Winnie the Pooh (2011)
Sunday, July 17, 2011 at 01:42PM
Ian Simmons in Winnie the Pooh [2011]

Sweet Surrender

The main reason I wanted to see Winnie the Pooh was to marvel at the lush ink-and-paint backgrounds that caught my attention in the trailer. In a medium so dominated by CGI wizardry, it's easy to forget that traditional artists are also capable of creating fully believable worlds with several well-placed hatch marks. The film is packed with beautiful, imaginative illustrations, and I was happily surprised to find the story to be just as captivating.

The plot is simple: Pooh (Jim Cummings) runs out of honey and must get more in order to silence his rumbling stomach. On a trip through the woods, he discovers that his friend Eeyore (Bud Luckey) has lost his tail; the wise-sounding know-it-all Owl (Craig Ferguson) proposes a contest to find a new tail--the prize for which will be a large pot of honey. As the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood experiment with tying umbrellas, cuckoo clocks and other trinkets to the sad-sack donkey's rear end, their human companion, Christopher Robin (Jack Boulter), turns up missing.

Actually, he's not missing at all. The animals misread the "be back soon" note he'd left as being a ransom letter from a mysterious monster called the "Backson". The friends split up the day between searching for Eeyore's new tail and laying a trap for the unseen creature; both endeavors lead to unexpected mini-adventures and a good deal of laughs.

I laughed a lot watching this movie. Co-writers/directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall (plus seven other credited screenwriters) bring Pooh and company into the era of meta-storytelling in ways that are clever but never precious. We've seen the real-world storybook introduction a hundred times in Disney movies, but in Winnie the Pooh, the text of the book becomes a physical object that must be contended with by the characters it describes. The Hundred Acre Wood is also an unreliable dimension, prone to ejecting its denizens from faded spot-illustration borders into the white-and-black uncertainty of the pages that contain it.

This is the stuff of genuine imagination, the idea that stories are transportive and have no constraints outside of a person's inability to dream something bigger. The closing credits play over still-life photos of the "real" Christopher Robin's room, in which stuffed-animal avatars of Pooh and his friends sit posed in scenes from the animated movie. It's a lovely, gold-lit slice of nostalgia that ties nicely in with the leisurely pace of the rest of the film.

I do have a couple complaints I'd like to register, though (of course!). One is a minor quibble with the film; the other is a potentially irrelevant gripe about the moviegoing experience. Please, bear with me.

When I heard Zooey Deschanel's first song in the movie, I couldn't stop thinking about the jingle she wrote for those Cotton commercials. After awhile, I got used to her singing, and even grew to like some of the songs. But to me, her voice is like a flat version of what Adele does with her music--which basically capitalizes on the boisterous, White-Girl-Motown schtick that Amy Winehouse still-birthed a few years back.

(This subjective complaint has been brought to you by Old Man's Ears: "Replacing 'hip' with 'hip-replacement!")

Next, I've gotta call Disney out on the run-time. Normally, I gripe about movies being too long. Winnie the Pooh is way too short. Granted, the filmmakers aren't telling a Harry Potter-level epic, but at 65 minutes (including credits), the suits are practically begging parents to stay home and wait for the video. They pad things out a bit with the lovely Billy Connolly-narrated short, The Ballad of Nessie, but I can only recommend people rushing out to see this movie if they smuggle snacks into a five-dollar matinee. Which is a shame, because I think this is a great big-screen experience.

Winnie the Pooh is an utterly engaging, silly fantasy filled with charmingly naive characters (Old Man Fingers almost typed "stupid") and a painstakingly illustrated world that has to be seen to be believed. My son is too young to have accompanied me to the theatre, and I was genuinely bummed that I wasn't able to share this film with him and my wife. Based on the "ooohs" and laughter of the kids (and adults) in my screening, though, I have a feeling that our eventual trip to the Hundred Acre Wood will be quite a lovely adventure.

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