Most of the time, new movies succeed or fail on their own. Viewers have no bias because they have no previous experience with what they’re seeing. But every so often, a movie comes along that the viewer will have fond memories of and a feeling of nostalgia will kick in, negating any type of critical reaction he or she may have otherwise had. For a child of the 80’s like me, it may be something like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but for practically anyone currently alive, it could be something like Winnie the Pooh. The character that was first born in 1926 is back on the big screens this week in a new movie called, well, Winnie the Pooh, and it, for better or worse, captures the essence of the characters that so many have come to love and cherish. For those people, young and old, Winnie the Pooh will be a delight, but for those who never liked the honey-sucking bear and his dopey pals, it feels a bit pointless.
I suppose I should say I’m in that latter group, but spewing venomous words at the film is hard to do because it’s as light and harmless as can be. It’s one of the kindest, gentlest movies I’ve ever seen and it, for a brief time, made equals of the children and adults in the audience, the former most likely experiencing Pooh and his pals for the first time while the latter happily relived the days when they were as carefree as their children they brought to the theater. For those people, I am happy, but I cannot, as a critic, recommend a movie I didn’t like, even if it worked for those around me.
Growing up in my family, there were two distinct trains of thoughts when it came to Winnie the Pooh. My mother and sister loved him while my father and I hated him. Even as a child, I failed to see what was so interesting about a simple-minded (possibly learning disabled) bear who ate honey. He seemed to do nothing more than trot around the Hundred Acre Wood, chatting with his equally uninteresting friends (including Eeyore, the ever depressed donkey who would be on suicide watch if he were a real person) about inconsequential drivel. In what must be at least a 15 year gap since I’ve watched anything involving Pooh, little has changed.
Some might think my perspective on what happens in these stories as “inconsequential drivel” is merely strong hyperbole, but it’s not. There isn’t a more appropriate word to describe this movie than “inconsequential,” in fact. Take away its credits and the short film that precedes it and Winnie the Pooh isn’t even an hour long. And within that short runtime, the filmmakers have neglected to place a story. It has a beginning, middle and end, sure, but it’s missing one thing any good story needs: conflict. At one point in the film, Christopher Robin goes away and leaves a note saying he’ll “be back soon.” The gang, however, incorrectly reads that he was kidnapped by a “backson.” So they go on their way setting up traps to capture the backson and get Robin back, but because the backson isn’t real, there’s no threat, nothing to create any type of narrative arc. There are no internal conflicts either because the characters in the wood community all get along. Things happen, of course, but I’m not sure what happens can be considered a story.
It’s easy to say these things, especially given that Pooh and friends are the products of little Robin’s imagination (what a dull head he must live in), but I almost feel bad for doing so. It has crisp, clean, colorful and bright 2D animation that works as a throwback to Disney days of old when everything was innocent and simpler. It’s good, goofy fun if you’re a kid or liked Pooh as one, but I’m not and I didn’t. I find him and his pals boring and lacking interesting personalities. So while I admire it for its traditional look and good intentions, I just can’t justify recommending it.
Winnie the Pooh receives 2.5/5