Sunday, December 11, 2011

#51: Winnie the Pooh (2011)

So here's the latest film, and the last review for a long lone while (Disney's next "Reboot Ralph" opens November 2012). When I first heard tell of this movie being the next 2D film after "Princess and the Frog," I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. First they make a movie basically in the same vein of their previous princess musical classics, and now we have another rerun of their already exacerbated Pooh franchise. But when I watched "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh," I really warmed up to these characters, and embraced the idea a little more. Too bad not many other people did. But then again, Disney had the brilliant idea of releasing it against the final Harry Potter film, which every single person on the planet wanted to see. Every demographic was accountable, except... babies. Which I guess is who saw it. But between its merchandising, their "Book of Pooh" series, Disney basically relegated Pooh Bear to exclusively toddlers on their own, so they screwed themselves. "Winnie the Pooh" is actually a lot of fun, and extremely entertaining and enjoyable, and a movie that I think any person would like if they opened up to it.

The film contains many elements of the original shorts, like showcasing that the story takes place within an actual book and having characters interact with the letters and narrator. We also get a glimpse of the original stuffed animals, based on the drawings from the A. A. Miline books. The story itself is... well, there's really not much of a concrete story, more like multiple plots that sort of cross paths. It starts with Eeyore having lost his tail and the gang trying to come up with a substitute. Later on, Pooh finds a mysterious note on Christopher Robin's door, which he brings to Owl to decipher. A simple note of "Back Soon" is quickly misconstrued, with the gang believing their dear friend has been captured by a hideous creature, the "Backson," so they attempt to capture him in a pit rigged with bait. All the while, Pooh finds himself distracted by his perpetually unsatisfied tummy, which yearns for some sweet, sweet honey, and in the end, must choose between satisfying his appetite and helping his dear friend. Which do you think he chose? And does he get to have his cake and eat it too? Of course.

The animation is absolutely superb, every character is filled with energy and life. The small scale nature of the story allows for many great moments of characters just engaging each other, like Owl dictating to Pooh and Eeyore of what they should do about the missing tail, or a fantastic back-and-forth about not being about to knot ("Knot those pieces?" "Not these pieces?") The performances are great too, those there is some variance. Tom Kenny and Craig Ferguson give their own takes on Rabbit and Owl, but while they're not sound alikes of their original forms, they definitely capture the spirit and personality of the characters, whilst adding some new shades. Rabbit becomes the commander of the rescue mission, with bits of him making quirk, jerky body language orders which none of the gang can understand. Meanwhile, Owl's wise nature is turned into an almost cocky arrogance, nothing really out of malice though... mostly. I like it though. Jim Cummings takes over for two main characters Pooh and Tigger; his Pooh is absolutely spot-on, his Tigger's a little wavery (at times he sounds a bit like Pete), but I still enjoyed his performance. Pixar alum Bud Luckey is also fabulous as Eeyore.

Even with its simple story, the film is still incredibly engaging, with its characters and visual style. The watercolored backgrounds, and some of the different set pieces are amazing, like the Backson number all depicted on a chalkboard, and Pooh's extravagant honey daydream. The sequence of him getting taken up in a honey wave is spectacular... the way it's textured and shimmers makes it almost seem CG, but it's all traditional (well, it is computer assisted, but not three dimensional). I don't know to what effect I can dissect a movie like this; it's got so many small nuances to it. It's actually really funny, filled with a lot of clever bits and sometimes out-of-left-field jokes, like Pooh's oblivious abuse toward an eternally loyal Piglet. The songs by Zooey Deschanel, including her cover of the theme, fit perfectly with the tone. I also love the end credits, featuring the stuffed animals recreating scenes from the movie, and then the credits themselves featuring bits of animation, and the post-credit scene featuring the Backson himself, actually sort of a nice guy. With credits, the film barely clocks in at an hour, which really does seem like the right length. Never did the movie feel like it was dragging, but you wouldn't want it to be any longer. It's perfect as it is.

Verdict? A spectacular little film that I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would. Visually gorgeous, unusually sharp and clever, and filled with a lot of great character performance and animation. It proved these characters could still be used to engage a wide audience, appealing to everyone if they'd give it a chance. And though I wish it had gotten more promotion, I kind of liked how this was treated a bit more low-key. I think one of Disney's problems was its revving up their newest canon's film as an epic film of incredibly amazing awesomeness. They could easily have larger scale movies, but also complement them with ones like this, that are more grounded, smaller stories that are perfect for what they are.

And, looks like that's it. Took almost two years to bring this thing up to date, but there it is.

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