The thoroughly wonderful Winnie the Pooh is one of the best movies of the year, an unexpected treat that’s genuinely funny and sweeter than honey.
Forget computer animation, 3D glasses and modern motion-capture technology. This ink and water-color work of art is a witty and welcome return to the beautifully hand-drawn look of the Hundred Acre Wood portrayed in Disney’s 1977 The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
That classic, adapted from tales written by Pooh creator AA Milne and illustrated by EH Shepard, was more faithful than some later Disney projects to the appearance and tone of the original works. (The studio’s bizarre CGI series My Friends Tigger and Pooh that aired on the Disney Channel, for example, is best forgotten.)
Winnie the Pooh is Disney’s fifth Pooh-related theatrical feature. Like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which was comprised of three 1960s animated shorts and an added farewell scene, Winnie the Pooh is adapted from three stories by Milne and Shepard.
Aside from Christopher Robin, who has become more big-eyed and contemporary looking, all of the characters here are pretty much identical to their original Disney incarnations. Also, the storybook-setting gimmick used in the 1960s is employed to even greater effect here. Pooh and his pals frequently interact with words on the pages that tell their tales, and they sometimes talk to the movie’s offscreen narrator (amusingly voiced by Monty Python‘s John Cleese).
The events in the new movie take place over the course of a single day. After a live-action opening that echoes the first Disney Pooh movie by showing a real boy’s bedroom and his stuffed animals, we encounter the always-hungry-for-honey Pooh (Jim Cummings, who also provides the voice for the hyperactive Tigger), the amusingly depressed donkey Eeyore (voiced by Bud Luckey, last heard as Toy Story 3‘s Chuckles the Clown), nervous but eager-to-please Piglet (Travis Oates), manic Rabbit (SpongeBob SquarePants‘ Tom Kenny), the delightfully self-impressed Owl (Craig Ferguson) and others.
The plots include a competition to find a replacement for Eeyore’s missing tail, and everyone’s efforts to capture an unknown monster known as the Backson (after Owl misreads a note that actually means “back soon”). Pooh’s theme, the closing-credits song “So Long” and others are sung by actress Zooey Deschanel without a hint of cynicism. Various cast members perform six songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez that are up to Disney’s usual high musical standards.
The short (63-minute) but not too short feature is preceded by a new cartoon called The Ballad of Nessie, about the friendship between a young Loch Ness monster and a rubber duck. Also, be sure to stay until the end of Winnie the Pooh‘s credits for a very funny bonus scene that is well worth the wait.
Director/screenwriters Stephen Anderson and Don Hall, and the movie’s other writers, do such a good job here that it’s hard not to hope another trip to the Hundred Acre Wood will be in their future — and ours.