I never read the Winnie the Pooh books as a kid. There’s no rhyme or reason for my neglect, I just didn’t read them. Last year, though, I finally read the first book in the series simply titled Winnie-the-Pooh and I fell in love with it. There’s something about the lightness, the emphasis on language, and the characters that makes for a truly wonderful reading experience. It is the definition of delightful. But would that translate to the modern cinema where the bombast of Transformers 3 and Harry Potter 7.2 rule the day? The answer, gladly, gloriously, is yes.
Nothing of any real consequence happens in Winnie the Pooh. We find the titular Bear of Very Little Brain waking up and listening to his grumbly tummy. This Pooh needs some Hunny. So he sets off to find some. Along the way he finds his sad friend Eeyore (voiced marvelously by Bud Luckey, recently Chuckles the clown in Toy Story 3) who has lost his tale. The rest of the film follows Pooh and his friends as they first try to replace Eeyore’s tail and then try to rescue Christopher Robin (their best friend and the boy who makes everything happen) from the great and terrible Backson. Most of the film, though, just allows us to spend some time with the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood. And what a time it is. The songs are simply charming, including the best scene of the film: Owl’s explanation of all the hideous things that Backsons do, like sneaking into your library and scribbling in your books and putting holes in your socks and steal your youth, all illustrated in the style of chalk on blackboard. Owl is played by Craig Ferguson and he’s the standout actor in the film, filling the boastful bird with such pomposity and silliness that you can’t help but love him.
Really everything about this movie works. The writing is filled with the same love of words and language that permeates the books (I will never not love the device of the characters interacting with the words that are telling the story they are taking part in) and the narrator (John Cleese, another bit of brilliant casting) lovingly pushes Pooh along his small journey. I just used the word “love” three times in one sentence. Can you tell that I enjoyed this film? There’s a part when all of our friends are trapped down a pit except for the not-so-brave Piglet who doesn’t know how to tie a knot which leads to the best rapid-fire dialogue since His Girl Friday. Yes, parts of the film live up to the great screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s. Winnie the Pooh doesn’t have a whole bunch to say. Pooh learns a bit of a lesson by the end, but only just. And I doubt it will spark the kinds of deep conversations that a film like The Tree of Life does. It will, however, hold the honor of being my favorite film of 2011, kicking that movie with the dinosaurs and coming of age in the 50s down a peg. There’s a lot to be said for a film that exists solely to delight us. It will instill a lasting sense of happiness in anybody that watches it. Winnie the Pooh is a force for good, spreading cheer and wonder wherever it goes.
P.S. The music in the film is also great. Zooey Deschanel provides a new version of the theme song and a couple other tracks and Henry Jackman’s score fits the world perfectly. It’s obvious that, with Deschanel’s involvement and the trailer featuring Somewhere Only We Know by Keane, Disney wants people older than 5 to watch this film. I’m a 23 year old male that loves Winnie the Pooh and I hope that everybody would be as open to such a magical film.