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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Disneyear: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)

Thanks to the efforts of the Disney artists, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is today considered one of the classic staples of childhood for kids all over the world. At least the Disney version is. With clever songs, great stories with charming characters, and a surprisingly heavy atmosphere to it, Pooh remains as one of the most endearing of Disney films to date.

Based on the A.A. Milne stories about a boy named Christopher Robin and his many toy animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, this film is actually a collection of three previously short films with new footage to bridge the shorts together. So in a sense, this is a package film and the first since Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The idea of doing the shorts first was so that gradually as time when on, Uncle Walt would at least be familiar with the characters and stories before doing a feature length film, Walt's dream before he died. The first film, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, opened in 1966 with universal acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film. In 1968, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day actually won the award! By the time the third film came out, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, Pooh became a household name. So here we are in 1977, with the feature film Walt always wanted to see complete.

Let's turn to Chapter 1, in which we see Pooh go through his daily routine. Hungry for honey, Pooh finds out he's out of honey and climbs up a tree to get some more only to fall down. He then goes to his friend Christopher Robin to ask for a balloon. The reason being he plans on covering himself in mud to make himself look like a rain cloud, then he'll use the balloon to float up to the beehive. This backfires and forces Pooh to happily ask for some food through Rabbit. Rabbit offers some to be polite, but Pooh eats so much that when he tries to leave Rabbit's burrow, he gets stuck. The only solution is to wait a while until the bear gets thin. After a while, the plan works and everyone pulls Pooh out of Rabbit's home only to skyrocket to another honey tree where he happily helps himself to the sticky yellow stuff.

Eternally happy!
The next story involves a pretty violent windstorm were Pooh decides the reason why is that  it is a Winds-day. He goes to visit his friend Piglet only to have the poor pink piggy hanging on by a thread as the wind blows him like a kite. The two find themselves propelled to Owl's house where the two are invited to some tea and honey. The wind however worsens to where Owl's tree crashes to the ground, destroying his home. The droopy donkey Eeyore volunteers to find Owl a new home. That night, Pooh is visited by a very bouncy Tigger who tells him about honey-stealing animals called Heffalumps and Woozles. After a very trippy dream sequence, Pooh wakes up to find out that the wood has flooded. Meanwhile Piglet gets stranded on a chair in rapids with Pooh with his head stuck in a jar. The two are saved when Pooh's jar gets unstuck and catches Piglett in a waterfall. So everyone has a party to celebrate Pooh's blind heroism. Then Eeyore announces that he found Owl a new home. One problem: it's Piglet's house. In an extremely nice gesture, Piglet gives his home to Owl and Pooh allows Piglet to live with him. Another party is thrown for Piglet for giving Owl a new home and everyone is (mostly) happy again.

The original party animals.
The final chapter mostly concerns everyone's favorite springy tiger, Tigger. After bouncing everyone to annoyance (mostly Rabbit), Rabbit calls a meeting between Pooh and Piglet about how to stop Tigger's bouncing. Rabbit then comes up with a plan to lose Tigger in the woods and leave him there. Once they come back in a few days, Tigger will supposedly calm down and be more humble. They go with it and lose Tigger but wind up getting lost in the woods themselves. After separating, Tigger finds all of them only to learn that Tiggers never get lost. So comes winter and little Roo awaits for a play day with Tigger. The two bounce up a tree and get stuck. While Roo is happy and content, Tigger gets freaked out by the heights and is pretty much stranded. After getting Roo down, Tigger is still reluctant to get down, even vowing to never bounce again if he ever gets back to the ground. With a little help from the narrator, he gets down but gets bummed when Rabbit reminds him that he can't bounce again. After seeing Tigger depressed (to be honest, it's kind of hard to watch), Rabbit changes his mind and Tigger happily reverts to his old self, enticing everyone around to bounce.

Ninja bounce: it's what Tiggers do the bestest!
The film ends with Christopher Robin leaving for school. He and Pooh have a talk about the inevitability of the future, which to be honest is pretty heavy stuff. The two then run hand in hand to the distance and this is where our adventure comes to an end.

And that's the story of Pooh and his friends. I liked it fine as a kid, but looking at it again years later, it's a lot better than I remember. The Sherman Brothers songs are very catchy and clever and that sketchy style of animation has more of a home here. It's really like looking at the original Ernest Shepard illustrations. There are a lot of fourth-wall jokes that mostly involve using the book and narrator as sources of humor. It's very creative like that. There are a lot more creative scenarios of course, with the windstorm, flood, trees, and of course, the trippy heffalumps and woozles scene.

This film also has this very heavy atmosphere to it. The artists do a tremendous job on making this world that they created very likable. It's laid back and slow paced, but at the same time these characters are so interesting and nice that you really enjoy spending time with them. Hell, you don't care if much happens, you could just have a conversation with any one of them and probably walk away satisfied. The story itself is not that much of a flowing narrative. It's pretty much the life of Pooh and his friends in the course of a year (I think) and all the events that happen to them. To be honest, I really enjoy films that don't necessarily have to rely on a three-act structure. It's a film where characters are allowed to breathe and be themselves.

Speaking of characters, they're so famous that I don't even have to introduce them. I love them all, but I think the two that stand out the most to me are Tigger and Pooh himself. I mentioned Tigger in another post, but I'd like to discuss Pooh. It's really hard to not like him. I know people that despise Mickey Mouse, but I've never heard anyone say they hate Winnie the Pooh. I think I know why: he's naive but pleasant. He's optimistic but makes mistakes. He's polite and nice, but is oblivious to everyone elses' concerns. I think that makes him far more interesting as a character than someone like Mickey.

Especially the Russian version!
While The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is never really considered one of the great Disney films, I really think it should be. It's warm, friendly, fun, and pleasant to watch. I really enjoyed watching it again. This film is essentially childhood. It takes me back to that same old place and I never tire of going back.

TTFN! Ta-ta for now!

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