Winnie the Pooh (2011)

So walked out of Christopher Robin last August pretty disappointed. I grew up on the original four Pooh featurettes plus the animated series, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I hold these guys near and dear to my heart. And yet…something was off about it. And to my surprise, I seemed alone in this discussion, as I had yet to hear a negative reaction to it. Oh, it had some good qualities, to be sure, but it failed to wow me, and it should have blown me away. I mean, I grew up on Pooh Bear, too, and now as an adult, I get the struggle to reconnect with your childhood. But it didn’t, and it made me very sad.

But bizarrely enough, this isn’t the first time this happened to me.

In 2009, I had heard that Disney was attempting to bring back Pooh, but there were a few twists: 1) It was to be hand drawn animation. 2) They were set to use more of A. A. Milne’s original stories, and 3) Several legendary animators, like Bruce W. Smith, Eric Goldberg, Mark Henn, Dale Baer, and Andreas Deja, were supervising animators on the project, with Deja – who was in charge of animating Gaston, Jafar, Scar, Hercules, Lilo, and Mama Odie – was tasked to draw my favorite character, Tigger. This sounded incredible!

So what did I think about it? Well, time to tell tales of the tummy-touting teddy in 2011’s Winnie the Pooh!

The plot: While on his usual hunt for his tasty treat, Winnie the Pooh (Voiced by the great Jim Cummings) stumbles upon Eeyore, who has lost his tail. Immediately the whole gang shows up to try to find a new tail for Eeyore with mixed results.

Afterward, Pooh finds a note from Christopher Robin, which Owl misreads, claiming the boy was kidnapped by a horrid creature called a Backson. Pooh and company launch an elaborate trap to ensnare the beast and force it to return Christopher Robin. Meanwhile, Tigger trains Eeyore to be a “Tigger Two” to combat the Backson. Also, Pooh struggles throughout the film to get something to eat.

How’s the writing?: If we’re going by the film’s structure, it’s fine. Pooh’s adventures are the stuff of shorts and featurettes, and not really applicable to full-length feature film status without a lot of padding. That’s why the original stories work best truncated into a half hour each. But instead, the movie weaves various plots throughout the runtime, braided together to allow a feature-length movie without feeling unwieldy or bloated. That part works.

What doesn’t work is the dialogue and characterization. For whatever reason, the sweet, gentle ambiance of the Hundred Acre Wood is replaced by these facsimiles that run contrary to who they are. Among its more egregious issues:

1. Rabbit, Owl, and Kanga bicker about who’s the most expendable to the Backson, with Roo suggesting Piglet by grumbling, “Send the pig.”

2. Eeyore’s one-liners are less pessimistic and dour, and more passive-aggressive.

3. Piglet is written especially dim. Aside from reminding Pooh the bear can’t read most words, he goes through a whole bit about not knowing how to save his friends out of a hole.

4. While Owl has always been a self-important person, here he seems exceptionally ego-driven. From writing his memoir to soaking up praise, never mind how he intentionally makes up the Backson concept, stirring up everyone. He is pressed for details, up to the point of asking others for input on why this made-up creature is so terrible.

5. Everyone seems to think B’loon…a balloon…is a real person. It’s not just personification, though. Rabbit literally gives B’loon a pot of honey to eat.

What happened to my friends? They used to be such sweet and simple characters, but here they’re just means to some cheap punchlines.

Does it give the feels?: Pooh and friends are great vehicles for honing in on the feels. But there’s a big chunk of something missing here.

With this crew of snarky stuffed toys, I feel nothing. They’re not the friends I’ve come to know them by. So the implicit charm these guys are supposed to have just isn’t there. Throughout the movie, Pooh is continually teased the taste of honey, and it hurts to watch. It makes me feel less sad for Pooh than it does anger me the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood keeps distancing Pooh from his favorite treat.

And as far as Christopher Robin…well, we can see from the get-go he’s not in any real danger, so we’re not worried for him. Exactly how can I be emotionally invested with this kind of compromising situation?

Who makes it worth it?: In this category, I’m torn. On one hand, Tigger is animated spectacularly, as expected. Deja put in the perfect amount of energy, vigor, and enthusiasm, as if he were just waiting to let loose. I wasn’t thrilled with Jim Cummings’ voice (No disrespect: Jim is amazing, but I miss the robustness of Paul Winchell), and his subplot with Eeyore felt like a rejected script from a TV episode.

