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THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH
Friendship Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Sterling Holloway, Paul Winchell, Sebastian Cabot
Directors:  John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  74 Minutes
Release Date:  June 19, 2007

“Silly old bear.”

Film ****

There’s always been a warm place in my heart for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, despite its being a film that has gone into the shredder and back over the years.  Originally release in 1977 as a full length animated feature, it was actually the careful clever pasting together of three shorter films, each released a decade earlier, with new wraparound material and a fresh ending.  In the years since, this movie would once again be dissected into its three main stories for video sales, then put back together again for re-release.

Now, for its 30th anniversary, Walt Disney has offered a "Friendship Edition" disc that puts the Pooh stories back in feature-length form for DVD release, and for my money, it’s the best way to watch them.  The characters in them are warm, winsome, and hopelessly endearing, bringing to life not only the classic books by author A. A. Milne, but the fantastic and imaginative world of childhood when your toys actually seemed alive to you.

Based on his own son and his stuffed animals, Milne created characters that would make an indelible impact on children’s literature in the early 20th century.  Later, under the guidance of Walt Disney, they would also become indelible characters in children’s films as well.  These were as well defined and as instantly recognizable characters as any that would come out of the Disney studios…partially because of keeping faithful to the spirit of the original books, but largely because of the inspired voice casting.

Arguably, two of the three greatest voice casting jobs ever to come out of Disney animation came from the Winnie the Pooh films.  Sterling Holloway, as Pooh, offered a voice that was practically indistinguishable from the bear himself, projecting a quality of innocence and sweetness and a charming sense of being a little less than bright.  And Paul Winchell gave Disney their liveliest character ever in Tigger with his manically energetic rendering…is it any wonder the bouncing striped feline remains one of the most popular characters in the studio’s history?  (For those wondering, my pick for third greatest Disney voice casting job is Phil Harris as Baloo in The Jungle Book.)

If the casting went a long way in creating the characters, though, the stories went a long way in making them memorable.  From “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree”, where our beloved bear gets himself into a sticky situation to the Oscar winning “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” which introduced Tigger and had a great deal of fun with a whole lot of wind to the finale “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too!”, these are sweet tales with a gentle moral lesson or two that each brings the characters to vivid life.  If Pooh was curious and innocent and Tigger was exuberant, who could ever forget the gloomy Eeyore, the matronly Kanga and the cherubic Roo, the worrywart Rabbit, the nervous but kind Piglet or the windbag Owl?  Not to mention Walt Disney’s own addition to the mix…the whistle-toothed Gopher, who added a few big chuckles to the stories.

All of these flow together in an imaginatively conceived world that never lets you forget the tales’ literary source.  The characters exist in a book…we see the text and pictures come to life before our eyes!  “I almost bounced right out of the book!” Tigger even exclaims at one point.  It’s a homage that’s both endearing and clever.

The final goodbye scene is one of Disney’s most touching.  It’s not over the top, nor does it wallow in emotion or sadness, but it manages to convey the sweetly solemn message:  childhood is fleeting, and a child’s relationship with his toys won’t last forever, though it may live forever in the memory of an adult.  It’s a perfect moment that seems effortless, and one of the reasons I’ve always found this movie to be so charming.

But most of the charm comes from how modest this cartoon seems when compared to some of the studio’s more lavishly produced entries…yet at the same time, how much more indelible it seems by the same comparison!  Walt Disney was a creator who was never afraid to push the envelopes of technology, theatrics and art, but at the same time, never forgot that it was the characters who made the story.  Though he didn’t live to see the completion of “Blustery Day”, many still credit that wonderful, winsome, windy segment and its sweet tale of selflessness as his true swan song. 

He couldn’t have asked for a more fitting memorial.

Video ***

The Hundred Acre Woods are looking pretty good these days, thanks to DVD.  This is the most colorful and vibrant presentation I can remember seeing for this film (and I even owned the laser disc back in the day).  Tones and colors have held up well over the years and look better than ever here.  Some aging artifacts are apparent…a slight flicker here, a streak there…but nothing too distracting.  Grain is minimal to none and images are generally well defined and crisp.  A good effort.

Audio ***

The best aspect of the 5.1 remix is the music, featuring tunes by Robert and Richard Sherman and a delightful score.  Every instrument in the orchestra sounds out with clarity and distinction.  Dynamic range is fairly good, particularly on the “Blustery Day” sequence, which also makes subtle uses of the rear stage for extra ambience.  The .1 channel is used sparingly but effectively, again mostly for accentuating the lower end of the music.  Nicely done overall.

Features ***1/2

Quite a fun features package here, especially for the little ones.  My favorite?  “Pooh’s Pop Up Fun Facts”, a subtitle feature that gives you little fun bits of information and trivia questions at the bottom of the screen while you watch.  There is also the original theme song as performed by Carly Simon in a nicely designed music video, an art gallery, a story called “Pooh’s Shadow”, a sing-along for “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers”, the 100 Acre Woods Challenge Game (for the kids), a delightful making-of featurette, the modern classic short “A Day For Eeyore” plus "My Friends Tigger & Pooh".

Summary:

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a sweet natured, big hearted classic that has never grown old.  With this quality DVD offering from Disney giving a new generation of parents the chance to share these stories with their kids, there’s no reason to think they ever WILL grow old.

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