Friday, July 29, 2011

Winnie the Pooh

If you're desperate to justify buying a ticket for "Winnie the Pooh", know this:  Zooey Deschanel sings the music.  That's enough for the ticket price right there.  Remind me to ask Zooey to marry me one of these days.

"Cars 2" sucked, lest we forget.  This meant that 2011 has a huge searing hole in the place where Pixar's great animated kids movie of the year should have been.  As we noticed in "Kung Fu Panda 2", DreamWorks sure as heck wasn't stepping up to the plate.  Ghibli's film, "From up on Poppy Hill" won't be out in America for years at least, and the premise is so horrifically boring that I think I'd rather watch "Smurfs".  So I guess that leaves Disney alone to save 2011.  They've been on something of roll lately with the decent "Princess and the Frog" and the super decent "Rapunzangled", one of my favorite movies from last year.  And with "Winnie the Pooh 5" here, they've managed to bowl a turkey.  2011 doesn't completely suck for kids movies.

"Winnie the Pooh" is probably the single most sincere film I've ever seen.  Its designed to appeal to innocent children with a world of silly talking animals each with classic well-defined characters.  Eeyore is a depressive, Owl is an arrogant know-it-all, Piglet is a wuss, ect.  The movie follows the exactly same emotional styles and pacing of the Winnie the Pooh movies from the 70s.  Nobody is trying to adapt the franchise for the next generation, or satire the weaknesses or the original source material in desperate attempts at cheap comedy.  Its simply a sequel to Disney's old Winnie the Pooh work.  The creators loved those cartoons, so they made more of them exactly like it.  You got to respect that kind of innocence.

Today "The Smurfs" is released to theatres all across the country where it can barely entertain audiences everywhere.  "Winnie the Pooh" and "The Smurfs" are two perfect examples of how to do it right, and how to do it wrong.  "The Smurfs" sets its characters in live action with awful CG animation, and then goes ahead and sets the entire thing in New York City, all as part of a clear cynical studio marketing campaign.  For some reason the live-action "Alvin and the Chipmunks" fooled audiences, so obviously stealing that movie's terrible idea and splicing in a different 80s cartoon is a 100% guaranteed win on the investors' part, right?  To make sure the parents aren't bored, we'll get Neil Patrick Harris and have him poke fun at the plotholes and silliness of the entire Smurfs concept.  I get the sense that the people behind this movie don't even like the Smurfs.  The director probably has as much of an emotional connection to his source material as the fry cook at a McDonalds does to the chicken he's turning into nuggets.  I don't care about the Smurfs either, but I could at least respect somebody who does.

The pure sincerity of "Winnie the Pooh" proves how timeless these characters are.  Kids loved these emotionally unbalanced stuffed animals decades ago, and their tastes have not changed.   Why should Tigger have to become a bad CG character breakdancing with Justin Timberlake in order to stay relevant?  "Winnie the Pooh" works so well because its so much like the old movies.  Its nostalgia for us adults - we claim its nostalgia because we don't want to admit that such simply cihldren's stories still resonate for us emotionally, instead we have to pretend to be mature and like crappy pretentious movies like "The Tree of Life".  And then its pure entertainment for kids.  You don't need to have random pop culture references to "the Matrix" to keep the adults entertained, instead you can do that a lot more easily by simply making a really good movie.  And that's what Disney did here.

"Winnie the Pooh" isn't taking place in live action.  The animation is a visual love-letter to 60s and 70s.  It might be made digitally, but it simulates the odd quirks of the animation of the period, like the crude dusty lines and shaky outlines.  That's not saying that animation isn't beautiful with fantastic backgrounds, its just emulating the style of the original movies.  Later the movie briefly breaks into a chalk sequence and Pooh Bear has a brief hallucination in CG honey, but that seems to just be the animators stretching their creative muscles to try something new.

The largest visual and style addition to "Winnie the Pooh" is a constant reminder that what's taking is inside of a book.  I vaguely remember this happening in a limited context in the first movie, though I'm no expert.  The characters talk to the narrator (John Clease) throughout the entire film.  Then sometimes the camera will pan out showing that the cartoon is an illustration in a kid's book, allowing you to see the printed text on the white background.  (I think they got this idea from the minigames in "Kingdom Hearts II", but I can't be 100% sure.)  So in odd bits of metafiction, Pooh will walk on paragraphs of story, and the letters will fall into the movie to be used as physical objects.  Sometimes you'll see text, then a minute later the narrator will say the lines you just read, which I think is a cool effect.

