What were you thinking Disney? Sending Winnie the Pooh out, alone and unarmed, against Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? In summer?!
Well, there’s nothing left now. Traditional Disney Animation is dead. Lower him in.
You’re right. You’re right, I’m sorry.
Gotta get a grip.
On Daniel Radcliffe’s lily white pencil neck…NO! BAD MOUSE!
As absolutely crazy as it seems it retrospect, putting Winnie-the-Pooh up against Harry Potter probably wasn’t that outlandish an idea on paper. The two properties are aimed at quite different age demographics, and Disney was probably banking on their movie hoovering up all the younger cinema-goers who’s parents wouldn’t be willing to take them to a movie that is essentially Schindler’s List with wizards.
And while Pooh was undoubtedly the underdog in this fight, let’s not forget that the Bear of Very Little Brain is also the Bear of Massive Merchandising Revenue. Pooh may in fact be the single most valuable character in the whole Disney stable. So why was this movie absolutely crushed at the box office?
Okay fine, because it went up against fucking Harry Potter, but indulge me, please.
Bad reviews? Oh hell, no. Critics ate this up.
The fact that it was released in summer instead of in winter like most Disney movies? Nah, see I never bought the “People won’t go to see movies that are on at different times than movies like that movie are usually on” concept.
I have a theory.
If you want a
bloodbath polite and well reasoned debate, ask a bunch of Disney fans how many sequels there are in the Disney canon. Rescuers Down Under certainly. And Winnie the Pooh. But after that? Is Fantasia 2000 really a sequel considering it has no plot? Is Three Caballeros a sequel to Saludos Amigos? And if it is, does Melody Time make it a trilogy since José Carioca and Donald Duck appear in it too? Hell, you could argue that Fun and Fancy Free is a sequel to Pinnochio because they both feature Jiminy Cricket and are both pant-shittingly terrifying.
But…if you were to ask just a normal person on the street how many sequels are in the Disney canon they’d look at you funny and ask “What’s a Disney cannon?”
Y’see, to ordinary movie-goers the concept of a Disney “canon”, the idea that some movies are more Disney than others is meaningless. Disney made it, it’s a Disney movie. QED. Why should they care which part of the company created it? I mean, let’s be honest here, the whole notion of the canon is just a marketing gimmick that allows Disney to put a seal of quality on some of their movies while allowing them to pretend that their less exceptional output somehow doesn’t matter and OH JESUS CHRIST I’VE WASTED TWO YEARS OF MY LIFE.
Now, Joe Sixpack may not really get what the canon is, but he has slowly, and through painstaking trial and error, learnt one very important lesson:
Avoid Disney sequels like the fucking plague.
Rediscovering the original Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was one of my most pleasant surprises doing this blog. It really is a lovely little film. But it wasn’t the last Winnie the Pooh movie to be released by Disney.
Not by a long…
And it’s not like these were all straight to video either, quite a few of those movies actually had theatrical releases. So is it any wonder that the public weren’t queuing down the street for this one? They didn’t know that all those sequels were done by DisneyToons and that the grownups were actually in charge of this one. All they knew was that Disney had released a long string of pretty shitty Winnie the Pooh cartoons (no pun intended, I honestly swear to God). It’s Disney’s fault. They didn’t protect their characters.
So here we are. This is how it ends. But how does it end? With inspiring last words, or a damp fart as the muscles relax with the onset of death?
Let’s take a look.
Oh look, the cat’s back.
We begin like the original movie did with a tour of Christopher Robin’s bedroom while the narrator explains that this room could belong to any small boy but that in fact it belongs to Christopher Robin.
With Sebastian Cabot now dragging the angels to the Man Village, the role of narrator has passed to John Cleese. John Cleese plays the part very laid back and calm and that’s freakin’ me out, man. Like the original movie, this one actually takes place inside the original book, with the characters actually living within Milne’s original text. The book opens and we’re re-introduced to the characters by the song Winnie the Pooh, which of course was originally written by the Sherman Brothers.
Really? She gets her own heavenly choir?
The animation here is very good, nicely capturing the simple charm of the original while still smoother and more fluid like you’d expect in a modern cartoon. There are little changes here and there (someone gave Christopher Robin’s eyes some scleras finally) and some characters (like Rabbit in particular) move a lot more dynamically but overall they kept what worked and what they changed works too. It’s not jaw-dropping animation. It’s just quietly very, very good.
The narrator wakes up Pooh (Jim Cummings) to remind him that plot needs to start happening and Pooh sets about fixing himself some breakfast. This brings us to our first original song The Tummy Song written by husband and wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. You probably haven’t heard of them. After this they did some other film for Disney. Can’t remember the name. I don’t think anyone saw it. The Girl Who Didn’t Mind the Cold? Something like that? I dunno.
Anyway, just like the animation does an excellent job of recapturing the feel of the original movie, the Lopezes do a great homage to the work of the Shermans here. Aware that they’re writing for very small children the song is simple and easy to remember while being insanely catchy. It’s a duet between Pooh and his stomach who now rumbles and growls like a caged beast. Also, it’s pretty clear that since last we saw him, Pooh’s honey addiction has escalated to dangerous new levels.
Realising his stash has finally run out, Pooh sets out to score some honey, searching everywhere in the Hundred Acre Wood for just a drop of “H”. Everywhere. No, seriously EVERYWHERE.
