Winnie the Pooh: Movie Review

Little kids will enjoy the gentle, lovingly wrought, for-tots-and-parents-only resuscitation of A.A. Milne's characters, while parents will be thankful for the thoughtfully brief running time.  

Preschoolers will enjoy the animated feature, featuring the voices of Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson, John Cleese and Tom Kenny and songs sung by Zooey Deschanel, while parents will appreciate the 69-minute running time, writes Todd McCarthy.

Disney refurbishes a franchise that's been one of its reliable little goldmines for half a century with Winnie the Pooh. A seamless narrative rather than a collection of segments in the manner of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1977, this gentle, lovingly wrought, for-tots-and-parents-only resuscitation of A.A. Milne's characters may have unintentionally set a Hollywood record of sorts: It's 69 minutes long, including 10 devoted to the credits, meaning that 14.5 per cent of the running time details who worked on the film, including production babies (arguable feature length for the program is reached by tacking on a six-minute opening cartoon, The Ballad of Nessie, about the Loch Ness monster's self-created lake of tears).

Whether or not Disney Animation always intended that the feature proper would come at under an hour, the film will be a first weekend matinee choice for more than a few preschooler families (there's no weeknight audience for it) before becoming a staple homevid and TV title. The defiantly low-tech offering bows in France on April 13, in the U.K. and Germany the next day and in seven other territories in advance of the July 15 U.S. launch.

So definitive are the soft, simple, pastel evocations of the English countryside in E.H. Shepard's original Pooh illustrations that revisionist versions would be unthinkable. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall (director and a writer, respectively, on Meet the Robinsons) do nothing to rock the boat, delivering rich, beautifully rendered visual backdrops for the mild antics of the familiar characters.

And familiar they are, for anyone who's been on the planet for more than four or five years. On renewed acquaintance, Pooh's obsessive search for bottomless amounts of honey and Eeyore's distress over having lost his tail possess limited resonance, as do the repetitive cutesy misspellings that dot the landscape. Unlike some other characters from children's literature and cartoons, Milne's sweet and docile creations seem like little more than stuffed animals given voice and of genuine appeal only to humans still attached to the likes of teddy bears and other cuddly sleepytime companions.

The music, too, represents a throwback, both the new compositions and the retreads of Sherman Brothers tunes here dressed up with new vocals by Zooey Deschanel. Little kids will enjoy it all, while parents, when not checking their cell phones, will be thankful for the thoughtfully brief running time.

Opens: July 15 (Disney)
Production: Walt Disney Animated Films
Voice cast: Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson, John Cleese, Tom Kenny, Bud Luckey, Jack Boulter, Travis Oates, Kristen Anderson-Lopez
Directors: Stephan J. Anderson, Don Hall

Story by: Stephen Anderson, Clio Chiang, Don Dougherty, Don Hall, Kendelle Hoyer, Brian Kesinger, Nicole Mitchell, Jeremy Spears
Based on the "Winnie the Pooh" works by: A.A. Milne
Producers: Peter Del Vecho, Clark SpencerExecutive producer: John Lasseter
Art directors: Paul Felix, Patrick M. Sullivan Jr.
Editor: Lisa Linder
Rated G, 69 minutes