Monday, June 13, 2011

The Magic of Pooh

Yesterday, on the last official day of the Seattle International Film Festival, Jon and I were privileged to see an advanced screening of Disney's new Winnie the Pooh movie—one month before it arrives in theaters.

Let me first say this: I love Winnie the Pooh.  I love him, Christopher Robin, and all of their friends.  I love absolutely everything about the stories, the television cartoons, the movies, and the Pooh-related mayhem that has surrounded this beloved bear for 85 years, with children and grown-ups alike.  (And, it must be added, "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride at Disneyland might be the most drugged-up, psychedelic, visual freak-out ride in the whole of Theme Park Universe—and I love it, too.)

Original story sketch for Winnie the Pooh (2011)
by Burny Mattinson, color by Paul Felix

I personally don't believe that there is any story (movie or book series) better for children than A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh.

And what makes the stories of this Pooh Bear so special?  Aside from the obvious kid-friendly themes and accessibility to audiences worldwide, I think you would be hard-pressed to find an assortment of characters who better portray what it means to be a child, growing up and discovering emotions that are essential to the human experience.

In watching or reading these stories, a child learns that it is okay to be scared (Piglet), wise (Owl), nurturing (Kanga), playful (Roo), confident (Tigger), sad (Eeyore), organized (Rabbit) and—of course—not very knowledgeable about the complicated ways of the world (Pooh).

Plus, we all get really hungry from time to time.

So.  How does the new movie live up to the Pooh legacy?  Disney gets a lot of credit from me here, because they could have chosen to make this film bigger, longer, and more kick-butt than all of its predecessors.  They could have taken the route that all "remakes" and "retellings" are taking nowadays, which is to assume that audiences need/expect visual eye-candy, lots of new characters, and high-stakes narratives in order to be entertained.

But Disney doesn't do this.  Instead, they stick to a simple, old-school philosophy: Don't fix what ain't broken.

The plot of Winnie the Pooh revolves around three major issues, and only three major issues: Eeyore's missing tail and the need to find a replacement; the rescue of Christopher Robin from a monster that Owl calls The Backson (which he misinterprets from a note from C.R. with the phrase "back soon" written on it); and, as usual, Pooh's rumbley-tumbley and his desire for honey.  The movie is only 65 minutes, and on a scale of 1-10 scores a '0' for suspense.  And yet, despite it's simplicity, I found that I could not stop laughing; I could not stop turning to Jon with my face clenched tight, overwhelmed with the cuteness and creativity; I could not stop drowning in the nostalgia of being young, and remembering just how exciting and scary learning new things can be.

The writers capture A.A. Milne's playfulness of words and narrative beautifully, with a warmth and humor that rivals any comedy out this year.  The typical ways in which Pooh stories break down the 4th wall is heavily featured in this film, with Pooh often talking to the narrator (voiced by John Cleese) and the visual presence of words never letting you forget that—above all else—you are being told a story.

Viewers who are naturally more cynical will likely watch this movie and say, "This is nothing I haven't seen before," in which case, they'd be right.  There's nothing really surprising or enlightening about this movie, and really, it doesn't matter one bit.  Disney writers and animators use these familiar narrative devices with such care and devotion to the original stories and animations, it feels like Disney has gone back to its roots and created the perfect introductory Winnie the Pooh movie.  No Gopher, no Heffalumps, no adventures outside of the 100 Acre Wood.  Just a simple plot, with simple character motivations, and lots of heart.

Plus, it's hard not to love the new Pooh theme song, sung my Zooey Deschanel.  She's totes adorbs, ya'll.

If you were a fan of Winnie the Pooh growing up, or you have young children of your own, you will absolutely love this movie, and so will your kids.  I found myself gearing up to cry many times (though there was no ocean of tears like when I watched Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin over 10 years ago—that movie was just cruel), and the film really managed to make me feel like a kid again.

~ ~ ~

P.S. Be sure to stay for the credits.  They're easily as adorable and sweet as the movie.

P.P.S. If you do stay for the credits, keep your eyes peeled for my friend, Erin Senge (of Growing Up Senge), whose name appears as the Assistant to the Producer in the production staff.  Her daughter, Alice, is also featured under the list of "Pooh Babies"!  So cool!

* All images property of Disney Enterprises, Inc.found via Stitch Kingdom


  1. You have made me even more excited to see this movie! I need some simple magic in my life. I am so excited to be able to share Pooh and my favorite character (Roo, obvs) with Henry. Who's your favorite?

    P.S. The movie babies are one of my favorite parts about seeing animated films. I always stay to see that part of the credits.

  2. My favorite character (especially in this movie) is probably Eeyore. I can't help but love his solemn and sad attitude, and how his friends accept him no matter what. He's particularly funny in this movie, with some absolutely golden lines.

    (I even have an Eeyore stuffed animal that's missing his tail! :D)

  3. The Backson is voiced by Huell Howser! I knew that voice was familiar :D

  4. I just passed this around the office =)

    I hope Pooh fans of all ages (and even those who don't think they are fans) enjoy it as much as you did. I think it is very sweet and very clever and something that parents will enjoy watching with their kids. Which is good, because I have a feeling some kids (and certain production babies) will be watching it again and again and again and again...

    Thanks for the mention!

  5. I'm so in love. This was such a wonderful, sweet review - it even made me tear up a little. Ever since I heard Disney was making this, I was so excited - and from what I've seen (and now heard), it will be nothing short of incredible!

    No joke, I can't even hear someone talk about Pooh without the choke-up tears coming out, so I'm looking forward to a good cry, a good laugh, and plenty of cuteness. =)

    Thanks for the post!