For Disney, Winnie the Pooh and all of his friends have been the gift that keeps on giving.
At one of the shortest run-times of any films in the animated canon (just 63 minutes), Winnie the Pooh tells a simple tale of how gloomy Eeyore lost his tail and his friends worked hard to help him find a new one. Meanwhile, the group misreads a note from Christopher Robin saying he’ll “be back soon” and instead fear he’s been captured by an imaginary beast they call the Backson, so they set off to come to his rescue. All the usual hijinks that befall Pooh and the gang occur.
It should be noted that, despite the library of Pooh titles that bear the Disney name, only this one and 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh were produced by Disney Animation Studios — and it’s only the third time a sequel has been included in the official canon.
Gaining the film rights in the 1960s proved to be a very lucrative move for the studio. The company has produced numerous featurettes, television shows, and feature films, both theatrical releases and direct-to-video, including favourites like The Tigger Movie, Piglet’s Big Movie, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie and Pooh’s Grand Adventure.
Because there is such a large gap between the first Pooh animated feature and this one, many of the voices are no longer the same and I found listening to the dialogue very distracting. Jim Cummings, who has been voicing Winnie the Pooh since 1988 and took over the voice of Tigger in 1990 (sounding remarkably like original voice actors Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell), is the only familiar voice in the lot. Instead, we’re treated to the voice talents of Craig Ferguson, as Owl, and John Cleese as the Narrator.
Despite the new voices, though, the studio went to great lengths to return to Pooh’s roots for this feature. Director Don Hall told the LA Times that this approach “meant two things: To go back to the books and try to mine everything we could from them, and then go back to the Disney roots from those early films.”
Animators studied Disney’s early Pooh shorts and original A.A. Milne tales for inspiration and even travelled to England to visit Ashdown Forest (or the real-life Hundred Acre Wood). Director Stephen Anderson aptly sums up why it would have been odd to use computer animation on this film. “These characters began life beautifully in simple pen and ink illustrations in the ’20s and then continued life as traditionally hand-drawn animation in the ’60s and early ’70s from Disney. So to us that is really the world they live in. That is the best way to put that charm and simplicity of the characters up on the screen.”
And he’s right. As much as the new voices distracted me during this film, watching CG versions of Eeyore and Tigger would have been more startling. Even so, this film is a standout oddity amid the computer-animation explosion that took over the studio. Director Hall was a relatively new addition to the studio, who first worked as an animator on Tarzan before working on The Emperor’s New Groove, Chicken Little and even The Princess and the Frog. But Hall is an idealist who worked for a long time to climb his way up the animation ladder at Disney. As an instructor in story development at CalArts, he was also a traditionalist. In many ways, being chosen to work on Winnie the Pooh was a chance to finally apply all that he had long preached about the glory days of animation. And he even tapped his own 12-year-old son to play Roo.
Pooh and his friends have been charming audiences since Milne’s original stories appeared in 1926. And, while not as charming as some of those Disney classics, Pooh’s latest tale of misadventure and mishap is just as charming.