Winnie the Pooh (2011)

It is hard not to gush about Winnie the Pooh especially after the wreck that was Cars 2. For once, Disney Animation has trumped Pixar and here’s how they did it.

Those trying to re-boot old franchises pay attention.

Winnie the Pooh feels fresh because it maintains the tone of earlier theatrical Pooh movies. There is no pandering to the worst modern trends in kids film. You will not find sass, pop-culture references (share for a few low-key ones) or most-of-all a stupid need to make things flashy, fast paced, and attention demanding. These new adventures of Christopher Robin and friends completely ignore generations of media that caters to ADHD attention spans.

While the film expands upon the writings of A.A. Milne it never loses regard for the fact that Pooh’s adventures were always born of text. The written word actually plays a key role throughout the film, both as a graphical element and as clever deus ex machina. I so greatly enjoyed the films playful use of typography that I almost preferred the portions of the film in which text appears on the screen to anything else in the film.

I am never one for musical numbers. The one’s in Winnie the Pooh are so well done that I didn’t mind if indie-darling Zooey Deschanel was singing some of the songs. The music numbers also give the animators time to flaunt a few different styles of hand-drawn animation with a penchant towards the surreal. I was more than once reminded of Dumbo‘s “Pink Elepants” or scenes from the first Fantasia.

Most of all, the film succeeds on its writing. While the stories are nothing new for Pooh, and thankfully they are nothing like that godawful Pooh television show that tried to introduce a girl in the place of Christopher Robin and made all the characters Super Sleuths – ack, the dedication in this movie to both word play between characters and visual gags help enliven time worn tales. In a word this new Winnie the Pooh is classic, but it bring new stories I have yet to see on the big screen. So, in this sense it is new. I guess that makes it a new classic and not simply a cheap attempt to market to a new generation by speaking in a language that some business strategist thinks speaks best to a target demographic.

Whereas Cars 2 apologizes for the bombastic, fool-hardy, but supposedly genuine faults of American rednecks, the moral behind Winnie the Pooh is that sometimes you should put the needs of others before your own desires. For 90% of the film Pooh is simply on a quest to feed his rumbling bell some honey. His search for food quietly propels the who gang of animals through a serious of adventures and calamities. Frankly, Pooh is a bit of a self-serving prick. Until the end, when he finally finds honey, but puts off over-indulging himself, so that he might help a friend. It’s a simply lesson. However, this is simple film designed to speak to a young audience needing to learn those first lessons in life.

Far too often I think we have let the tail wag the dog and we have found businessmen (you can call the artists if you like, but I won’t) making films hoping to capture the attention (and dollars) of an audience they think they understand. Usually, they are successful, at least at collecting the money of the masses, but rarely do they seem to capture the attention or imagination of their audience. If anything they just leave the audience semi-satisfied, but wondering what’s next. Rather than making something more than an instant cash grab they should try making something that will not diminish in interest or value once the hype or curiosity dies down. I know this must sound crazy to those running the game, and I’m sure Cars 2 will rake in far more money than Winnie-the-Pooh will bring in at the box office. Still, shouldn’t we make work that reflects what we want our audience to be instead of base impulses?

I know, stupid question. It’s just a movie, right? Stupid me thinking it isn’t all about $.

On another note The Ballad of Nessie, the short that played before it about how (the Loch Ness Monster learned it was okay and even healthy to sometimes cry, was quite brilliant. Certainly nothing ground breaking in technique or aesthetic, the films feels fresh simply because we Disney Animation does not do too-many pre-feature shorts. They leave that to Pixar. However, where as Pixar seems bent on breaking new ground Disney Animation goes for nostalgia, which might just be their best bet. For what is Disney if not a nostalgia factory. Yes, it is a fabricated nostalgia for a time that never was, but it is what they have always done best.

I feel I should at some point be condemning these two Disney films simply because they are Disney films. It’s not as if Disney is a brand free from problems. Disney as a company and as a voice for a particular world view has its ethics issues. Still, Winnie-the-Pooh and The Ballad of Nessie with their unselfish and touching morals are so strikingly different from what I am used to seeing in modern kid’s programming that it’s worth defending these films against my own complaints about Disney,  especially its Princesses franchise. In fact, the message of these films is so different from the loud, clamorous, Ayn Rand, Objectivist, Tea-bag rhetoric running through America that maybe these films should come with a warning. I’d hate to think that some right-winger would have to call Disney UnAmerican because a film didn’t kill off a parent in the first ten minutes or some other lesson that teaches its main character to pull themselves up by their boot-straps. I’d hate to think those poor souls might have their kids learn something about being anything more than a selfish consumer.

This was really just supposed to me quickly saying how surprised I was that I liked the film. Oh, bother.

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