(by Dustin Putman
If "Winnie the Pooh" were any lighter, it would float away like a big red helium balloon. At 68 minutes (just around an hour without the end credits), the film is as quaint as a children's film released in 2011 could ever hope to come. There is also something quite charmingly gentle about it. Kids love the anthropomorphized characters who reside in Hundred Acre Wood—honey-loving Pooh Bear (voiced by Jim Cummings); excitably bouncy Tigger (Jim Cummings, again); the only occasionally wise Owl (Craig Ferguson); adorable Piglet (Travis Oates); gloomy donkey Eeyore (Bud Luckey); garden-obsessed Rabbit (Tom Kenny); and mother-son Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall)—and their appeal should not be lost upon grown-ups who remember loving them, too, when they were little. This latest theatrical addition to the franchise, which began as a novel by A. A. Milne all the way back in 1926, stays true to its roots almost to a fault. Unfortunately, because the film is so hesitant to do anything new or fresh, it often feels like an uncreative retread aimed most predominately at 3- to 6-year-olds. It's a charmer, yes, but let's just say it has none of the nostalgic emotion of its wonderful, somewhat misleading trailer (which put Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," MIA from the finished picture proper, to impeccable use). Article continues below
Winnie the Pooh and all his friends are stuffed animals owned by the young Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter), their adventures happening in the little boy's mind and within the pages of the books he reads. It is within these imaginings that Winnie wakes to find his perpetually hungry tummy grumbling somethin' fierce. While in search of some honey, he stumbles upon Eeyore and gets mixed up in helping to find the woe-is-me donkey a new tail (his old one is nowhere to be found). When a note on Christopher Robin's door is found, the group work themselves into a frenzy when they suspect the dreaded Backson creature is responsible for his disappearance. In actuality, he has merely misspelled that he will be "back soon," but that doesn't stop them from plotting to trap the pesky beast. As the day grows long, Winnie the Pooh begins to wonder if he might ever get the chance to eat again.
Directed by Stephen Anderson and Don Hall (the respective helmer and writer of 2007's "Meet the Robinsons"), "Winnie the Pooh" doesn't try very hard, but almost doesn't have to in order to delight its target pint-sized audience. There is something of a moral about the value of teamwork, but otherwise the story is exceedingly simple, straightforward, and purely diverting. Why a ludicrous seven people are responsible for said tale is anyone's guess. Stakes are notably low, conflict doesn't get much more perilous than a growling tummy, and when it ends don't be shocked to be taken aback by how very abbreviated and inconsequential the whole thing is. Nevertheless, there is value to the film—it will be ideal for little kids making their first trip to the movie theater, as long as they are still old enough to sit still and be captivated for an hour—and it's nothing if not sweet and lovingly animated. The songs, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (who also voices Kanga) and Robert Lopez, range from catchy to forgettable, but all of them excel by way of Zooey Deschanel's gorgeous, melodic vocals. Deschanel's contributions should not be downplayed; one of the biggest treats of the movie is in listening to her singing over the welcome hand-drawn images.
"Winnie the Pooh" doesn't mean much in the long run—would it have hurt the filmmakers to have given the project a little more substance?—but treated as a rite of passage in one's early childhood, it will work wonders. Winnie is as cute and funny as ever, Eeyore is a dryly self-deprecating pleasure, and Owl is consistently amusing in his know-it-all ways (regardless of whether he knows anything on the topic at hand or not). Piglet and Tigger, meanwhile, are underused, perhaps because they both have recently been given their own films to headline (2000's "The Tigger Movie" and 2003's "Piglet's Big Movie"). As nice as the movie is, it is difficult to not experience mild disappointment during the live-action end credits—sentimental snapshots within a young boy's bedroom—which suggest a more thoughtful (rather than plainly silly) feature than what has just been seen. The irresistible animated short "The Ballad of Nessie" coming attached to multiplex prints of "Winnie the Pooh" is actually a more appropriate precursor, and has a lot more to say about the nature of one's feelings and the universal longing for acceptance. Still, even if it could have been better all around, "Winnie the Pooh" is far too harmless and earnest to dislike. The only product placement are the wonderful characters themselves.