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In the nearly twenty years we have been writing as Cranky, we have learned that seeing more than half a dozen hands on the story or screenplay credit line is usually a solid clue that whatever emerges from the creative cluster frenzy will be a mess. We didn't have a copy of the credits, or notes of any kind when we sat for Disney's newest version of Winnie the Pooh, which is . . .
IN SHORT: Glorious. [Rated G. 69 minutes]
In the beginning, a writer and editor for the British humor magazine called Punch, one Alan Alexander Milne. began writing poems and stories based upon the stuffed animals found in the room of his son Christopher Robin. So Disney's newest big screen adaptation begins in a re-creation of Christopher Robin's room -- authentic pictures of the room survive and all the animals save one still exist and are placed gently into their places. Soon the fourth wall is broken -- stuffed toys become moving animations. The words read by narrator John Cleese come dripping and sliding off the page, interacting with the situations nin the very story they are describing.
Rules being rules and all: we don't compare to Source material. In our case said material is not the original story (which was probably read to us by the parental units decades ago) but the adaptation first seen (we think) on Disney's Wonderful World of Color television program in the 1960s. We're guessing at that. We don't remember seeing the Winnie the Pooh short films on the big screen, and can remember every minute of the day we saw Mary Poppins so the family's black and white teevee is what we're going with. Yeah, we watched the Wonderful World of Color on a black and white set. The very definition of oxymoron. But we've wandered way off the heart of the matter . . .
A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, then as now, is perhaps the most perfect story ever written for single digit kidlets. It's principal characters were created by the stars of the time; Sterling Holloway as Pooh, Paul Winchell asTigger and narrated by Sebastian Cabot and its stories were all simple enough for any little kid to lock on to. What Walt Disney managed to do -- the first two Pooh short films were the last projects Disney was associated with prior to his death -- was make the 'toons accessible to adults on an entirely separate level. Those who have taken basic psychology or drama classes in college are probably familiar with the concept of the "inner child". Disney was the first to unlock that connection. It was something that was forgotten for years after his death
That this newly constructed version of Pooh should touch us as deeply, now that we've passed the half-century mark proves, at least to us, that even though every child forgets everything that happens to them between the ages of one to five, emotional ties are constructed during those years that run so silent and deep that, every once in a while, we found our self giggling like a three year old. Walt Disney knew how to make his features work on two levels. That knowledge was lost until the emergence of Pixar and its very successful merger with the animation giant. All is once again well in the 'toon world.
In the Twenty-First Century, narrator's Cleese tells a new story of the Hundred Acre Wood created by AA Milne and illustrator Ernest (EH) Shepard about 85 years ago. Given that there have been oodles of made for TV cartoon and patched together movies certain basic elemets remain so that the tiniest viewer has something to lock on to. Eeyore (voiced by Bud Lucky) has, once again, lost his tail and he needs a new one. Pooh's tummy wants honey, and it is rather insistent about being fed this time out. Finally, Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter) has gone missing . . .stolen from the Hundred Acre Wood . . .wait a second. WHAT???
If you think for one second that Disney has inflicted that modern parental nightmare into the ever so gentle and cuddly Winnie the Pooh universe, we suggest you find yourself a very expensive headshrink and book yourself a couple of weeks of 24/7 therapy. Of course they haven't. We were just testing y'all to see if you actually were bothering to read this text (or just skipping to the rating at the end. You know you do . . .)
So. Christopher Robin is missing. He's left a note for his friend Pooh, who knows a letter or two -- rember that Pooh is self-described as "a bear of very little brain and long words bother me." -- and the bear passes said note on to the much wiser Owl (Craig Ferguson), who has a better grasp of the fundamentals of the English language. So Owl "reads" the note that says that Christopher Robin is "gone away, back soon" yet interpret its as a message detailing Robin's kidnapping by a villain called "Backsun."
All the creatures of the Wood -- Winnie the Pooh and Tigger (Jim Cummings does both voices), Piglet (Travis Oates) Eeyore (Bud Luckey), Rabbit (Tom Kenny), Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and Roo (Wyatt Hall) join forces to find and defeat said evil being by digging a big hole and camoflaging it as a picnic setting, with a big crock of honey in the center. After all, everyone likes honey. Right?
Adults reading this review have already figured out what is coming. Now do the more important thing and subtly glance over at your children as they figure out what is going to happen. Makes it all worth while, right?!
That's all the story a film aimed at single digits needs to have explained. We, on the other hand, write for the adults who get to lug said kiddies to the local cineplex. Does Disney's Winnie the Pooh work for those of us who locked their inner child away long, long ago?
Have I not done that dance to its very end? Your children -- those too young to be fully innoculatd by the Harry Potter madness splitting theater aisles like Charlton Heston did to a Hollywood parking lot to recreate the parting of the Red Sea (you'll understand once you see that film with older kidlets) will be swept away into the simplistic and spectacular Winnie the P ooh. As for the parental units, you'll be surprised how quickly all that repressed love for long forgotten stories will reemerge. You will be just as happy as your kiddies. And, delighting in that toasty glow, download yourselves any of a number of scenes from the film for your computer desktops. Also included is a very special picture of all the surviving animals from the chldhood of Christopher Robin Milne. Those in New York City can see them on display at the 42nd street library.
We don't, as a rule put the standard number on family films since they all eventually wear out in the DVD slots of home players. Then again, our site, our reaction and our decision to break the rules. So . . .
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Winnie the Pooh, he would have paid . . .
An animated short called The Ballad of Nessie opens the theater show. It is, essentially, an origin story of the Loch Ness monster.
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