The three 1960s Walt Disney cinema shorts based on A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh characters were enormously successful, won Academy Awards and have inspired at least one authentic masterpiece remix (go online and search for Apocalypse Pooh). But they never really clicked in Britain, where we tend to associate the Hundred Acre Wood with tweedy eccentric readings from the likes of Alan Bennett, Willie Rushton or David Davies (not the MP) and cringe at the American voices imposed on the characters. Things have not been helped by a run of cheapo spinoffs, like The Tigger Movie. This is a sincere attempt to stick a little closer to the tone of the books, down to getting a proper British kid to voice Christopher Robin and employing John Cleese as a narrator who argues with Pooh as he wanders through the story.
There are two plot-hooks here, derived from the stories. Eeyore has lost his tail, and Christopher Robin promises a big pot of honey to whoever finds it, which leads to competition among the stuffed animal cast, and impractical tail substitutes like an anchor or a balloon (the balloon is a major character here). Then, C.R. disappears, leaving a note saying he’ll be ‘back soon’, which Owl interprets as meaning that he’s been kidnapped by a scary beast called a Backson, prompting the digging of a trap everyone naturally falls into. Longtime readers will recognise elements of the ‘hunt for the heffalump’ story, but heffalumps must have a stronger anti-defamation league than in the old days because they’re not even mentioned. Throughout, Pooh is jonesing for honey like a crack-deprived junkie on The Wire, hitting up his connections and getting only empty pots, having delirious visions of swimming in the stuff, and tormented by an angry rumbling stomach.
There’s charm and ingenuity in the classical animation, but the script is literally dumbed down – the joke is that everyone is stupid, which makes Pooh’s ‘bear of little brain’ act less distinctive – and the new songs are just horrid. Barely an hour long, with two excruciating shorts – some Neverland pirates and Captain Hook squabble over a goldfish, Billy Connolly narrates tartan guff about the Loch Ness Monster – thrown in to pad out the program. Parents, take down the books and read them to the kids, doing funny voices and trying not to sniffle in the heart-breaking last chapter … it’s better for them and for you than supporting this corporate whimsy.