"...is a jar full of honey indeed." (Colin Covert)
"...will make big people remember their childhoods. And small people will have fun getting to know all of us in the Hundred Acre Wood." (Linda Barnard...who may not know she does not live in the HAW...)
"There's no bells or whistles here, no 3-D or useless grey fluff, just Pooh as he's always been, silly and true." (Joe Neumaler)
"It doesn't matter that the film is just for kids. When it does it's job right, everyone watching it is a kid." (Eric D. Snider)
"A wonderfully faithful throwback to the 60's animated features...with a modest veneer of postmodern cleverness. (Aaron Hillis)
"The makers...had enough material for a good 65 minutes, and so they did something unusual, practically unheard of in modern times. They made a 65-minute movie." (Mick LaSalle)
"One would have to have a heart of cold temperament to find much--if anything--wrong..." (Lisa Kennedy)
I found something wrong.
Director: Stephen J Anderson, Don Hall
Narrator: John Cleese
That Bear: Jim Cummings
Trigger Happy Tiger, Tigger: (also) Jim Cummings
Owl: Craig Ferguson
Christopher Robin: Jack "Blue Bird" Boulter
Piglet: Travis Oates
Kanga: Kristen Anderson-Lopez (sweet voice)
Roo: Wyatt Dean Hall
Insane Bunny: Tom Kenny
Let me say, I very much enjoyed the movie. I kept laughing aloud. I was smiling like an idiot almost the entire time. I would stop because...well...sometimes I wasn't sure about the film's intensions.
I couldn't decide if Winnie the Pooh was simply a pleasant tale about Christopher Robin and his sweet, one-dimensional woodland friends. Or was it subliminally attempting, beneath a cloak of childish innocence, to (1) convince kids how to read, to (2) demonstrate the pitfalls of not being able to read, and to (3) show how helpless one-dimensional personalities are?
1: Convince kids how to read.
Reviewers keep mentioning how "neat" and "cool" Winnie's tricks with the text are. The story is framed as someone reading you a book. So we see the book open and the words and an illustration of Pooh in bed. The illustration is actually animation and begins playing out. When Pooh won't get out of bed, the frustrated Narrator shakes the book, eventually turns it over, plopping poor, sleepy Pooh to the ground. It's humorous. The two then talk. Throughout the movie, Pooh often breaks the fourth wall and interacts with the narrator and with the storybook itself. At one point, the words from the page are used to build a ladder.
We continually glimpse bits of dialogue and description before they're said, after they're said.
And while this is fun. It's also a lesson to kids: you're supposed to use your imagination. The words are there to ENVOKE these characters in your mind. Reading is supposed to be like watching a movie in your head. This movie is fun, right? Well, this movie is reading. So read.
2. Demonstrate the pitfalls of not being able to read.
To reinforce the message about reading, the plot is about the trouble these characters create for themselves because they can't read or write. Ostensibly, it's about finding Eeyore's lost tail. But, really, it's about being stupid.
Pooh, in search of, what else, honey, meets up with Eeyore. They start looking for gloomy Eeyore's lost tail when Owl appears. Pooh tells Owl he's the leader because he speaks so well (...another subliminal message...). Owl tries to tell them how to go about searching for the tail: offer a reward, thus others will search as well. Except when Owl speaks Pooh asks him to explain the first words. Owl does. Pooh says the words are too big. Owl dumbs down his speech. Ah, okay, now Pooh and Eeyore understand.
Later, Pooh finds (after the narrator has to help him) a note left by Christopher Robin. Pooh can't read the note. So he takes it to Owl's where everyone (Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, and Piglet (of course Owl)) has gathered. Only Owl can decipher it, says Owl (the guy who just spelled "tail" "tael"). Even then, he's struggling and Roo questions him. The note says:
Owl decides that Christopher has been captured by a monster called Backson. He then explains to the others what a Backson is (basically it's the entity responsible for everything that's wrong in your life). There's a cool song. Our lovable heroes formulate a plot to capture the Backson and save Christopher. Everything goes pretty wrong.