In the middle of giving Eeyore (Bud Lucky) a cavity search, Pooh realises that the sadass is missing his tail. Owl flies buy and Pooh asks for his help in finding it. In the original cartoon, Owl was voiced by longtime Disney spear-holder Hal Smith. Here, the role is taken by Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson. Owl is the character that changes the most between the two versions and I kinda have to say for the better. Whereas Smith played the part very close to the literary original, verbose, stuffy, and rather staid, Ferguson gives Owl a manic quality and a pretty rampant ego. He’s also hilarious.
We get a version of a bit from the original book where Owl says the word “issue” and Pooh and Eeyore think that he’s sneezing. Eeyore morosely says that it’s probably catching so Pooh inspects his throat before turning to to Owl and saying deliberately “It’s just as I suspected. Owl? We need honey.”
Owl yells “Enough of this infernal folderol!” and I will love him forever for it. Owl’s plan is to put up notices all over the Hundred Acre Wood offering a reward for Eeyore’s tail so with Christopher Robin’s help they make up a load of signs and nail them up everywhere. Pooh runs into B’loon, a perfectly normal red balloon that everyone treats like just another inhabitant of the hundred acre wood.
Tigger suddenly appears and tries to bounce baloon, but instead gets stuck to him through the power of static electricity. Tigger thinks that B’loon wants to be his friend, but muses that he could never have a sidekick as it would put B’loon in harm’s way.
You know, it’s a strange day when you realise that a stuffed cartoon tiger is displaying more maturity and responsibility than Batman.
Christopher Robin announces at a meeting that whoever manages to find a replacement for Eeyore’s tale will get a pot of honey as a reward. All the animals try various things (the balloon, a clock, a yoyo, Godzilla etc.) and everytime they try something new they sing a verse of The Winner Song. Finally it looks like Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) has won, but she cuts them off when they try to sing saying “Let’s celebrate with silence.”
Now suffering from serious withdrawal, Pooh heads over to Christopher Robin’s house but finds a note outside. He takes the note to Owl’s house, where all the other animals have gathered to give him the honey for finding Eeyore a new tail (Kanga’s one having unraveled). And holy shit but Owl seems to be enjoying that honey.
Owl tells the others that the note reads “Gone out, busy, back soon” and interprets this to mean that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by a monster called The Backson. He draws a picture with chalk and this brings us into The Backson Song, which is very clearly a spiritual sequel to Heffalumps and Woozels from the original. It’s a great, funny little ditty and the “chalk” animation (actually wide-tipped felt markers) is gorgeous. Anyway, Owl soon has them whipped into a paranoid frenzy and before you can say “Kill the Beast!” they’ve hatched a plan to lay a trap for the Backson to capture him and rescue Christopher Robin.
Tigger, meanwhile, has gone rogue and decided to bring in the Backson his way dammit. Instead, he comes across Eeyore who’s been left behind in the forest because he was too slow (also, the fact that he’s a complete downer probably didn’t help). With the song It’s Gonna be Great Tigger takes it on himself to train Eeyore how to be a Tigger. The song is probably the weakest in the movie. The lyrics are really repetitive and, while Jim Cummings is a good singer, the Tigger voice is not reallya good voice to sing in. Tigger dresses up as the Backson to train Eeyore in anti-Backson tactics but Eeyore up and disappears, leaving Tigger to believe that he’s been kidnapped by the Backson.
Meanwhile Pooh enters the next stage of withdrawal and starts hallucinating like Hunter S. Thompson in Vegas.
Pooh has a full on hallucinogenic fever where he sees the whole world rendered in honey, and it is just a beautiful sequence that has a great song to go with it, Everything is Honey.
Pooh comes across the Backson trap, which has been baited with a honey pot and, yeah you don’t need me to finish this sentence.
The other animals search for Pooh, and when they hear the noises coming from the trap they assume that they’ve caught the Backson. They argue amongst themselves as to who should go and check, which leads to my favourite line in the whole movie; Roo’s cold, emotionless “Send the pig.” Rabbit comes up with a plan to get Pooh out which involves using Eeyore’s new tail (an anchor) and instead gets all of them (except Piglet) trapped in the hole.
Rabbit tells Piglet to go to Christopher Robin’s house and bring a rope back to get them out but Piglet is afraid of going through the Backson infested woods alone. So Owl flies out of the hole to give him a stirring speech and then flies back into the hole and I kinda love this movie.
Piglet finds B’loon in the forest and then runs into Tigger who’s still dressed as the Backson and through the power of slapstick both Tigger and Piglet end up back in the Backson Trap, while B’loon flies away.
But Pooh is able to make a ladder of fallen letters for them to climb out of and then Christopher Robin arrives with B’loon and explains that he’d just gone to school and that the note said he would be “back soon” and that Owl was talking out of his ass. In gratitude to B’loon for finding Christopher Robin the animals give him the honey pot and Pooh watches as as it floats away.
Now, pretty much starved to within in an inch of his life, Pooh goes on one last desperate search for honey which brings him to Owl’s house. Pooh notices Owl’s new bell ringer and Owl explains that he found it on a bush and took it home. Pooh realises that Owl has taken Eeyore’s tail and is now using the bodypart of one of his friends as a household accessory.
Pooh forgoes the honey and runs to bring Eeyore his tail back, finally learning to put his friends over his own needs. And as a reward, his friends present him with an absolutely massive pot of honey.