Here’s an odd choice for a sequel, if you can call it that. The original film, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”, was basically a short film compilation, literally cutting together a few old shorts to form a loose and meandering sort of narrative for the titular character. It’s regarded well in the Disney library, and there’s no denying the cute likability of Pooh Bear.
It’s an odd choice to revisit this franchise as the follow up to 2010’s “Tangled”, but not an unwelcome change of pace for the studio. It’s sort of intriguing to see them try and recapture the old style of children stories that they were producing back in the ‘60s. Mainly in terms of seeing what’s the same and what’s different. The simple fact of the matter is: they don’t make them like they used to.
The story is entirely original this time, with one basic plotline as the backdrop for the other misadventures. Eeyore (Bud Luckey) the manic depressive donkey has lost his tail, and all the other toys in the “Hundred Acre Wood” are in a contest to replace it. The winner gets a jar of honey, which Pooh is coincidentally out of. Added to this, the second main narrative is that Christopher Robin (Jack Boutler), or at least that’s what the imposter calls himself, disappears and the animals assume some beast took him captive. They set out to trap said beast and rescue the boy. Cute antics ensue. Also, credit must be given to Jim Cummings, who does a spot on impression of Sterling Holloway for Pooh.
That’s pretty much all there is to the story, and it serves its purpose well for these characters. There are a few things that make this movie far different from its predecessor, and the first is the animation. It’s obvious that a lot of love was put into this movie, particularly in trying to capture the charm of the old cartoons. The live action introduction with John Cleese as the narrator segueways directly into the opening of the book where the classic intro song kicks in. This time it’s performed by Zooey Deschanel, as are several other musical numbers, and they suit the tone and look of everything nicely.
The animation of everything, even in trying to emulate the old style, is about a hundred times better than the old cartoons could ever hope to look. There’s so much polish and fluidity to the characters and their movements that’s it pretty noticeable right off the bat. Some of this is reflected in the pacing and timing not just of the humor, but of the story itself.
Compared to the original, this is a much faster paced film. The first film was slow, sometimes even ponderous in its pacing. There was little direction of any kind when it came to what was happening or why. That’s just how the shorts were made, and it was the first thing to go this time around. This is paced much like any kid’s cartoon today, where characters are lively and animated in their movements and reactions. In some cases to the point where they’re no longer recognizable as the old characters. Rabbit (Tom Kenny) and Owl (Craig Ferguson) in particular, barely resemble the way they used to be portrayed. Christopher Robin is the only one to have been fully redesigned. With big cartoonish eyes and a fresh new look, he appears to have stumbled into this world from a different cartoon altogether. Is it because the old Christopher Robin is dead?
There are some nice and charming sequences in “Winnie the Pooh”, a few where they play around with the animation. It’s great to see the old storybook interactions again; where the paragraphs are something the characters can actually run into or break apart. There’s also a nifty fantasy sequence where Owl describes a monster to the other toys using a chalkboard, and the entire sequence takes on that look. Another is when Pooh, who has been starving and unable to eat the entire movie, begins to hallucinate and falls into a complete mental breakdown where everything turns into honey. It’s a fun sequence, despite the sad undertones, and looks great with the old style animation mixed with new to make the honey look like liquid gold.
In many ways “Winnie the Pooh” captures the same carefree childhood fun of the old film. It has a bit more purpose to it and moves along at a speedier pace, but that doesn’t do it any harm. What it lacks is some of the classic moments of the original, such as the more memorable songs, like “The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers” or even “Heffalumps and Woozles”. The entire series has always felt a bit more directed to smaller children than some of their other properties, but that said, as a piece of nostalgia and a cute bit of animation, perhaps that’s all it was ever meant to be.