Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day 28: Winnie the Pooh

"I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me."

When Disney animation studios released the hand-drawn The Princess and the Frog in 2009, I was one of very few people who delighted in its old school Disney style. Many people I've talked to about that film found it dull, which I've never understood. I thought it was the best non-Pixar product that Disney put out in the last decade. Last year's Tangled was very good too, but it was computer animation, and Pixar has a corner on that market at Disney as far as I'm concerned, so why even bother? This year, Disney returned not just to hand drawn animation, but to a gentler animation style that hasn't been seen since I was a child, with Winnie the Pooh.

Based on 3 A.A. Milne stories that they have not yet animated on film before, Winnie the Pooh is the seamless blending of those three stories into one narrative that clocks in at just over an hour. The first thing that the filmmakers need to be commended for is the hiring of Book of Mormon and Avenue Q's  Robert Lopez and his wife Kristin Anderson-Lopez to write the songs for the film. They are inspired, charming and endlessly singable. Anyone with children can look forward to hearing these songs being sung for days on end afterwords.

The voice cast is spectacular as well. Jim Cummings has spent the last four decades being an unsung hero of Disney voice work, and has been doing the voices of both Pooh and Tigger for the last two decades. His voice work is of the highest order and he captures both characters so well, sounds exactly like Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell, and somehow manages to infuse it with something that makes it his own and not just a carbon copy of the original masters. Tom Kenny, a name that every Mr. Show and Spongebob fan should already know, does the voice for Rabbit and makes him just as insufferable as ever.

Pixar stalwart Bud Luckey takes over duties for Eeyore and sounds so much like Ralph Wright, the original Eeyore, it's almost enough to make you forget that Peter Cullen had been doing the voice for much of the last two decades. Travis Oates started doing the voice of Piglet a few years back and does a wonderful job, and Craig Ferguson is equally great as the pompous Owl. Rounding things out is John Cleese as the narrator, taking over duties from Sebastian Cabot. It's no secret that I'm a huge admirer of Monty Python and Cleese has always been able to infuse even the most important sounding delivery with the right air of utter foolishness, making him the only choice imaginable.

The stories are all familiar to Pooh lovers, Pooh attempting to track down honey, the whole gang trying to find a new tail for Eeyore, and then saving Christopher Robin from a beast called The Backson which is merely Owl's misinterpretation of the boy's note saying he would be back soon. It's certainly not new territory, but the way that the animators and writers wove the stories together is great and the short film just flies by.

The animation is sublime. I took my girls to see it this summer, but somehow I think it looks even better on blu-ray then it did on 35mm (blasphemy, I know). When it was shown in theaters, it was preceded by a short that's included on the dvd called "The Ballad of Nessie" narrated by Billy Connolly that is also wonderfully whimsical and helps pad the already short run time by another five minutes.
Winnie the Pooh is a must-see for parents, but I think that even the most cynical among us will find themselves falling for its charms. I would be hard-pressed to say I've seen a better animated film all year, and with two girls, I've seen them all. Give this film an hour of your time to try and melt your hard heart. You won't regret it, I promise.

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