There's this annoying trend, fueled by the popularity of proliferation of computerized graphics, to adapt simple stories from picture books into full-length motion pictures. Meet the Robinsons was one. And The Polar Express. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Where the Wild Things Are. The Dr. Seuss books. I can't think of one that I've seen and was happy with. Maybe Curious George, in that it didn't stink? The main problem is that almost all of them tend to pad out the story for the sake of making it long enough to be a theatrical feature. But surely if you aim to make a movie, the thing to do should be to make it as long as it needs to be, then feature it in a length-appropriate venue. Not the other way around. Take "How The Grinch Stole Christmas!" for example. The Chuck Jones adaptation tells the whole story in the amount of time that happily fits into a half-hour television slot. So why was a much, much longer version made late on necessary at all? Besides the obvious answer, anyway?
What I like about 2011's "Winnie the Pooh" is that it makes an excellent example of what a movie made out of a simple story - or stories, rather, should be like. No matter that this one isn't directly based on a particular storybook. The point is it could be. I imagine there's a simple storybook based on this that you wouldn't have been able to tell was a movie tie-in.
There isn't as much embellishment as those other movies tend to have, and the only padding present are jokes relevant to the story. They're reminiscent of Abbott & Costello routines and probably aimed at the audience young enough to not realize they're reminiscent of Abbott & Costello. The stories are simple, and the movie is fully aware that they're simple. It's very straightforward and I like that. If only more movies based on actual books were more like that. If I may digress a bit, my suggestion to the filmmakers who absolutely must adapt short children's books to the silver screen is: why not make a short feature compilation of it? Imagine not one but a series of Dr. Seuss 25ish-minute pieces, perhaps - and now I'm just fantasizing - each produced and directed by different talents, and ooh! in different media! A Steven Spielberg live-action motion-capture story followed by a Tim Burtony stop-motion one and then an anime and okkay I'm getting carried away now.
I like the execution, as a children's movie, is what I'm saying.
Now, to compare "Winnie the Pooh" to "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." Here we still have multiple stories (Eeyore's tail, The Backsun, Owl's Memoirs, Pooh's Quest For Honey), but they all interweave with each other. I'm not sure whether I prefer this over the "one-story-at-a-time" approach. I didn't get as much of the "Pooh-overload" as I remember getting with TMAOWTP, but on the other hand not having one "main" story leaves the ending feeling a bit flat. When a short is as short as a short, a set-up without much of a payoff isn't as disappointing as one stretched through an entire feature. At least it's a relatively short entire feature.
My main complaint, judging it as a Winnie the Pooh movie rather than just as a movie, is that it doesn't have enough of what I like about the original feature and the books on which they're based. It's something about the dialogue I can't quite put my finger on. It's not...unusual. Pooh mentions how he's a bear of very little brain, but it comes off more as a catch phrase that he has to say, and not much else he says is worded funnily like that. I just don't get the impression that the writers went through much trouble at all to copy the A.A. Milne writing style, which is a shame because that's my favorite part of Pooh stories. Oh, bother. It's more like they have this child-level story and are using the Hundred Acre Woods characters to tell it because, well, they're popular. I'm left to imagine: What would it be like if you took the same story and plot points but told it with entirely new and original characters? Would it be as "good?" Or what if this were the first time we had ever seen these characters. What would our impressions of them be then? Basically what I'm saying is Winnie the Pooh automatically gets a handicapped advantage for any of his movie on the merit that you already know what he's all about going into them. Same goes for Batman, by the way.
Man I'm going on too much for such a supposedly simple movie! I'll try to wrap things up.
The voice casting is....worth mentioning, certainly. Jim Cummings has earned his stripes as Tigger and Pooh, at least given that Sterling Holloway is no more. Is he a better Pooh than Stephen Fry? That...is a hot button issue surely. I believe I ruined Rabbit for Amanda when I answered her question about who voices him. Once you get the connection, it's hard to "un-hear." I approve of Craig Ferguson as Owl and double approve of Bud Luckey as Eeyore. I wasn't bothered by Christopher Robin's voice as much as the fact that he had whites of his eyes now.
The music is very nice but nothing to be singing boisterously out the theater about. It's soothing and pleasant but not terribly catchy. But it doesn't really need to be for the purpose of the movie, which I guess is to wash over you rather than hook you in. Or something like that.
Animation-wise, I'm not sure if the newer character animation is an improvement exactly - it's cleaner and crisper but not quite as charming. Everything else works well, though, as honey for the eyes.
The short of it is that it's a "cute" movie. It's so unassuming and inoffensive that I can't find anything wrong with it, unless I compare it to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which is even cuter and still more charming. It makes me wonder, what with all of these other Disney films being re-released in theaters, why the same treatment couldn't have just been given to Pooh in lieu of a new movie. It would certainly be worth introducing it to the many in the target audience who haven't seen it yet.
But then still. If a new Pooh movie had to be made, and one had to be theatrically released, this is probably the best new Pooh movie without Sterling Holloway, the Sherman Brothers, or The Nine Old Men that you could hope for.
Favorite character: Maybe it's my perception affected by Bud Luckey's performance but it
seems Eeyore is more self-aware and intentionally(?) funny than in any
other "Pooh" feature. I liked his line to Tigger about how the best
thing about Tigger is that he's the only one. Good one, Eeyore.
Least necessary character: Did Roo do anything other than act small and cute, a role already taken by Piglet?
Overall: "Stuffed with fluff" is certainly an very appropriate theme.
Doing an homage is one thing, but trying to add to an already well established franchise is something totally different. Winnie the Pooh walks a very very fine line here and well, being made of stuff and fluff, he's bound to swagger off course once in a while.
The simple truth is that it's just not the same. Don't get me wrong, it's cute, and it's well animated, and little children will love it, and it will be re-released by itself and with the first movie and perhaps even as a collection with the Heffalump Movie, Piglet's Big Movie, and A Tigger Movie. It will make a lot of money and keep baby things on the store shelves for the next decade and longer. But as far as artistic merit, is it destined to be a classic? That remains to be seen. For my taste, no. It has a lot of interesting changes some of which are necessary (casting for example) and some of which are perhaps mere oversight.
For me, there was a certain artistry of animation that was missing from this new installment. This is not to say that these new animators aren't up to snuff. If anything, they are perhaps more accomplished as they have had so many years of experienced teachers as well as a flood of new technology and techniques at their fingertips. Yet there is a certain way that characters moved and behaved in the older bits of film that felt more free, more childlike. Pooh's walk for instance: In his many adventures, he had a way of walking that looked almost as if a child was holding him and bouncing one foot on the ground at a time, but more recently he is much more agile. Piglet's stance for another: He always appeared to be just barely balanced in place, ready to be blown over or fall forward at any moment. Even the old, tattered stuffed animals in the original room looked quite a lot more loved than these newer, brighter, cleaner versions.
On the other hand, there's a story that continues throughout the movie. There's new interesting animation styles such as the chalkboard line art and even the glistening honey pools. There's the new idea of Christopher Robin growing up and going to school. What do toys do when the children are away? (Shh, I know, I know, slightly less new) Bah. I'm doomed to be conflicted by this one.
Favorite Character: Owl. Of all the new casting, I think that CraigyFerg did the best job at walking the line between a totally new character and a respectful homage to the original.
Least Necessary Character: I dunno. Even though she's a knitter, I just wasn't totally sold on the idea of Kanga as a motherly figure to the clan this time around. There was a certain warmth and even a certain amount of intelligence missing this time around.
Overall: This was a silly ol' movie, but the kids'll love it.