Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 69 minutes
MPAA Rating: G Age Appropriate for: All. There’s absolutely nothing offensive here, but the youngest of the young — like, 2-year-olds — may be a little scared by the Backson, the monster Pooh and his friends fear. But you wouldn’t bring a toddler to a movie anyway, right?
We live in a time when children’s classics are too often updated and modernized for a current audience, abandoning the simplicity and charm they once had for special effects and cheap laughs. Thankfully, ‘Winnie the Pooh’ rejects that formula, keeping things as innocent — and wonderful — as they always were.
By Roxana Hadadi
Winnie the Pooh is a pretty simple bear. He just wants to snack on some honey, see his friend Eeyore crack a smile and figure out why his neighbor Owl is such an insufferable know-it-all. In “Winnie the Pooh,” the bear can barely catch a break — but as we see him and his friends come together to figure out why their beloved Christopher Robin has mysteriously disappeared, we’re the ones who get to relive the charm of A. A. Milne’s books. And by “we,” I mean old people. “Old people” here basically means anyone older than 13 or 14, anyone who themselves grew up with Pooh and who devoured Milne’s tales before fancy CGI or 3-D animation found its way into children’s films. At a recent screening of “Winnie the Pooh,” a fair amount of 4- to 8-year-olds just didn’t seem that jazzed by the movie: They got up and walked around, they begged for snacks, they played with toys they had brought instead of watching the 68-minute film. Meanwhile, their parents were the ones hypnotized by the film’s nostalgic wonder. Is “Winnie the Pooh” too boring for children, with its lack of explosions, car chases or devious villains? Maybe. But they’re better off, and so are you, if you actually see it.
It’s going to be hard this weekend, since “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is also coming out, for “Winnie the Pooh” to make too much money. But for children younger than 13, “Winnie the Pooh” is undeniably enjoyable, an amusing adaptation of Milne’s books that literally transports their pages to the big screen. Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger and everyone else interact with the letters themselves, bumping into paragraphs and typography as they cavort around the page. Narrator John Cleese guides the film — based on two stories from 1926’s “Winnie-the-Pooh,” “In Which Eeyore Loses a Trail and Pooh Finds One” and “In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump,” and one from 1928’s “The House at Pooh Corner,” “In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day and We Learn What Christopher Robin Does in the Mornings” — in a cute, patient way that doesn’t rush the characters or audience despite the film’s short length. “Just take your time,” he says to Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) as the bear struggles to form a thought, but Cleese isn’t being degrading or mocking; it’s the gentle suggestion we all know Pooh needs. As for those stories, they all sound pretty vanilla, and they are: First Pooh deals with not having any honey to eat, then Eeyore (voiced by Bud Luckey) loses his tail and the Hundred Acre Wood friends have to come together and try to find a replacement, and finally their human friend Christopher Robin (who actually is imagining all their adventures together; voiced by Jack Boulter) leaves a note telling them where he’s going for the day. But none of the Hundred Acre Wood inhabitants can really read, of course, so they misinterpret the note as evidence of Christopher Robin’s kidnapping by the Backson monster, who grows ever more terrible and weird as Owl (voiced by Craig Ferguson) dreams him up. The themes here are overwhelmingly about loyalty, friendship and encouragement, and directors Stephen J. Anderson, Don Hall and their team of seven other writers (so many!) let those shine instead of piling on unnecessary visual details.
The wonder of the film for children, though, will probably come for the various animation styles at play: The straightforward, clean nature of Hundred Acre Wood, then the brighter, chalkboard-style of the scene when Owl describes the Backson, and the interactive points when Pooh bumps into letters, or Tigger (also voiced by Jim Cummings) bounces over them, or Eeyore gets tangled in them and dejectedly says something morose about it. The songs are good, too — actress and singer Zooey Deschanel lends some lilting, folksy tracks — and the musical exchange about the Backson, led by Ferguson, will especially get trapped in your head. Did you know the monster scribbles in your library books and tangles up your Christmas tree hooks? Seriously, a huge jerk. The characters are just as we expected, thankfully, a familiarity that immediately makes us all the more engrossed in the proceedings. For young viewers who may know Pooh from nighttime reading or TV, this is a smooth transition to the big screen, defined by Pooh’s good intentions, Eeyore’s nihilism, Tigger’s energy and Piglet’s (voiced by Travis Oates) eventually bravery. Children will recognize them and love them — and parents will, too.