Cynics and sentimentalists can debate whether Winnie the Pooh represents a renewed dedication to 2D animation by Disney, or another stab at sustaining a profitable merchandising brand. Whichever is the case, what isn’t debatable is that the new movie undoubtedly works as both a beautiful and innocent introduction to A. A. Milne’s characters and as a worthy companion to 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh. As children’s entertainment it’s impeccable, and even older viewers are likely to find themselves drawn in by its simple and irresistible charm. Pooh, Piglet, the donkey Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, Rabbit, Owl and Tigger are all here just as folks remember them at their best, and it’s a joyous experience to visit them once again.
A movie plot doesn’t get more straightforward than this one’s. Our silly old bear wakes up one morning starving for honey and heads out to find some, but he is quickly sidetracked by other matters. His friend Eeyore has somehow lost his tail, and so Pooh and the others try their best to help by finding an object to attach to replace it. They get close but nothing quite works right, and to make matters that much more vexing Pooh gets the group to declare a jar of honey the prize for the contest. It’s an amusing first act, if only for some of the physical humor the movie goes for—one attempt attaches a spring to Eeyore’s rear, leading to him bouncing like Tigger for a little while. It’s no surprise that matters are ultimately resolved near the end, but the way it’s done delivers a heartwarming message about Pooh’s kindly and selfless nature, and offers a good lesson for younger viewers.
The movie turns endearingly wacky when the animals find their child friend Christopher Robin absent from his usual haunt, having left only a badly written note saying “Gone Out Bizy Back Soon”. Led by the intellectual (but actually ignorant) Owl, who mangles the pronunciation of “Back Soon,” the gang decides that Christopher has been captured by a terrible creature, a “Backson,” that takes on horrifying dimensions in everyone’s overactive imaginations. They conjure a ridiculous and clichéd trap, thinking to lure the Backson into a deep hole with a horde of random possessions as bait. The Backson affair dominates most of the film, and is crammed with slapstick and all sorts character-driven humor, and things rise to outright hilarity when most of the group manages to fall into their own trap. It’s a veritable comedy of errors where one solution after another comes along, but in their own individual ways everyone is just a bit too innocent or simple to easily grasp them. In just one example, Owl delivers a rousing speech to give courage to the timid Piglet, supposedly their only hope for escape; no one notices or remarks on the fact that Owl flies himself out of the pit to deliver it.
Another source of entertainment is how the film takes on the guise of an animated story book and demolishes the fourth wall with a wrecking ball. As characters go about their adventures viewers will see their dialogue on a page while they’re saying it, Pooh knocks down hordes of letters more than once, and characters will interact with our unseen narrator.
All in all this is certainly a “safe” movie, but there are times when recalling past virtue is just as valuable as pushing new boundaries. That’s just what Winnie the Pooh does, affirming that the right mix of simple ideas and understated presentation can be just as effective and entertaining as an aspiring spectacle.
Correction (7/23): Due to an editor’s error, the original version of this review misrepresented the content of Christopher Robin’s note.