Directors: Stephen Anderson / Don Hall
Cast: John Cleese, Jim Cummings, Bad Luckey, Craig Ferguson, Jack Boulter
Watch Winnie The Pooh online in the UK: DisneyLife / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / iTunes / Google Play
Accepted wisdom nowadays in Hollywood is that, if something gets faintly tired or out-of-date, it can be rebooted or remade. That’s something which is as true of kids’ favourites as adult classics – remember Jarvis Cocker singing about the bad cover version of the later Tom and Jerry cartoons when the cat and mouse could talk? What’s astonishing, almost radical, about Winnie The Pooh, is that it adopts a different policy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Despite songs from none-more-hipster Zooey Deschanel, this wholesome, hand-drawn entertainment couldn’t be more old-fashioned if it tried. The characters look (and, thanks to attentive voice casting) sound exactly as they’ve done since Disney starting doing A.A. Milne back in the 1960s. We are back in the Hundred Acre Wood of our childhoods, so bucolic that Eeyore’s lost tail and a misunderstanding over a note can prompt an hour or so of… not drama exactly, but incident.
Even the threat generated by mythical creature the Backson – the sort of plot twist with which a crass producer might open out classic material into a chase sequence or an action set-piece – turns out to be nothing of the kind. The film’s benevolence towards its young target audience extends to foregrounding the fact that the Backson isn’t real, the result of a linguistic misunderstanding… and so nothing punctures the hunny-gathering adventures bar the animals’ own naivety.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. John Cleese’s narrator gets involved in conversations with the characters as they amble through the illustrations in (what is implied to be) the original Milne book. It’s a cute meta-textual conceit, as Pooh is admonished for asking what will happen and the letters from the page invade the story-world itself to provide crucial narrative assistance. Refreshingly, this doesn’t come across as clever-dickery, but as one with the acknowledged fantasy that the creatures are just stuffed toys which Christopher Robin has imagined into anthropomorphism. There’s some lovely play with language throughout (a sequence confusing ‘can knot’ with ‘cannot’ feels like a child’s primer into punnery), although it must be said that the film’s commendable literate bent doesn’t quite square with Pooh’s characteristic misspelling of just about every word in his vocabulary.