After jumping on the postmodern bandwagon with the snarky Tangled, Disney attempts something relatively laidback and classical with Winnie the Pooh, their first theatrical excursion into A.A. Milne country since 2005’s Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. Had the creators followed through on fulfilling those qualities (executive producer John Lasseter has vocalized intent to make a film that would “transcend generations”), this latest installation in the franchise might have touched the greatness of the early shorts (most commonly seen in the 1977 compilation The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh); one suspects a touch of generational pandering embedded in the way the film races through what should have been a comparatively light stroll.
A purported return to form—emphasized herein by a live-action storytelling bookend, interactive text animation, and John Cleese’s low-key narration—proves a half-baked effort that frequently dispatches with tradition to cater to anyone made impatient by shots more than a few seconds in length. Alternately delightful, annoying, and forgettable, the film caters to the hyperactive Tiggers in the audience, when it should really be aimed at the Poohs, Piglets, and Eeyores. Kids these days.
Running a scant 69 minutes (which includes end credits, a post-credits Easter egg, and the superfluous short, The Ballad of Nessie, that precedes it), the film is light on plot, but the meandering possibilities offered to the peripatetics of the Hundred Acre Wood are frequently squandered amid weightless songs and humor that suggest IQs have dropped sharply since we last visited this cast of characters. Such as it is, the narrative backbone concerns Pooh’s efforts at obtaining his beloved pot of honey amid other happenings on an important day in which he’s to do some unknown but very important thing; meanwhile, Eeyore loses his tail and must find a replacement, and Christopher Robin’s absence quickly morphs into a frantic hunt for an imaginary monster when Owl offers his interpretation of the boy’s handwritten note.
Though less morally empowering than The Tigger Movie or Piglet’s Big Movie, there’s still something to be said for the film’s crystalline look at friendship and selflessness; Pooh’s moral triumph isn’t all that weighty, but it’s almost existentially profound to see the silly old bear forgo honey a little while longer because of someone else’s needs. Purist offenses notwithstanding, Winnie the Pooh is still above par for kids fodder and might even set some young minds on the path of love and acceptance. Pity it’s only half of what it could have been.