Saturday, April 2, 2022

Winnie the Pooh (2011)

Since its release in 1977, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, a compilation of three theatrical shorts based on the Winnie the Pooh book series, has proven itself a timeless classic from Disney’s body of work. In 2011, a sequel film based on other stories from the books, simply titled Winnie the Pooh (2011), was released to theaters, however it had the misfortune of coming out the same weekend as the highly anticipated Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, leading to the shutdown of Disney’s traditional animation department and the movie to seemingly become largely forgotten as a result. While I did not see the movie when it first came out, revisiting the 1977 film and seeing Christopher Robin made me curious about actually watching the 2011 film, though I would not end up actually doing so until much later. From watching it through Disney+, I found it to actually be quite enjoyable, though a victim of unfortunate timing in its release.

In a framing device reminiscent of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, a storybook opens up to tell the time Winnie the Pooh did a very important thing one day. That day, Pooh (Jim Cummings) wakes up and seeks his usual honey, only to find he is fresh out. While seeking out more from his friends, Pooh comes across Eeyore (Bud Luckey), who has lost his tail. From there, hilarity ensues.

Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) has a honey problem.

While not a very complicated story, this works in the movie’s favor to create a more wholesome atmosphere. The childlike logic of the story is consistent with that of the 1977 original, leading to several odd leaps in logic from the animal cast that you can’t help but laugh at. In comparison to the first movie, some character traits may have potentially been mildly exaggerated over the years, though here the characters and tone still feel generally consistent with the original feature.

Helping this is some spectacular traditional animation that shows Disney’s 2D department went out with a bang. The use of traditional animation works perfectly with the storybook setting and gives it a more timeless quality, leading to some very creative interactions with the storybook’s text. With some slight updates, the character models are also faithful to that of the originals, with modern animation technology allowing for much crisper visuals compared to the sketchy feel of the 1977 original, though the original's sketchiness is not without its charm. The visuals are also experimented with some during the movie's numerous musical numbers, though a particularly creative one is "The Backson Song" sequence, which is rendered entirely in a way that resembles chalk drawings. Though the use of CG is a little obvious, it is thankfully used to very minimal effect (a swarm of bees stands out) and any other possible use of it was more of a tool rather than a crutch.

The storybook text has a physical presence in creative ways.
From left: Tigger (Jim Cummings), Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez),
Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall), Owl (Craig Ferguson), Rabbit (Tom Kenny),
Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore (Bud Luckey)

Much like the animation, the voice talent is also on point, with narration by John Cleese of Monty Python fame holding everything together well. Returning voice actors, such as Jim Cummings as Pooh, display a lot of experience in their roles, while many of the new voice actors play their roles faithfully to those of the previous actors, though Jack Boulter’s take on Christopher Robin is noticeably different from the three that voiced the character in the 1977 film. Though he plays the part well, Tom Kenny’s take on Rabbit also sounds noticeably different from Junius Matthews and takes some getting used to, even after having heard him in Kingdom Hearts III. As for Eeyore, my experience with Winnie the Pooh has been minimal, and so I have somehow managed to avoid/forget any and all instances of Peter Cullen’s longstanding tenure in the role, though I will say Bud Luckey manages to effectively channel Ralph Wright’s original take on the character.

After more than a decade, Winnie the Pooh (2011) proves itself to have a timeless quality to it in a similar fashion to The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and hopefully will for many years to come. The amount of dedication to the source material, as well as the high-quality hand-drawn animation, makes this film a must-see for Pooh fans and those looking for an entertaining way to spend an hour.

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