Returning To The Hundred Acre Wood

Returning To The Hundred Acre Wood

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Walt Disney 

Release date: April 15th 2011
Certificate (UK): U
Running time: 60 minutes

Director: Stephen J. Anderson, Don Hall

Cast: Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson and John Cleese

On a perfectly ordinary day when I was about 8 years old, my father came home with a magical machine under his arm. This electronic box was able to read a magnetic tape and translate it into pictures and sound on our television. Our first VCR player was all new and liberating, we could choose what we wanted to watch and when.

This was during the time of the democratic transition in Hungary when the country was in the process of shedding its communist Winnie the Poohskin; access to movies was very limited so people naturally turned to the black market.

I remember being very excited whenever our “film dealer” paid us a visit. He often brought a suitcase full of VHS tapes and in one of these was a recording of Walt Disney’s 22nd full length animated film, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). I watched it many, many and many more times and the events created by A. A. Milne unfolding in the Hundred Acre Wood still make it one of my favourite Disney features.

In the following decade, I largely ignored the related TV series and spin-off films as I felt they didn’t have the charm and imagination of the original. When I heard about a new animated feature very humbly titled “Winnie the Pooh” I was cautiously excited. What were they going to do with a traditionally animated story at a time when CGI is commonplace and 3D aspires to become a new trend?

Winnie the Pooh

I’m happy to say that the creators resisted the temptation for any sort of gimmickry. Keeping the focus on story and characters, Winnie the Pooh is a worthy addition to the 1977 original.

There is still a balloon that plays a part in the story, but it’s no longer blue – it is now red. It’s the same and yet it’s different, which is true for the film as a whole: the book from which the narrator (voiced by John Cleese) is reading, is still occasionally visible and the characters interact with written words and letters when they want to.

Winnie the Pooh

Pooh’s stomach still rumbles vehemently demanding honey. His belly is now almost a new character in itself; Pooh addresses it frequently just like a friend – a very demanding friend. Eeyore is still depressed and loses his tail again, but this time it’s so difficult to find it that his friends try to replace it with other objects to great comic effect – and Eeyore’s annoyance. Echoing the Heffalumps from the original, there’s an imaginary villain in the film that doesn’t really exist and is the product of a misunderstanding.

I really enjoyed Winnie the Pooh. As the original is one of my treasured childhood memories, I think I was difficult to impress; and yet I was. It made me laugh a lot to see the characters still dealing with a world largely unknown and mysterious to them and discovering something new every step of the way. I also relished the fact that there is still no real villain in Winnie the Pooh, something that makes it truly unique when comparing it to other animated features. I attended a test screening where most of the audience were kids and I’m glad to say that they loved it too!

Winnie the Pooh

Yet with 60 minutes of running time, Winnie the Pooh was just a little bit too short. I felt they didn’t spend enough time on all of the characters; the wonderfully neurotic Rabbit, for instance, stays in the background without hatching any plan to tame Tigger.

I missed his complaints and his attempts to bring order to the chaos of Hundred Acre Wood. On the other hand I liked how Owl’s character was developed; he is less oblivious and somewhat more arrogant and irritable than his previous self while Scottish born American, Craig Ferguson, who lends his voice as the inept professor, really surprised me. Winnie the PoohI didn’t recognise his voice even though I occasionally watch his offbeat US talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

If, like me, you’re a “returning customer” – you will be very pleasantly surprised. While Winnie the Pooh is respectful to the original in every possible way, it’s also a great new venture for a whole new generation.

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