Opening this weekend is Winnie the Pooh, a new Disney feature chronicling the adventures of the title teddy bear and his various pals in the Hundred Acre Wood. I must admit that I come to the Disney incarnations of these characters with a bias. The low-key, quietly witty original stories, by A. A. Milne, and the simple original line drawings by E. H. Shepard, are among my earliest memories, and even as a child the Disney versions seemed like vulgarizations by comparison.
But the new film broke through my defenses. While still not close to Milne, it has a gentle charm, and it’s a visual delight, rendered in old-school “hand-drawn” animation. Best of all, it’s not in 3D!
The story involves Pooh, who’s just trying to find some honey, getting caught up the search for the downbeat donkey Eeyore’s missing tail, and later for his young friend Christopher Robin, who the animals come to believe has been abducted by a mysterious creature called a “Backsun.”
Actor Jim Cummings remarkably reproduces the voices of the late Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell, as Pooh and Tigger, respectively. Travis Oates isn’t quite able to do the same for the late John Fiedler as Piglet, though he gives it a good try. Craig Ferguson makes a fine pompous Owl, and the great John Cleese replaces Sebastian Cabot as the Narrator—his voice is perfect for the part, but somehow I kept expecting him to lapse into Monty Python outrageousness. Zooey Deschanel sings a few songs on the soundtrack, including the original theme, and she sounds ethereal as ever.
At only an hour long, Winnie the Pooh is padded out with a cartoon short called The Ballad of Nessie, narrated in rhyme by the great Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, which gives an account of how the Loch Ness Monster came to inhabit her home. I liked this perhaps even more than the main feature.