Children’s films these days generally tend to feel like dry runs for their inevitable video-game adaptations, especially 3-D kid flicks that are all about shiny things going zoom. So it’s refreshing to watch a children’s film that moseys along placidly to the soothing rhythms of a beautifully illustrated children’s book rather than attempting to mimic the deafening volume and speed of most children’s entertainment. Disney’s lovely, John Cleese-narrated new adaptation of Winnie The Pooh represents an unusually pure literary adaptation, and not just because words have such a physical presence in the film that they literally help the characters out of a bind. Winnie The Pooh is a bibliophile kid’s film that assumes, to its credit, that children love words and books and the characters contained within them just as much as it does.
Winnie The Pooh’s wafer-thin plot finds its fluff-stuffed bear in a state of mild panic after running out of honey. He soon has more to worry about when he encounters a troublesome note from his friend Christopher Robin explaining that he’s busy but will be “back soon.” Pooh’s pompous pal Owl misinterprets the missive as a dire warning about a sinister creature known as the “BackSon” that will destroy everything in its path if they let it. Meanwhile, Eeyore has lost his tail, rendering him even more despondent and bereft of hope than usual.
Winnie the Pooh is distinguished by elegant simplicity. Directors Don Hall and Stephen Anderson reproduce both the gorgeous minimalism of the books they’re adapting and their tone of bittersweet whimsy edging unmistakably into melancholy, at least where the eternally tragicomic presence of Eeyore is concerned. In the film’s funniest sequence, the manic Tigger tries to reinvent the depressive Eeyore in his own ebullient image with predictably unsuccessful results. Winnie The Pooh is a storybook brought to life with intelligence, wit, and palpable affection; where so many kids’ films try desperately to come off as hip and timely that they often feel tacky and instantly dated, Winnie The Pooh is bravely quiet, old-fashioned, and wry. The same is true of “The Ballad Of Nessie,” a lovely short film about the loneliness of the Loch Ness monsters and the healthiness of tears, which just barely stretches Winnie The Pooh past the hour mark.