Review: WINNIE THE POOH - A Winning Reminder Of A Simpler Time

rating: 3.5

It seems like a week doesn't go by now without a big-budget animated film or two arriving at our cinemas, more often than not pimped out in state-of-the-art 3D. A cynic might begin to ask whether studios are crossing the line of artistic expression and simply exploiting our children's proclivity towards bright visuals and cute characters, while perhaps forsaking important tenets such as a strong story, as is true of two recent outings, live-action-CGI calamity Hop and the shallow Rio. All it has taken to remedy this glut, however, is Winnie the Pooh, a traditional, 2D animation - with a slight CG garnish - that, in the vein of Disney's solid The Princess and the Frog, virulently rejects much of contemporary animation in favour of something simpler and more refreshing. After an unexpected live action opening - in which we traverse through a home to find a story book - we are welcomed by the soothing voice of John Cleese, narrating Pooh's latest adventure with a grandfatherly warmth, calmly, yet wittily guiding us through an exceedingly simple, yet no less enjoyable story. In the face of competition from the mighty visuals and impeccable stories of Pixar, there's the expectation that Disney may have somehow contemporised Pooh's image, yet thankfully, that is not the case, and none of the simple, rustic charm of Pooh's previous stories has been lost. The characters are so enduring through their playful fascination with Christopher Robin and his world, and their personalities are so well-known to so many generations of people, that Disney have evidently recognised a timeless quality which doesn't need to employ pop-culture or overt innuendo as crutches. And yet, the film is not without some daring and winning postmodern touches; the film draws attention to the interplay between Cleese and Pooh more than ever before, even allowing Pooh to manipulate the story book numerous times. Carefully, though, it is a flourish never overplayed thanks to sparing use of CGI, and instead stays very much in tune with the more subdued charm that defines these stories. Never does it venture in its playfulness to impose upon the familiar and much-loved minimalist style. The film's standout moment, in fact, is a considerably surreal one - Pooh's vision of a land of honey, with him gloriously standing right in the middle, bathing in it - and it's very funny, too. The voice cast, expectantly, pull off very good work here, and while hardcores may be temporarily blindsided by some of the new players in some of the parts, each fits the bill exceedingly well and embodies the long-living spirit of their characters superbly. To some audiences not too familiar with Pooh, it may seem almost much ado about too little; it is by its nature very breezy and not at all interested in updating itself to accommodate Pixar's tendency for big issues. It is unapologetically pure, simple, unadulterated fun. The plot revolves around two chief capers - Eyeore losing his tail, fuelling even more introspection on his part, as the residents of Hundred Acre Wood audition new ones, and the panic emerging after Christopher Robin hastily scrawls a note saying "Back soon", which is interpreted by the animals as him having been kidnapped by a creature known as the "Backson". It is all in the name of unpretentious, yet still quite sophisticated, fun. It's especially nice to see that the product hasn't lost its tendency not to rush things; there's an austerity to the gags that's rare in contemporary animation, and that it retains a wry sense of wit at the same time is hugely impressive. The songs also reflect this simplicity; far away from the catchy bubblegum renditions of recent films such as Tangled, this is a more simple, yet equally easy to warm to, mix of tunes. Short and sweet, Winnie the Pooh positively refuses to outstay its welcome. It takes us by the hand and quietly reminds us of a simpler time when 3D and CGI were a mere twinkle in someone's eye. The film also comes with an animated short film attached entitled The Ballad of Nessie. Narrated by Billy Connolly, this chirpy little Scottish tale is as pleasantly simplistic as the main feature, depicting Nessie as a misunderstood creature who is captured and deprived of water. Winnie The Pooh is released on Friday.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.