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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2011

Does this count as a remake?

'Winnie the Pooh' is graceful in its execution, and even a tad charming, but virtually indistinguishable from its predecessors

Winnie the Pooh
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall
Screenplay: Stephen J. Anderson, Clio Chiang, Don Dougherty, Don Hall, Brian Kesinger, Nicole Mitchell and Jeremy Spears, based on characters created by A.A. Milne
Starring: The voices of Jim Cummings, Bud Luckey, Craig Ferguson, Travis Oates, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Tom Kenny and John Cleese
Rated G / 1 hour, 3 minutes
Opened July 22, 2011
(out of four)

Winnie the Pooh had two things going for it right off the bat: 1) that it was animated in an old-fashioned style (not technically hand-drawn, but a convincing facsimile); and 2) that it was made exclusively for 2D.

On the first point, please note that I am not a crotchety old man, and have nothing but admiration for modern computer animation. All's I'm saying is, it's nice to see filmmakers appreciate and utilize older styles, and recognize that they haven't outlived their usefulness. (Besides, some of the most visually striking of recent animated films - The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist, The Secret of Kells, and of course anything by Miyazaki - have indeed been largely or entirely hand-drawn. So there.)

On the second point, however, you've got me. I am indeed crotchety about 3D, but only because it has so shamelessly hijacked Hollywood filmmaking (animated and otherwise) over the last few years.

So yes, I confess, I had a rooting interest here - I desperately wanted Winnie the Pooh to succeed, if only to prove the viability of its particular filmmaking format(s). And it's a lovely enough movie, to be sure; but I find myself in the uneasy spot of once again being the stick-in-the-mud, genuinely underwhelmed by a film that doesn't have anything particularly wrong with it, but which can be forgotten immediately upon leaving the theatre. Strike that - immediately upon getting up from your seat.

You could do a lot worse than this kind of innocuous, mild charm, but it's hardly anything that warrants the big-screen treatment. There's nothing in this movie that sets it apart from any other Winnie the Pooh tale. It feels like it belongs on a VHS tape in the lobby of a dentist's office.

I admit, bringing these characters back to the screen probably presented something of a catch-22. The franchise is being re-started solely because of its familiarity - if the movie ends up feeling too familiar, it's pointless; if it's not familiar enough, it's a disappointment. And as it turns out, the end result of Winnie the Pooh encapsulates that very problem.

Of course we have to have another story about Pooh searching desperately for honey and Eeyore losing his tail. That's what everyone identifies this series with in the first place.

But then again, since everything is so recognizable, what is the point of this movie's existence? That is the question every movie should be able to answer, and I'm afraid this one simply can't. We've seen these characters running through these exact same scenarios before, with the same results and the same jokes. No reason to see them again, is there? Isn't there some writer who can take A.A. Milne's stories and spin them into something new?

Watching this movie is like watching a rerun. It would be like if Seinfeld made another episode in which the gang is stuck waiting in a Chinese restaurant the entire time, and tried to sell it as "new"; or if The Cosby Show made another episode in which the family gets to meet Stevie Wonder and hang out in his recording studio. Or if House M.D. made another episode in which he diagnoses a patient with a rare illness, then the patient nearly dies anyway, then House realizes he was wrong and brilliantly discovers the actual problem and saves the patient's life, all in between snarky retorts to his inferior colleagues.

(Oh . . . wait . . . OK fine, forget that last example.)

Point being, there's not much here that I couldn't have found in any other Winnie the Pooh film - and in many cases, better and funnier. Winnie the Pooh isn't a bad movie - filmmakers Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall honor these characters and this style with class. But that's about it.

To be fair, the film seems to be one of those movies that, ultimately, is only trying to appeal to young kids (not unlike the rather enjoyable Curious George film from a few years back)- not the kind that's insulting to the parents, but not the kind that appeals to all audiences, either. I think a Winnie the Pooh movie is absolutely worth seeing. It just doesn't need to be this one.

*Note: That movie poster up above? I LOVE that poster. Best thing about the movie.

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