Wednesday 20 April 2011

Winnie the Pooh Review - No Bother

This review is of a film that I very much wanted to see, the classically animated and wonderfully charming, Winnie the Pooh. However, as regular blog followers will know, I was unsure how good it would be. I knew a Winnie the Pooh film would be charming, funny and nostalgic, but would it be "the defining film"? Would it be great? Or just good? Would it be purely a nostalgia film, or could it sustain itself? I found that Winnie the Pooh faced some of the same questions that I aimed at Toy Story 3. Fortunately, Winnie the Pooh - like TS3 - did not disappoint.

Winnie the Pooh is the 51st animated film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, a studio that I, this past week, looked in depth at, surmising that it may be on the dawn of a Third Golden Age. Disney has had its up and its downs, and Winnie the Pooh is definitely an up, but is it the film that could propel Disney into its much needed rejuvenated Third Golden Age? I'm not sure, but it certainly continues Disney's recent string of successes.

The film is, simply put, wonderful. It is a brilliantly magical, charming and utterly enthralling romp through the Hundred Acre Wood, that draws heavily on nostalgia. The film, and its charm, is predicated on childhood exposure to Christopher Robin and his toys and, mainly, a love of the last great Pooh film - the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. However, nostalgia is not an inertial element, sure, those of us who have invested so many years into the characters and A.A. Milne's wonderful world of Winnie the Pooh will get that bit more out of it (similarly to how those of us who grew up with Toy Story, got more out of the third film, emotionally speaking), however the film is not reliant on that. Winnie the Pooh, as in this film, not the franchise, can stand up on its own, it will entertain a new generation. The film has enough funny jokes, catchy songs and loveable characters to enthrall anyone. But how good is this? Will it satisfy die hard Pooh fans?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is coming up:

Regardless of whether or not you've seen any previous Pooh films (remember this is the latest in a long line of Pooh films, though the first that felt as if it could live up to the 1977 original Pooh feature film), the film will pack a LOT of heart and warmth, just simply because of the wonderfully innocent dialogue and the instantly loveable characters. The script is wonderful, every line delivered is delightful and funny, yet the comedy stems from the innocence of the characters and the words spoken, not from silly slapstick or pop culture jokes, that is always a plus in my book and I'm glad Disney didn't pollute Winnie the Pooh with something that would've felt out of place, like pop culture jokes.

The film is very funny, the script is great and the general feel of the film is fantastic. Every situation in the film is good and there's nothing that feels like filler. However, arguably the best point of the film, as it should be in any film, is its characters.

The film draws on its fantastic established characters, regardless of your age, gender, race or, just about, anything else, you HAVE to love Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet et al. These are characters that were created to be loved, they are characters that symbolise the childhood that every single one of us loved and that we all miss, this means it is a very personal film, it has something to say for all of us. None of the characters feels warped or changed for the worse by time, none seem polluted by consumerism, yet at the same time, they don't seem stagnant, they're not just rehashing previous films or going through the motions, they seem as if they have never been away. This means the characters, and by association the film, are all the better.

However, there are a few changes to the characters, namely, the voice actors. Obviously, it would be impossible for the 1977 cast to return - given that most of them are now unfortunately dead - but, the characters we know and love are brilliantly voiced by a new generation. The good thing about this is that these voices, recognisable from modern programs and films, is that this new generation of voices will draw in a new generation of fans. The main examples of this are with Winnie the Pooh and Rabbit: Pooh is voiced by Jim Cummings (as is Tigger), who has voiced a character in oh so many animated films over the years - including The Lion King, The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog and, most recently, as Featherstone the Flamingo in Gnomeo and Juliet. Obviously using such an easily recognisable and diversely talented voice actor will only work wonders for the film. Secondly, Rabbit is voiced by Tom Kenny, who voices Spongebob Squarepants, obviously the allure of this voice in a film mainly targeted at kids is irresistible. However these new voices don't just bring more cash flow to Disney, but a new lineage and generation to the characters that we all love so much.

However, while I am on the subject of characters, I am brought to one of my few criticisms with the film, the lack of something new. Sure, this is a whole new story, not based on A.A. Milne's original stories like the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was, and so brings a brand new adventure for Pooh and friends. But, the film is nothing groundbreaking, in an attempt to not dishonour the great memory of Pooh, Disney haven't tweaked the formula a lot, the film simply follows Pooh's endeavours to find some honey... again. While the film is still great, the lack of something new may wind some up the wrong way. For example, there really isn't any new characters in the film, unless you count balloon, and I don't... because it's a balloon... and doesn't do anything... because it's a balloon. The lack of the new characters is fairly strange for a sequel and it is one of the few quibbles I have with the film, however because of my undying love for all of these characters, I'm inclined to let it go this time.

My next point on Winnie the Pooh is the songs, much in the same spirit as its 1977 predecessor, the film uses songs to enhance the narrative and give a thought track to the characters. I personally like the simple songs, they are very catchy and memorable, however, more importantly, they keep in the spirit of the film. The songs, like the film as a whole, are wonderfully innocent and sweet, it all adds to the general feel of the film, enhancing the experience as a whole. My personal favourite song is the one about "the backson" (which you can listen to above), which I suppose is the film's "villain" (in reality a huge misunderstanding based on Christopher Robin's spelling of "back soon"), which - on a similar level to the Ruffian's Bar song in Tangled - is just really funny and clever and, as hitherto mentioned, keeps in the theme of the film. So, I really like the songs in Winnie the Pooh, they add to the feel of the film and, as I said in my review of Rio, they're not overused.

While talking about the feel of the film, one of things I most love about Winnie the Pooh - both the franchise and this film - is the uniquely innocent art style. The animation here is fantastic, it is simple, classic and vintage (if you'll forgive all of the cliches), it is a very old school magical animation technique that just feels so at home in a Winnie the Pooh film, however, it looks bang up to date.

Now, if I had to pick one more criticism with the film, I'd have to say the length of it. While this could just be me being sad that another wonderful adventure through the Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh and friends ever had to end, it is also purely observation. The film just comes in at over an hour (sans the credits), while it's much better than the film going longer and risking falling flat, it felt quite short. It felt more like a TV special than a film, however, to be honest, I'd love to see even a Pooh TV special, just because of my perpetual adulation of Winnie the Pooh. Sure, I'd have liked the film to last longer, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

As you may have noticed reading this review, my opinion is fairly obvious, these small niggles pale in comparison to what was an utterly enjoyable, loveable and enthralling trip into the innocent, charming and nostalgic world of Christopher Robin's imagination. These problems stop the film being perfect, but are nowhere near enough to stop it being great. I loved Winnie the Pooh and am sure that fellow die-hard Pooh fans and occasional moviegoers alike will adore it as well.

Unfortunately US fans will have to wait until July to see Winnie the Pooh, but for now they can be safe in the knowledge that it will be worth the wait. I'm not really sure that this is "the defining film" we've been waiting for, but it's very close, my second favourite Disney film from the last ten years (behind Tangled) and another solid film in the Disney animated film canon, pushing us ever closer to that Third Golden Age that we've been so desperate for.

I would give Winnie the Pooh a resounding 9/10 and encourage anyone and everyone to see it ASAP.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know with the reaction feature below. Also, feel free to leave your thoughts below in the comments section!

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