Review: ‘Winnie the Pooh’
1. Most kids movies don't trust kids to have fun in the same fashion that parents don't trust kids to have fun. They offer up too much plot, too much whiz-bang spectacle, too much artificial whimsy, too much looky looky here. Kids have short attention spans, the thinking goes, so you must provide them structure and distraction and a schedule for fun. This isn't so far removed from Organized Play Time, or forcing kids into sports leagues that turn leisure activities into some sort of errand or chore. Nobody trusts kids to just play. Roll down a hill. Eat some grass. Go wander into a mud puddle. We don't want our kids to amble. We want them to march, forward.
2. "Winnie the Pooh" wants kids to amble. The plot of "Winnie the Pooh" involves -- and I'm pretty sure I'm not missing any details here -- Pooh trying to find some honey and Eeyore trying to find his tail. That is all that happens, and all that is going on. Pooh runs into a couple minor misadventures, and there is a minor misunderstanding, and some other things happen, and then Pooh gets his honey and Eeyore finds his tail and everyone goes home happy. The movie is only 68 minutes long -- and honestly, I think it's shorter than that; my screening started at 2:30 and I was out the door and on the street by 3:30 -- but it still takes its time. It just lets everyone sort of roam around, finding their own fun. What does Pooh want? Pooh wants honey. So he's trying to go find honey. How much more plot do you need, really?
3. One of the major charms of "Winnie the Pooh" is that you could have told me it was made in 1958, and if it weren't for the obvious, gorgeous improvements in animation, I'd believe you. There are no attempts to "modernize" the story or the characters; initially that was the plan with "Pooh," before Disney wised up and realized that the movie simply needed to be as simple and graceful as the original A.A. Milne books themselves. The animation really is lovely, including a fantastical sequence in which Pooh imagines a whole world made exclusively of honey. This is how I feel when I need a drink. This is how kids probably feel about everything.
4. My favorite Winnie-the-Pooh character was always Piglet; we Midwesterners have an inherent identification with the poor sap who tries so desperately to keep up a happy face when the world is collapsing all around us. I suspect my East Coast brethren is more drawn to droopy old Eeyore, whom, mercifully, no one tries to ply with Zoloft. The one Pooh character I never got was Rabbit: He's essentially a limp Bugs Bunny knockoff, a would be schemer in a happy world that requires no scheming. Then there is Pooh, poor Pooh, just looking for honey, polite, urbane, how-do-you-do, might I please have some honey please oh please oh please. He's a pretty pleasant little tour guide through the Hundred Acre Wood, for an addict.
5. In a charming nod to days of yore, Pooh and his friends walk around within the pages of the Milne book in which they are characters, sometimes tripping over letters and, in one inspired sequence, using a sentence as a rope to climb out of a pit. (They even interact with narrator John Cleese.) It's a sneaky, inventive way to get kids to read, but I bet it won't work. "Winnie the Pooh" will entrance your kids and make them giggle and laugh and use their imaginations and want to create whole adventures ... and they'll make so much noise on the way home that you'll give them an iPhone game to play so you'll have some peace and quiet already. The world is too loud and beeping for Pooh to thrive anymore, but doggone it if he doesn't try anyway. As long as there is some honey.