There's no overt message of "if you can't read, see what happens." But the message is: "If you can't read, you have no idea what's actually going on and you make things up and those things are wrong and look what a mess you get yourself in." The movie hides such a mean statement under the lamination that this is all silly and fun and innocent. But it's really a warning to kids: you better learn to read. And it's really mocking adults who think they know better than everyone (Owl thinks he knows better than everyone) but really don't know anything (Owl can't read) and simply make up facts for what they don't understand then scare everyone. Christopher Robin has written a note that says he is busy and will be back soon. This doesn't mean there's a monster and he's kidnapped and we need a crusade. Winnie the Pooh might be the most satirical movie I have ever watched.
3. Show how helpless one-dimensional personalities are.
Eeyore: can't find his tail and is too hopeless and depressed to do anything about it. Everyone tries to help him out.
Owl: acts as if he knows it all, but he doesn't. His flaw leads the characters into the Backson mess.
Pooh: his hunt for honey leads him to examine a pot he knows is a decoy sitting on a blanket that is covering a pit meant to capture the Backson. Regardless, he picks the pot up and falls into the pit.
Rabbit: wants glory so designs a plan to get Pooh out of the pit by utilizing the anchor Eeyore has started wearing as a tail. The group throws the anchor down to Pooh, the weight of which draws everyone (except Piglet) into the hole.
Piglet: scared and passive, Piglet is constantly trying to please others ahead of himself. When he is the only one NOT in the hole, he tries to climb in because he's afraid the Backson will get him. The others convince him to stay out. Rabbit tells him to find something to save them. Piglet brings back a flower. It's cute. But you're also thinking (at least I was): what an idiot. When Piglet does find rope, Rabbit tells him to use it to get them all out. Piglet thinks about it, comes up with a plan and begins to execute it by counting how many are in the pit. He then cuts the rope into x-amount of pieces. The rope is now useless. Piglet eventually ends up in the hole.
The one time Pooh is rewarded is when he goes against his personality. He arrives at Owl's house, hoping to beg for some honey (like an addict...). When he rings the bell, he realizes the ringer is Eeyore's tail. Instead of indulging in the offered honey, Pooh takes the tale to Eeyore. Christopher praises Pooh for choosing his friend over his stomach (for going against his nature) and gives him a prize: A GIANT HONEY POT.
The lesson: we have personality flaws that describe us (Eyeore pessimistic, Owl blind, Pooh addicted, Piglet weak) and they should be overcome.
For all its supposed innocence, Winnie the Pooh IS the most diabolical movie I have ever encountered. Smart people are exploiting the qualities of idiots in the guise of a children's story to the amusement of all. They have designed a plot that shows the (fictional) difficulties inherent to the life of those who can't read and thus plants, subconsciously, the idea that reading is good. Most cunning of all, they have turned these lovable icons into cautionary figures: examples of what not to be. And the entire time it's adorable.
Did I Like It:
Yes. I was amazed and horrified. Thrilling experience.
Throughout, there are a lot of clever moments. Like, as the gang is singing about the Backson, they say they'll "be back soon" and Owl does a double-take, thinks about it, and chalks it up to coincidence. These moments are the adult humor. But, further, they're the polemic humor of intellectuals toying with their simpleton characters. Really, I'm surprised people aren't upset about the elitism being displayed. But most critics are elitists. So.
The Backson, who is blamed for all the things that go wrong in the characters' lives, doesn't exist. Which means there's no one to blame, except sometimes yourself.
The Backson does show up after the credits. It's very nice and stupid, and not at all nasty and ferocious as the characters had imagined. This gets into Perception vs. Reality. Perception vs. Knowledge. Perception vs. Blame.
For all the wrong reasons, this film should be considered a masterpiece.
What It's Good For:
-teaching kids how to read
-demonstrates the pitfalls of not knowing how to read
-shows how helpless one-dimensional personalities are
-an interactive viewing experience (it at least felt that way to me)
-it mocks iconic characters
-it could be insulting you without you even knowing it
-could be viewed as the most pretentious film of all-time