Those of you who’ve been reading reviews on this site since the early days, when it was named DVD Town, may recall that reviewer John J. Puccio had declared himself no fan of animation and never cut films any slack if they were intended primarily for children, unless they also appealed to adults. So it surprised me when John gave “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” an 8 out of 10, saying it was “nice, anytime, to renew one’s acquaintance with A.A. Milne’s delightful characters” and throwing around words like “charming” and “enchanting.”
What John liked about this Disney feature were pretty much the same things that others liked (myself included): that the style of animation and storybook framework made you feel as if you were watching Milne’s book come alive, and that Pooh remains somehow appealing because, as John says, he “represents the child within us that we all try to hang onto, no matter what our age.”
Though Milne said he wrote not for children but for the child within us all, Disney’s “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” appears to have been created with very young viewers in mind. Adults may be willing to embrace any nostalgic return to childhood that presents itself, but by the time children enter first grade they’re wanting to jettison their preschool years and denounce everything they liked before as “babyish.”
Watching “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” is kind of like riding on “It’s a Small World” at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It’s a ride designed for families with small children, but many adults seem to enjoy it as well. However, if you position yourself atop the bridge and watch the little boats return, you’ll see by the faces of the older children that they’re reluctant passengers. So it will be with “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.”
Disney has made a number of features by cobbling together shorter stories, but none more cleverly and successfully than this one. Using the proven device of an open book with pages turning, Disney animators had scenes come alive in miniature on the page before the cameras pull back and the animation unfolds on the big screen. As the narrator talks, characters do things like walking ahead to the next page, or in some cases walking back to see what the narrator was talking about. It’s downright clever, and each of the three segments function as chapters. Included here are three short subjects made during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s: “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” (1966), “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (1968), and “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too” (1974). The animation changes slightly, as does Christopher Robin’s voice, but the book conceit works well enough to smooth things over.
One reason that the Pooh stories appeal to very young children is that they’re entirely simple, paced slowly enough for young minds to follow, and based on small but fantastic problems that need to be solved—problems that challenge preschoolers. The watercolor palette is as gentle as the stories, and the overall effect is that Milne’s tales of British lad Christopher Robin, his stuffed animals, and creatures who live in the Hundred Acre Wood charmingly (there’s that word again) come to life.
In the first story, Pooh’s craving for honey will strike a chord with children who have a sweet tooth. He’ll go to any length to get some, even if it means getting stuck in a tree or eating so much at Rabbit’s house that he can’t make it out of the hole again. “Oh bother.”
In the second, it’s such a windy day that it soon turns into a real storm, and rain swells the creek, flooding the whole area. Characters get separated and lost, and a fantasy sequence will remind viewers of the one with pink elephants on parade in “Dumbo.” Of course, all’s well that ends well, and in this episode Tigger is introduced, and that provides enough comic relief to blunt any scariness.
The third segment features a playful Tigger wanting to bounce, and finally getting mother Kanga’s permission to play with her little Roo. And of course they bounce so high that they get stuck in a tree and need everyone’s help to get down. In this tale Pooh also becomes paranoid seeing animal tracks and is convinced there’s a “Jagular” in the woods following them. But of course the explanation is “Scooby-Doo!” simple. Simpler, actually, which is why, again, that it will appeal to mostly preschool age children and their parents.
It’s hard for adults not to respond positively to the voice talents and music. Beloved character actor Sterling Holloway (“The Life of Riley”) gives voice to Pooh, while Sebastian Cabot (“Family Affair”) narrates and ventriloquist Paul Winchell handles the voice for the overly energetic Tigger. Junius Matthews gives voice to the cantankerous Rabbit, who’s always intent on protecting his garden, while John Fiedler (“The Bob Newhart Show”) is the always fretful Piglet, Ralph Wright is the glass-half-empty donkey Eeyore, Hal Smith is Owl, Howard Morris is Gopher, Barbara Luddy is Kanga, and Dori Whitaker is Roo. Christopher Robbin is voiced by Bruce Reitherman, Jon Walmsley, and Timothy Turner.
“The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” has a runtime of 74 minutes and is rated G.
Except for a few instances of aliasing and haloing along the edges of characters—and the latter isn’t half-bad, considering the wide pen strokes used to outline the characters already add a rough look to the drawings—the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer looks fairly clean. Grain has been almost totally removed, but the softness of the watercolor look gives the impression of grain. It’s really a lovely picture, with a distinctively pastoral look. If you’re going to add this film to your collection, Blu-ray is the way to go. “Pooh” is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen.
The audio is a suitably gentle mix that goes deliberately light on the bass and loud sound effects. Play this alongside an old Road Runner cartoon and you’ll see what I mean. In the WB cartoons the goal was laughter; here, I’m not so sure. Amusement, maybe. Or Bemusement. But whatever the case, the English DEHT 5.1 is compatible with the tone and visuals. Additional audio options are Dolby Digital 2.0 and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and English captions for the deaf and hearing impaired.
As with other recent Disney Blu-ray releases, this one comes with “Disney Intermission.” Press “pause” during the movie and a narrator invites younger viewers to march, jump, and exercise along with the Hundred Acre Wood crowd. Or you can cut directly to a “Pooh Play-Along” for the mild (“Dora the Explorer” level) interactivity.
I suspect children will quickly tire of these one-and-done features, which leaves five “mini adventures” with Pooh: “If I Wasn’t So Small,” “Piglet’s Drawings,” “The Expedition,” “Geniuses,” and “The Honey Song.” There’s also a “legacy” short, “A Day for Eeyore,” a “Winnie the Pooh”theme song performed by Carly Simon, and a “story behind the masterpiece” making-of featurette that runs just under a half-hour.
This combo pack comes with a DVD and Digital Copy.
“The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” captures the essence of the A.A. Milne stories in ways that the later movies would never approach. Everything about it makes it the perfect choice for preschoolers. And it’s fun for parents to watch alongside them—remembering, perhaps, the first time that they saw Pooh with a honey jar over his head, or giggled as a balloon that was keeping him airborne was about to burst . . . and all he said was, “Oh bother.”