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Winnie the Pooh (2011)
I recall watching an interview with John Lasseter in which the Toy Story director said that movie’s creators were purposely going against the formula for Disney movies at the time. In Toy Story they wanted no singing characters (the Randy Newman songs were a compromise) and no talking animals. This on top of it being a completely computer-animated movie, a risky venture at the time. It’s enough that Toy Story dared to go against the formula of what had worked in the past, and it must have been very satisfying for the creators when the movie not only met with commercial and critical success, but also ushered in a new era for animated films. Toy Story has been followed by a long line of great computer-animated films from Pixar as well as from other studios trying to replicate their success.
Unfortunately, such success tends to stifle creativity in the movie industry, as filmmakers copy what has worked in the past instead of take risks with something new. Now, for an animated movie to be successful, it has to be computer-animated, be filled with epic actions sequences, and feature a large cast of recognizable celebrity voices. It’s a formula that has become just as stagnant and constricting as that of the Disney musicals twenty years ago.
I find it appropriate, then, that John Lasseter, in his role as head of animation at Disney, has co-produced this new incarnation of Winnie the Pooh, a movie that seems to rebel against everything that guarantees success today. Here is a cel-animated film that features no villains, little suspense, and virtually no celebrity voices (excepting John Cleese as the narrator). It’s easy to imagine what it could have been instead: just look at how many popular children’s cartoons and books are transformed into big, flashy, computer-animated crapfests today. I have to admire Winnie the Pooh’s producers for their restraint. In every way this movie dares to be absolutely old-fashioned.
The film obviously takes as its model 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, preserving the classic elements that worked and losing the ones that didn’t (I’m looking at you, annoying whistling gopher). The result is a quiet little movie that is probably the best adaptation of Winnie the Pooh to date. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults. Not all of the jokes work, the many musical numbers get a bit tedious, and the movie may adhere a bit too close to the original movie (especially in regard to Tigger, whose characterization suffered the most in its adaptation from print to screen). I would have liked to see a more direct adaptation of A.A. Milne’s books with more of the clever wordplay that makes them so much fun to read.
But for all its faults, there’s a lot of innocent fun in this movie and I actually laughed out loud at several parts. Most of all, it’s just nice to see a 2011 movie with the boldness to do its own thing.