Much like the original, there are frequent breaks in the fourth wall, as Pooh and friends interact with the storybook from which their tale is being read. Occasionally, the literal text of the story itself becomes part of the plot, significantly advancing the narrative. Even the Narrator (voiced by John Cleese) becomes a sort-of character in the story, not in any story-based way, but by the very nature of his interactions with the characters.
While the film runs barely over an hour (including credits), it doesn’t feel too short. This is a perfect amount of time for these characters and this story. Due to the brief running time, there isn’t a wasted moment to be found. Even the songs are perfectly paced, and completely charming. Zooey Deschanel performs several of them, and her sing-songy voice is perfect for this world. These are songs that children will be singing years from now.
As for the Blu-Ray itself, there are several interesting features. The first one, entitled “Winnie the Pooh and His Story Too” is a brief look back at the history of the chacter. This feature chronicles how we got from AA Milne writing the original story to where we are today. While it’s a short feature, running barely over 8 minutes, there is a lot of information, and definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan.
Other features include several deleted scenes, some of which are alternate versions of scenes in the film, and some of them completely new. One of the more interesting sequences involves a dinner party that Rabbit throws for his “friends and relations” that is hilarious just for Pooh’s reaction to the outcome. I can see why it was cut, as it would have served no purpose in the greater story, and would have felt out of place. However, as a stand-alone sequence, it is very entertaining.
There’s also a Sing-Along mode for the film, perfect for the many catchy songs, and a way of jumping directly to a few key songs. There are also two short films, one new and one old. The old film is “Pooh’s Balloon,” the famous short from the fifties where Pooh disguises himself as a raincloud to steal honey. The other short is called “The Ballad of Nessie,” and is a whimsical depiction of how the Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, ended up in the Loch to begin with. It’s a cute little film, with fun narration and animation, but wasn’t anything truly remarkable.
Overall, this is a fantastic set and a great addition to any familie’s collection. This film proves just how timeless these characters are. If you’ve ever enjoyed Winnie the Pooh in any form, you owe it to yourself to see this film. It doesn’t happen often, but every now and again, a filmmaker will craft a film based on pre-existing characters that will be as good as the original. Believe it or not, Winnie the Pooh is such a film.