On the other hand, Eeyore has the best voice actor behind him, Pixar story man, Bud Luckey. While I’m not a fan of the way he was written, Luckey was an excellent choice.

Best quality provided: This is one of those movies where if I’m not careful, I sound like a troll, because there’s so much about it I didn’t care for. So I wanted to parce out the good stuff in the name of fairness.

Bud Luckey’s voicing of Eeyore was great. Deja’s animation of Tigger was exquisite. The narrative structure was good. The backgrounds did evoke the feel of a classic Pooh short.

What could have been improved: Oh, so very much. But I went over the dialogue, the lack of emotion, and the characters’ attitudes. Let’s go over some of the other issues I had.

First is the animation. Besides Enchanted in 2007 and The Princess and the Frog in 2009, Disney had all but given up on hand-drawn animation. But while these two were animated with depth, passion, and style, Winnie the Pooh just feels like they didn’t care, and it’s a royal shame considering the talent behind these characters! For example, Bruce W. Smith, who created The Proud Family show and animated The Princess and the Frog‘s Dr. Facilier, was put in charge of Piglet, Kanga, and Roo. His style is very simple, yet kinetic, which often results in a lack of depth in them. Eric Goldberg is best known for drawing Aladdin‘s Genie and Fantasia 2000‘s “Carnival of Animals” sequence, so the man understands fast-paced movement and curves, but Rabbit constantly looks like he’s about to lose his mind. Mark Henn’s Pooh (Young Simba, Jasmine) looks fine, but he exercised “stretch and squash” a bit too far. If you think back to Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, watch how Pooh strikes the branches as he falls:

Ow! That looks painful! The way the camera shakes, his reaction, how he retains a solid shape…it looks like it genuinely hurts. Never mind we already feel empathy for him, so we feel concern. Compare that to this from the 2011 movie:

Wah wah! How wacky! Pooh’s just so silly! His head is so rubbery, he could pass for a Tom and Jerry character! In the long run, this reduces my empathy for Pooh. I mean, if he’s just another cartoon, why should I be concerned if he’s that rubbery?

Second is the songs. The music here was written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the same husband-and-wife songwriting that wrote the music for Frozen. Prior to this, they cut their teeth doing the music for Broadway’s Avenue Q and Walt Disney World’s Finding Nemo- The Musical. While I don’t knock their talent or success, the songs written here leave a lot to be desired. Sure, they had to follow in the footsteps of the Sherman Brothers, which is a tall order in and of itself, but they’re still songs for Winnie the Pooh. “The Tummy Song” is literally a duet with Pooh and his growling stomach. “It’s Gonna be Great” is obnoxious, never mind Tigger sings the title phrase 27 times (I counted!). “Everything is Honey” feels like a lilting commercial jingle that ends with Pooh eating mud. “The Backson Song” could have been fun, but it’s such a cacophony of cartoon voices it’s hard to listen to. But arguably the hardest one to listen to is the opening theme of “Winnie the Pooh”, sung by Zooey Deschanel. She has some decent pipes, but her wandering tone sounds like she’s fighting off a two o’clock nap, on top of sounding like she is terribly uninterested. It just sounds terrible. And this isn’t me hating on something because it’s not the original. As much as I like the men’s chorus if the original version, Carly Simon’s cover is gorgeous.

Verdict: I liked this movie fine when it came out. But then, I was probably just being a contrarian to all those Harry Potter fans since, you know, this movie came out the same day as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2. But now that I’m older, I’ve become more critical.

Now, I’m genuinely surprised so many liked it. It felt so hollow, despite its good intentions. While I’m not a fan of Christopher Robin, I do like that movie better than this one. The other one had frustrating elements, but it’s still passable. Here…it feels kind of mean-spirited. Like they wanted to get meta, or get “mature” in addressing the saccharine niceness of Pooh, but then remembered, “Hey, we’re Disney! We’re supposed to do this straight!” If you don’t believe me, watch the deleted scene, “Pooh Searches for a Tail”, where the joke is that Pooh is apparently too dumb to know when his posterior is on fire.

For this frustrating movie, I have to give it three ill-fitting Eeyore tails out of ten.

Oh Bother.

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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