Winnie the Pooh
The 'Pooh’ gang’s all here
If you’re a glass-half-empty type, you look at Disney’s recurring attempts to tweak Winnie the Pooh’s relevance - and profitability - and heave a sigh. There seems to be a “hey, whatever works’’ disregard about, say, selling 2000’s “The Tigger Movie’’ by sampling the boppy “Semi-Charmed Life’’ - a crystal meth tune! - for the trailer. The more recent Disney Channel series “My Friends Tigger & Pooh’’ eschewed the characters’ timelessly quaint hand-drawn aesthetic in favor of shiny, computer-animated dimensionality, and ditched Christopher Robin for a contemporary, all-American tomboy. (Kay Hanley handled the innocently bubbly theme for that one, so no worries there.)
If you’re more inclined to view the honey pot as half full, you can feel good knowing that despite such corporate-minded willy-nilly silliness, A.A. Milne’s world always seems to retain its charm. The “Tigger & Pooh’’ show ultimately was fun, and this week’s new movie revival, simply titled “Winnie the Pooh,’’ is sweetly, agreeably traditional. The film is directed by Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall, whose calling card was the serviceable tomorrowland ’toon “Meet the Robinsons,’’ and boasts an appealing mix of returning and modestly gimmicky voice talent. Series vet Jim Cummings reprises both Pooh and Tigger, Craig Ferguson is Owl, Tom “SpongeBob’’ Kenny is Rabbit, and John Cleese is the narrator, while Zooey Deschanel shows off her singing on a couple of generically pleasant soundtrack ditties.
As for what kids care about - the story - this incarnation finds the gang getting into familiar misadventures, to the point that it sometimes feels like the filmmakers are playing it too safe. Pooh is on the hunt for honey, since he’s all out. Eeyore has lost his tail, so they’re hunting for that, too. But a pin gets put in all of it when they misread a “back soon’’ note from Christopher Robin, and comically convince themselves that a big, bad monster called the Backson is stalking the Hundred Acre Wood.
The animators get engagingly inventive with some of the resultant scurrying about, using text from the storybook pages displayed onscreen as active props that bonk characters on the head, pile up into a handy ladder, etc. And there are laughs for everyone in an extended sequence in which Pooh and friends get stuck - no real spoiler here - in a pit they’ve dug for the Backson. Poor Piglet - viewers his size will break up at his anxiety-hindered attempts to save the day. Eeyore, meanwhile, flashes one of the movie’s occasional bits of unobtrusive sharpness, glumly lamenting, “We’re all gonna die.’’ Where was he to give Hurley some comic relief backup on “Lost’’? And where was more of this in the “Pooh’’ script?
The movie clocks in at just over an hour - awfully fleeting at multiplex prices. Still, you do get the bonus of the likably retro short “The Ballad of Nessie,’’ casting the Loch Ness monster in an environmental fable that owes as much to Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax’’ as it does to
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.