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Silly old bear is back for nostalgic fun

Hand-drawn ‘Winnie the Pooh’ recalls innocent spirit for younger children

POSTED: July 14, 2011 12:30 a.m.
/AP Photo/Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Animated characters from left, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Piglet, Owl, Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin are shown in a scene from "Winnie the Pooh."

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All hail Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall, the co-directors of "Winnie the Pooh."

Just as it seemed almost impossible that "Deathly Hallows II" would be as good as we hoped, I thought it impossible that someone could bring the Winnie the Pooh franchise up to date with 2011 without losing the earnest, innocent spirit that made many of us love the silly old bear many years ago.

Yet that's exactly what they have done. Call this the Week of Impossible Films.

"Winnie the Pooh" makes few of the mistakes that reboots of family franchises tend to make. There is no effort to fill the cast with the celebrities of the month. The most well-known names in the cast are John Cleese and Craig Ferguson, both of whom are excellent by the way.

Disney didn't make this a computer-generated 3D extravaganza, either. "Winnie the Pooh" is hand-drawn. No other style of animation would be appropriate, and kudos go to Anderson, Hall, executive producer John Lasseter and everyone else involved in that decision.

Nor is Pooh somehow made edgier to appeal to older kids. They did recruit a celebrity to perform most of the songs, but it's Zooey Deschanel, hardly a pop sensation.

No, little of this movie seems to be the product of market testing or callous calculation. Instead, it's a loving revival of dear friends.

"Winnie the Pooh" takes Christopher Robin's stuffed animals back to their roots, in story and tone. Pooh (voiced by franchise veteran Jim Cummings) awakes one morning with a belly grumbling for honey. His appetite leads him into amusing encounters with Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit and Tigger.

The story really begins, though, when Pooh comes across Eeyore (voiced perfectly by Bud Luckey), who is as depressed as ever over his lost tail. Pooh then finds a note from Christopher Robin.

Naturally, Pooh and Eeyore consult with their resident reader and font of wisdom, Owl, whose reading comprehension has unfortunately not improved over the years.

Owl convinces the crew that Christopher has been captured by a creature called a Backson, so they all embark on a rescue mission with, as they say, hilarious results.

"Winnie the Pooh" is for young children, exactly as it should be. There isn't anything even in the neighborhood of inappropriate and it's a lean 69 minutes long, which shouldn't put the wee attention spans to the breaking point.

And yet, this is one of the wittiest G-rated movies I have ever seen. I laughed a lot, and not that slightly affected laughter that we parents do to enhance the experience of our children.

This is a surprisingly funny movie.

Anderson and Hall previously worked together on "Meet the Robinsons," an underrated, infinitely watchable and nearly as kid-friendly, computer-generated imagery feature. This duo seems to understand what appeals to the youngest of moviegoers. Thank goodness someone does.

The only baffling thing about "Winnie the Pooh" is that Disney chose to open it against "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II." The final Harry Potter was not made to be a kids' movie. It is PG-13 and very much earns that rating.

But the reality is, many parents take their young children to the Harry Potter movies. Why Disney would force "Winnie the Pooh" to compete against the most highly anticipated movie of the year is beyond me. It isn't fair to the filmmakers who have done such a wonderful job with the movie.

I'm not a nostalgic person by nature, but something just seemed perfectly right about sitting with my child watching a hand-drawn Winnie the Pooh movie. I hope my son will have the same experience with his own child someday.

 Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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