Director: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman
Cast: Sterling Holloway, Bruce Reitherman, Sebastian Cabot, John Fiedler, Junius Matthews, Ralph Wright, Hal Smith and Paul Winchell as Tigger
Plot: Winnie the Pooh lives in the Hundred Acre Woods where he has to handle his bottomless hunger, his excitable friends and the weather. Oh bother.
As a film, I have a number of issues with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Quite a few of them are apparent before you even go in. The format of this film is three short films stitched together into a feature. I have a big issue with anthology films, as the storyteller in me believes that the whole point of a feature film is a movie that can carry itself for the entire 71 minutes. Splitting it into three shorts, no matter how delightful, doesn’t quite feel like a cinematic experience for me. There isn’t so much of a narrative arc to this film as a succession of moments. The stories are purposefully simple in nature and often wind up in the same direction. The characters of Hundred Acre Woods blunder through several dilemmas and often end up getting their dear human friend, Christopher Robin in to sort the problems out. By the third time, when Tigger, stuck up a tree, cries out for Christopher Robin, it is hard not to feel like Disney are scraping the bottom of the well for ideas. In fairness, there is a lot of fault in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that I have had with other Disney productions. There is a very Walt Disney air to certain scenes and the whole episodic nature of the story does strike of other Disney features such as Alice in Wonderland or Sword in the Stone. Only here, it feels like Disney have given up trying to hide that fact. The film constantly references that it is a movie made up of chapters and your enjoyment of this film depends on how willing you are to get caught up in the anthology. Perhaps you prefer the honesty of the three short films, rather than the flimsy connecting plot of the likes of Jungle Book. However, then there are moments like Winnie the Pooh’s nightmare about elephants and weasels stealing his honey in the night, which feels pulled right out of the very early Disneys (namely Dumbo), which feels strangely extended, almost as though the writers were battling to bulk up the running time.
Yet, there is a certain creative explosion surrounding Winnie the Pooh. There are so many little tid-bits of ingenuity buried in these three shorts that you don’t ever get fed up with the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Sometimes it is just the dry way Sebastian Cabot’s narrator chews through a few words, perhaps it is a charming phrase quipped by Pooh… there are many genuine moments of entertaining intelligence that proves that Disney aren’t quite as out of ideas as you might believe they are. The main thing to applaud is some of the finest fourth-wall breaking this side of Deadpool. Fourth wall breaking is something I appreciate, but it is best done lightly, so not to come across as desperately clinging to an easy joke. But Winnie the Pooh never does anything desperately, his actions so lazy that stopping the movie to check with the narrator how prominent he is in the next chapter feels as casually normal as breathing. However, there are smaller, just as clever, moments that garner laughs, such as Piglet believing his grandfather was called Trespassers Will, because of a broken sign outside his house. And then there is the simple fact that this is a truly honest telling of A. A Milne’s iconic source text. Disney so precisely captures Milne’s spirit in the story that you would assume that the film company was behind the original material with the intent on creating this film adaptation. Sterling Holloway is an instant success, taking the sinister whisper he gave Kaa and turning it into the innocently friendly dialect of Pooh. In retrospect, it is a tricky character to nail, meant to be the hero of the piece but so naïve, flawed and inherently selfish that he actually has very few of the traits that should inspire heroism. But Holloway pulls it back, creating the kind of loveable oaf image that truly captures the spirit of Winnie the Pooh. The same goes for the iconic grumblings of Eeyore, the amusing ramblings of Gopher or the sporadic tantrums of Rabbit. And as soon as Tigger enters the film, halfway through the movie, the grin will be near impossible to wipe from your face, every part of the writing, acting and animation just excellent from rubbery top to springy bottom. Add them altogether and the film shows surprising heart, conveying the sense of remaining friends with people despite their shortcomings and how being kind to those around you actually solves the majority of problems that might come up. Just remember to hide the honey when they come around…
Final Verdict: The anthology format stops The Many Adventure of Winnie the Pooh for gathering too much momentum, but its content is sweet, intelligent and amusing.