Winnie the Pooh, Disney's latest film revival of A.A. Milne's "willy, nilly, silly old bear," is longer on charm than it is on laughs. Or length. But it's a treat for children making their first trek to the multiplex and for parents and grandparents with fond memories of the "Hundred Acre Wood."
This Pooh is a musical homage to the 1960s Pooh short films, adding new songs (by Book of Mormon composer Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and a lovely revival of the Winnie the Pooh title tune, winsomely sung by Zooey Deschanel. And if the animation doesn't have quite the hand-colored warmth of those older cel-animated classics, it more than does justice to the world's favorite "tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff."
Co-writer/directors Stephen J. Anderson (Meet the Robinsons) and Don Hall, with the help of five other credited screenwriters, emphasize Pooh's literary roots, making Winnie work his way through paragraphs and pages of words -- literal words that collapse into piles of letters at Pooh's bidding.
"Is there honey in this paragraph?"
This ‘Winnie the Pooh’ is a musical homage to the 1960s short films.
There had better be, because "I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me," he sighs. Voice actor Jim Cummings does a great impersonation of the late Sterling Holloway, the original Pooh, as well as Paul Winchell, the original voice of Tigger.
The story is as simple as any Pooh picture. The bear is out of honey "and a Pooh bear takes care of his tummy." But Pooh also has "a very important thing to do." Sad old Eeyore (voiced by Bud Luckey) has lost his tail and the manic Rabbit (Tom Kenny) and verbose Owl (Craig Ferguson) make various plans and proposals for rounding up a replacement.
Eeyore is all about the puns this time out. A balloon as a substitute tail?
"I'm still up in the air about it."
There's a lovely little chalkboard animation interlude, some mild moments of alarm as Owl misreads "Back Soon" on Christopher Robin's note as "Backson," a beast that must have kidnapped the little boy who usually solves their problems for them. And Pooh sings, especially when he hallucinates about his favorite treat -- "Everything is Honey."
It's a funnier, more sophisticated and more nostalgic trip to the woods than Pooh's Heffalump Movie or the most recent Tigger and Piglet pictures. The messages sink in about childish forgetfulness and putting the needs of others ahead of your own honey lust.
Mainly, though, it's nice to see that Disney wants to introduce tykes to the magic of going to the movies with family fare this gentle and warm.
As always, Pooh stars in a very short movie, the idea being that like his youngest fans, he doesn't have the attention span to carry a full-length feature. But this Winnie the Pooh is augmented by a delightful 2-D animated short, The Ballad of Nessie, a fanciful version of how the Loch Ness Monster came to create Loch Ness. Nessie is narrated in Dr. Seuss-style rhymes by Scottish comic Billy Connolly.
WINNIE THE POOH
Directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall. Screenplay by Anderson, based on the characters created by A.A. Milne. A Walt Disney Pictures release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated G. Running time: 107 minutes.
Critic's rating: ***
Narrator (voice) .......... John Cleese
Winnie the Pooh and Tigger .......... Jim Cummings
***** Outstanding; **** Very Good; *** Good; ** Fair; * Poor.