"POOH" IS A HUNNY OF A MOVIE @ 3 November 2011 09:37 PM
It wasn't loaded with special effects, blaring music, big splashy stars or explosions. Summer 2011's Disney theatrical release, Winnie the Pooh, was exactly the kind of animated film Walt Disney was making in the late '50s/early '60s -- not sweeping epics, nor pop music short packages, but simple, glowing stories packed with rich characterizations (both in writing and animation), superb voice work and hummable tunes.

Some found this film to be too much of a throwback, but how many modern films can truly rekindle the texture and charm of a classic without succumbing to the present day trappings and trends? Like the TV series Seinfeld was in its deceptively self effacing claim to be "about nothing," Pooh's power shines in his basic plotlines, only without the cynicism. A.A. Milne's books had slim storylines, too, and attempts to clutter them have met with mixed results.

First and foremost, Winnie the Pooh is one of the funniest movies of the year. I don't say this with any hint of irony or sarcasm, it's just true. Without messing around with the characters or updating the humor, you find yourself laughing at the clever "who's on first" wordplay. Pooh and pals may be guileless, a bit deluded and sometimes clueless, but they're not stupid or held to ridicule. This is very, very hard humor to pull off successfully.

The most clueless character of all is Owl, a character never fully realized in past Poohs but brought to scene-stealing fervor by the sharp vocal timing of Craig Ferguson, who with narrator John Cleese and Zooey Deschanel, are as far as the voice casting ventured into celebrity (but with respect to suitability, not just fame). Cheers to the creative team for retaining the seemingly endless talents of Jim Cummings as Pooh and Piglet rather than hiring a marquee name and wrecking the character for an easy marketing hook. Tom Kenny also does a wonderfully neurotic Rabbit, and my kids got a kick out of hearing wisps of his Spongebob voice peeking out within the characterization.

The musical score by Robert Rodriguez and Kristen Anderson-Rodriguez (she also voices Kanga) is a tribute to the Sherman Brothers' art of the deceptively simple and infinitely singable song. I can't help but assume that the chorus singing "hunny, hunny..." was a nod to the Wonderful World of Color theme ("color,  color...").

The Blu-ray looks marvelous, but I was a little let down by the lack of extras. No commentary, not much behind the scenes stuff, pretty lacking all around. Most interesting were the deleted scenes. Charming as they were, the scenes were cut because, it seems from the explanation, to keep the story focused and evenhanded. Although Owl is a scene stealer, he's never the complete focus. Each character gets a sufficient time to shine, even "B'loon." The filmmakers even resisted padding the feature to make it longer, instead adding on The Ballad of Nessie (another film that could have been released in the early Disney/Pooh days). Historically, Dumbo was a short feature too, but it's a gem at its ideal running time.

I can only hope they're saving some additional features for a reissue in the future, because this Pooh should not get lost in a sea of direct-to-video movies. Not to slight them all (many were very nice), but it's pretty crowded out there with Pooh videos. Maybe that's why the title is simply "Winnie the Pooh" with no subtitle, in order to set it apart from the pack.

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