Review: Disney’s WINNIE THE POOH

I have been re-watching the classic Disney animated features in order. After Disney himself passed away, the Golden Age had passed, and a long Dry Spell ensued: the work product was inferior, and the characters markedly less memorable.

Nonetheless, even the inferior Disney films from this period are superior to nearly any children’s fare anywhere, and will be the favorite childhood film of many a nostalgic soul. So, rest assured, even the poorest film reviewed from this period is one well worthwhile to sit down and show to your children.

THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH (1977) is an oddity on this list, an oasis in the Dry Spell, first, because it was not a feature film, but an anthology composed of three short films, seamlessly strung together; second, because it captures all the charm and delight of Golden Age Disney, for two of the three were produced under the hand of Disney himself, while he still lived. The sheer childlike wonder and whimsy are overwhelming.

The film is a “fix-up” comprised of Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974) with a short ending sequence wen Christopher Robin must depart for his school days, and say a last farewell. Sabestian Cabot provided the voice of the narrator, which is the perfect choice, his tones of urbane charm contrasting nicely with the sober silliness of the talking animal toys.

The tale is perfectly adorable. I cannot see how anyone who loves children or childhood things can fail to love this film.

The story takes place in a storybook in a nursery where the toys are seen before we enter the animated world of imagination. The talking toy animals living in the woods are well aware they are stuffed toys in the turning pages of a storybook, whose letters can be blown in the blustery winds or washed away by flood waters, and the toys make the occasional remarks to the narrator.

Winnie the Pooh is a bear of little brain but greedy appetite. Aided by his human friend Christopher Robin, the bear hunts for honey in high tree, using a clever disguise to deceive irked bees. More honey is had at the house of his friend Rabbit, whose front door is blocked by the overfed bear when he tries to leave. The energetic Tigger warns him of Heffalumps and Woozles hunting for his honey, and leads to an hallucinogenic dream sequence. Windy days or rain or walking in circles occasionally cause problems for the toys, but no one is harmed, or even humiliated and they goodheartedly sustain each other. The nastiness of Bugs Bunny is nowhere is evidence, and would be unimaginable in the Hundred Ace Wood.

The animation lacks the artistic elegence of BAMBI or SLEEPING BEAUTY, and is closer in quality to SWORD IN THE STONE. But in this case elegance would be out of place, and the uncomplicated style adds charm and befits the theme.

Each character is simple, distinct, and adorable: Eeyore is glum, Owl is verbose, Rabbit is fussy, Piglet is small. Tigger is bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, and fun, fun, fun.

The Hundred Acre Woods is perhaps the most timeless and elfin of imaginary landscapes ever imagined, and Disney brings to life the promise held in A.A.Milne’s map penned in the endpapers of the book, complete with treehouses with their misspelled names, spots where thinking or picnics are nice, or woozles aren’t.

What overwhelms a soul like mine about this work is the simplicity, goodheartedness, and cheer of the whole thing, the childlike innocence so rarely found in the real world, so rarely captured in storybooks. When Piglet allows his house to be given to Owl rather than speak up and disappoint the gloomy Eeyore (who had volunteered to find Owl a new home), and Pooh immediately takes in Piglet to live with him, it brings a tear to the eye. Likewise, when Christopher Robin is carried away for mysterious reasons to go to something called school, and leave his nursery toys behind, he exacts a promise from Pooh neither to forget nor be forgotten by his friend.

Not just the wonder but the poignant melancholy of childhood is captured here, for every child grows, leaves childish things behind, learns he is mortal, and the magic lives in memory only.

Childhood memories turn golden with age, or should do. A.A. Milne captures, with the magic of his pen, this strange fairy-gold with remarkable straightforwardness, and Pooh’s simplicity is not foolishness, even if the bear himself is foolish, but wise with divine wisdom and modest humbleness. He is only a little toy, after all.

Disney captures the magic of Milne and makes it fruitful.

When flanked by such modest and forgettable offerings such as ROBIN HOOD and THE RESCUERS, the contrast of this timeless masterpiece is even more shocking.

Walt Disney is famed for his retelling of children’s books and fairytales, adorned with added material, often adding happier endings than the original, and leaving on the work his unique stamp of optimism, charm, moral sobriety, and can-do spirit which formed the leitmotif of his generation — in part, due to his influence on his generation. His company followed in his footsteps for many years after his death.

So it is only to be expected that Disney’s Winnie the Pooh differs from A.A.Milne, just has Disney’s Alice from ALICE IN WONDERLAND, differed from Lewis Carroll. But Disney’s sense of life did not mesh well with the oversomber British nonsense and playfulness of Lewis Carroll. The two great storytellers were too far apart in their approach to storytelling. Disney’s ALICE is one of his least well regarded works, and rightly so.

But when A.A. Milne’s work, the opposite is true: Disney took the character of Winnie and made him even more whimsical, adding depth and charm, making the silly old bear even more Poohlike. Not in the least by the decision to have Sterling Holloway do the voice-acting, which immortalized both bear and voice actor. Tigger is voiced by ventriloquist Paul Winchell, equally as immortal.

Every element of draftsmanship, music, animation and voice acting comes together to catch lighting in a bottle. WINNIE THE POOH is one of the most well regarded of Disney’s works, and rightly so.

Even among Disney classics, this is a classic.