The movie also goes out of its way to point out that the animals are all just stuffed animals in Christopher Robin's room.  As a kid, I simply thought the animals were real, so being told right from the start that they're fake is a bit disturbing to me.  Probably just me, usually is.  Then there's a downright horrifying scene when Pooh Bear stretches too far and the stitches in his chest come undone.  Oh my God!  That's his friggin innards hanging out, you realize this?  Did Tim Burton suddenly take over directing this movie?

As for the plot, its an odd mixture of various storylines coming together to create a mish-mash film.  Pooh Bear wants honey, Owl invents a monster that everybody is afraid of, Eeyore can't find his tail, and Tigger is high on some kind of illegal substance as usual.  The stories intersect and occur at the same time as each other, meaning that Pooh Bear will wind up spending a really long time trying to fix Eeyore's tail while all he really wants is that jar of "hunny" already.  The bear has to get his fix, right?  "Winnie the Pooh" is actually a really really short movie, barely over an hour.  This is good because it ended just as me and Lil Bro - yeah he came to this one too - ran out of popcorn and soda.

I mentioned this at the start, but obviously the music is fantastic.  I wish I could post some examples, but strangely Youtube is rather barren of "Winnie the Pooh" music right now.  Of course the most catchy song is Zooey's remix of the Winnie the Pooh theme, but the other songs aren't slouches either.  The soundtrack is far more memorable than Disney's other recent animated films.

So yeah, I really really liked this movie.  This is coming from somebody who didn't really like Winnie the Pooh all that much as a kid.  Today of course, I can see the timeless brilliance of this collection of characters.  They each represent one strange extreme of humanity, so there's always one character you can really relate to.  I'm an Eeyore fan personally.  You can probably learn a lot about the type of person you are by picking a favorite Winnie the Pooh character.  That timeless brilliance is in no way diminished by this newest movie.  If anything, its made even better.  I got to give my highest recommendation here, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie.  It does exactly what its creators wanted it to with utter perfection.

And now, I got a craving for Hunny.  See you guys later when I finally watch all those other movies I missed while on vacation.


  1. Actually, I always remembered Winnie the Pooh from and the television show. I don't think I've seen a single movie, although I remember being quite dissapointed that there was one involving a "hefalump", because that then removed the entire dynamic of whether "hefalumps and woozels" were real or not, and whether tigger was just being, well, a child afraid of the monsters under his bed, so to speak.
    The enitre franchise is based of a book that was written in around the 1930s. I think. Don't quote me on that, but it's a very old franchise. So the theme of it being set in book has been present in the series ever since it was first animated, to the best of my knowledge. I can clearly remember this one episode in the show where tigger finally gets his pogo stick, and uses it to bounce right out of the pages of the book, so that motif has existed way before Kingdom Hearts.

  2. Yeah, so... what happened to Dragon Quest Summer? Could you not get enough of the games soon enough?

  3. @HeadBodyMaster: I'm playing DQVIII right now. I don't beat RPGs all that fast, actually. Console RPGs are doubly slow. That three week vacation to Israel didn't exactly speed things up either, because I didn't bring any games in order to fully enjoy the country. At this point I'm guessing it will actually be "the last half of 2011 of Dragon Quest".

  4. Have you gotten your hands on "A Dance With Dragons" yet?

  5. I recommend giving the Pooh books ("Winnie-the-Pooh" and "The House at Pooh Corner") a read, if you haven't already.

  6. Funny story about this movie. I was sitting at home watching TV when the tralier popped up. I showed my little brother how would like to go see it and the one thing he saidd was, "Where's Sora?". At this point I had to look at myself and realized that in the four short years of his life, outside of Princess and the Frog and Tanggled, and Lion King my little bro had never seen a disney animation cartoon. This truly disrupted my pride as Best Big Brother Ever so the next day I took him to go see. He abosolutly loved it, but for the next two days he kept asking me where was Sora, Donald, and Goofy. Does this make me a bad big brother?

    -The 1 & only Uzuki

  7. what!?!??! all the animals are stuffed!? blue, you killed my childhood, (well, sooner then it would have been becuase I'm absolutely going to see this movie too)

  8. If you're craving Ghibli, at least Arrietty will come out in USA next February.

  9. Anon 7:10: Yes, all the animals were stuffed and owned by the real Christopher Robin. I read the books as a kid, so this fact was a part of my childhood. Christopher Robin drags Winnie-the-Pooh (or Edward Bear, to use his other name) down the steps by a leg: bump-bump-bump-bump...

  10. O - I misspoke there, or mistyped. Rabbit was based on actual rabbits, if I remember correctly. You can see some of the toys in this picture: