Skip to main content

Winnie The Pooh (2011): Just for Kids

By Tiffiny Whitney · July 18, 2011

Coming from a long line of Disney princesses, fairy dust, and unrealistic expectations about life always working out, it’s been more than a little depressing to see Disney distance themselves in recent years from their chief identifier—hand-drawn animation. 

Enter Disney’s newest Winnie the Pooh, a one-hour “short” film that resurrects Disney’s two-dimensional old-school charm and beauty, and maintains many of the other characteristics that fans have come to love about Disney stories and characters.  The new film acts as both a nostalgic stroll down memory lane for Disney traditionalists, as well as a gateway drug for a new generation.  And though Winnie the Pooh highlights some of Disney’s strengths from an entertainment perspective, I’d be lying if I weren’t honest in admitting that it comes up slightly short on the technical front. 

And yes—I now fear for my life for admitting it. 

Firstly, I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this right now, you’re aware of the mythology of Pooh.  You know that the cartoons are based on the classic children’s stories by A.A. Milne, and that they follow the exploits of stuffed animals and their human owner, Christopher Robin, in the imaginary setting of the Hundred Acre Wood.  If you’re not familiar with this—go Netflix a couple of the old cartoons right now.  Otherwise this is going to get really weird.

In this new adventure, Pooh Bear wakes to, what else, but a grumbly tummy and an insatiable addiction for honey.  In his morning wanderings, the film reintroduces all of the familiar Hundred Acre Wood characters, from Tigger, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga and Roo, and of course, Eeyore.  Just as it starts to get a bit tedious, however, what appears to be the central conflict of the film finally appears–the recent loss of Eeyore’s detachable tail.  Depressed (more so than usual) over its loss, the Hundred Acre Wood gang bands together to find a practical solution to the dilemma by trying to find a replacement tail.  The montage of their attempts is—and I’ll say it right now—freaking adorable. 

Then…the plot then gets hijacked by another storyline where Christopher Robin disappears for a short time, and Eeyore’s tail becomes a subservient concern to saving Christopher Robin from an unknown monster known as the Backson. 

If that paragraph felt like it came out of nowhere, that’s because it did—just like the sudden turn and focus on Christopher Robin’s disappearance and the Backson storyline.  And, as much as I wanted to first focus on Disney’s triumph in maintaining consistency of character, this technical failure is really something at the forefront in analyzing the new Winnie the Pooh as a standalone film that can communicate effectively to both children and adults.  At this point—I’d say Winnie the Pooh is just a kids movie, and a slightly lazy one at that. 

Any beginning screenwriting student can tell you that 101 outlines the plot of a screenplay in three acts—with a  clear beginning and introduction of main conflict, middle with a complication, and end with a resolution.  And while Disney loosely follows this outline (as all ends are nicely tied in the third act), the majority of the film meanders in its execution.  And a brand new conflict – essentially the main conflict/objective – is introduced almost halfway into the film, instead of at the end of act one, where the protagonists are locked in, propelling them into the second act.

And just because it’ll pass as wholesome entertainment for toddlers doesn’t mean that an adult would necessarily enjoy the film if they didn’t have their own five-year-old with them.  I think that maybe that’s where this great sense of disappointment is coming from.  Disney has been adept in the past at pleasing both parents and kids with films like Tangled or the Disney/Pixar Toy Story and sequels.  Winnie the Pooh, at least for me, seems to really only have concern for one of those age groups—and it’s not the person paying for the ticket.

That’s not to say that Winnie the Pooh is a complete failure.  On the contrary, it is a strength that, no matter how slightly incoherent or secondary the plot may be to watching a fat, golden bear look for honey—it does succeed on the front of being entertaining for children, and at times, for adults in its occasional usage of higher-brow humor.  Plus, there’s just the fact that it’s adorable, and there’s a nostalgic aspect to it that makes it worth watching once (but no more than that). 

And, though it falls short in the plot department, Winnie the Pooh, is a beacon for having a strong sense and use of character—however, it is one-dimensional.  Their use of it is utilitarian and necessary, given the familiarity of its audience with the mythology of Pooh. And though “recycling” the characters for monetary gain seems like a cop out, there’s actually a tremendous talent and skill necessary in taking characters that haven’t been actively used and developed theatrically in years and transplanting them into a modern setting.

I don’t say “modern” to mean that the Hundred Acre Wood has been turned into a housing development project and that Pooh Bear and his friends are struggling to make it in the tough world of New York City (though I think I’d pay to see that…).  I mean that Winnie the Pooh has a huge task here to not only enthrall a new audience of children, but also, to meet the expectations of their adult parents who remember these characters from 45 years ago.  Winnie the Pooh does not disappoint on this front.  Many of the character voices—particularly that of the Pooh himself—are so similar to the original that you’d almost think that this film came out in the 1960’s or 1970’s. 

The characters are also extremely similar to what those of us old enough to remember would recall them being.  Pooh is still the sweet, affable, albeit simple and single-minded, silly old bear that we all remember.  Rabbit is still neurotic, with a stick so far up his butt that he could pass as the scarecrow of his own vegetable garden.  Eeyore is pleasantly pessimistic, and Tigger is…well, still “the only one” in my book.

And I understand how hypocritical I’m sounding here.  I am constantly harping on the importance of character—yet, here we have a film that demonstrates good character and consistency, and yet it’s still not a great film.  The big problem in Winnie the Pooh is a failure to marry character and plot.  Both, in a really good film, are important.  Plus, even though we might not necessarily want the Pooh characters to change—change is an equally important aspect to have in a film in order to keep your audience hooked on the journey that unfolds both in the film and inwardly for the characters on screen.

In Winnie the Pooh, if our characters were intending on remaining the same, a plot focusing on the characters finding a new tail for Eeyore would make sense, given who they are and their concerns.  By shoehorning the Backson in there though, it feels like a very external event overshadowing a plot that would have actually made more sense.  And if they wanted to go the Backson route—they should have in the beginning, not halfway through.

And maybe the flat, immutable characters are a necessary evil.  After all—no one wants to see a Winnie the Pooh film where Tigger gets his tail tragically amputated by Christopher Robin’s kid sister, and he has to struggle to regain is identity as something more than a bouncer.  That being said though, our characters have a “flat” feeling that gives us very little reason to return to the Hundred Acre Wood because it’s…always going to be the same old thing.  The only exception to this would be Pooh Bear’s decision in the resolution of the film to pick the interests of his friends over his own ultimately selfish pursuits—but that’s it. 

So where do I stand on Winnie the Pooh?  It really depends on the purpose of the outing.  If you’ve got children too young to grasp the complexities of the fight between good and evil in Harry Potter, then Winnie the Pooh is your ticket.  It is the definition of “wholesome,” and your kids will enjoy the slapstick comedy and cute characters that you remember growing up with.  You’ll even enjoy the Easter egg at the end of the credits a lot

If you’re going as an adult and want to be entertained for an afternoon, then I suggest either Netflixing the original Disney films from the 60’s, or picking up a copy of the original the A.A. Milne Winnie the Pooh stories themselves.  After all, if you wanted the “same old thing,” why not get it from the original?  It’ll be a better use of your time.