Monday, December 9, 2013

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

          As most people recall from childhood, A.A. Milne’s classic character Winnie the Pooh is a loveably simple bear who lives in a fantasy realm called the Hundred Acre Wood. Along with animal friends including Eeyore the Donkey, Kanga and her baby Roo, Owl, Piglet, and the irrepressible Tigger—as well as human companion Christopher Robin—Pooh is the device by which Milne told sweet stories about devotion, friendship, and love. Given this combination of cute-animal whimsy and inspirational themes, Pooh was a natural subject for cartoon adaptation by the Walt Disney Company. Disney initially released three theatrical shorts, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974), which were compiled—along with a small amount of new material—for this feature.
          Since Milne’s books were anthologies, the compilation of the shorts works exceptionally well for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, with one “chapter” flowing seamlessly into the next. Additionally, because the vignettes integrate clever references to their literary sources—shifts between scenes are often depicted by cutting to book pages featuring an illustration that becomes the first shot of the next scene, and so on—The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh gracefully balances animated entertainment with a visual celebration of reading. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is lovingly designed, with gentle hand strokes visible in character delineation and wonderful washes of color permeating backgrounds. (While Disney didn’t retain the exact character designs from E.H. Shepard, who illustrated the original Pooh books, Disney’s style honors the spirit of Shepard’s work.)
          Predictably, the one area in which Disney succumbs to sticky-sweet excess is sound, since the studio created the aural aspect of the Hundred Acre Wood from scratch. Voice actor Sterling Holloway incarnates Pooh as the spirit of childlike innocence, just as John Fiedler (as Piglet) and Clint Howard (as Roo) personify adorableness with the squeaky little voices they provide for their characters. (It helps that narrator Sebastian Cabot provides a solidly adult sound for balance, and that voice actor Paul Winchell, as Tigger, channels eccentricity and exuberance instead of mere cuteness.) The music, by Mary Poppins tunesmiths Richard Sherman and Robert Sherman, also registers quite high on the glucose scale, especially with such silly wordplay as “Hip Hip Pooh-Ray” (the title of one of the Shermans’ songs).
          As for the “many adventures” depicted in the film, they’re mostly slight contrivances designed to showcase endearing characters. In order, Pooh gets into trouble while trying to score his favorite snack, honey; the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood face a torrential rainstorm; and Tigger makes mischief with his incessant bouncing. Adults may find 74 minutes of this stuff a bit hard to take in one sitting, but The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is about as edifying as children’s entertainment gets, in terms of exposing young viewers to wholesome themes of belonging, community, and companionship.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: GROOVY

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