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Pooh's Heffalump Movie

(2005) ** 1/2 G
68 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Frank Nissen. Cast: John Fiedler, Nikita Hopkins, Kath Soucie, Ken Sansom, Peter Cullen.

Ever since 1966's animated short "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree," Walt Disney Pictures has happily mined A.A. Milne's classic stories of the tight-knit (pardon the pun) community of lively stuffed animals belonging to British lad Christopher Robin. One cast member of this protean series (John Fiedler as Piglet) has survived since 1968's "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day," though Sterling Holloway (Pooh) and Paul Winchell (Tigger) are now channeled by the talented Jim Cummings.

Beside the shorts "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!" (1974) and "Winnie the Pooh and A Day For Eeyore" (1983), Disney also produced a Saturday morning cartoon from 1988 to 1991. In turn, that popular reinvigoration of Pooh led to a slew of direct-to-video titles and, finally, a new series of feature films: The Tigger Movie (2001), Piglet's Big Movie (2003), and now Pooh's Heffalump Adventure. The Pooh franchise has slipped steadily in quality, but remains lovable all the same (not unlike the Muppets post-Jim Henson). Here again are the warm-sweater comforts: the pretty, verdant, picture-book designs, the deathless characters of the Hundred Acre Wood, and the mildest of adventurous conflicts.

Pooh's Heffalump Adventure is a rather Roo-centric story, as it turns out. When Pooh (a yellow bear), Piglet, Rabbit (Ken Sansom), and springy-tailed bouncer Tigger discover large, elephantine tracks, they know the legendary heffalump is near. Resolving to capture the creature and allay their fears, the friends plan an expedition into Heffalump Hollow, but insist that young kangaroo Roo (Nikita Hopkins) stay safely at home. Mother Kanga (Kath Soucie) concurs, encouraging Roo not to grow up too fast. How a stuffed animal can grow up—and not merely old—is a mystery the film fails to address.

Of course, Roo sets out on his own and finds a heffalump (endearingly voiced by precocious young Brit Kyle Stanger). As the two negotiate their respective roles—is the heffalump a prisoner or playmate?—the bumbling expedition accidentally splits up. Tigger and Rabbit go one way, Pooh and Piglet another, and sad-sack Eeyore (Peter Cullen) brings up the distant rear. Mostly, the plot consists of wandering around the hollow until something happens. When something does happen, two-time Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn joins the voice cast for a good five minutes.

Carly Simon, who also wrote the songs for Piglet's Big Movie collaborated with composer Joel McNeely on five original songs: "The Horribly Hazardous Heffalumps," "Little Mr. Roo," "The Name Game," "Shoulder to Shoulder," and "In the Name of the Hundred Acre Wood"/"What Do You Do?" Simon's songs are inoffensive, but none is as memorable or tuneful as the theme which opens the movie: "Winnie the Pooh!", written by Mary Poppins twosome Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.

It's all in good fun, and screenwriters Brian Hohlfeld and Evan Spiliotopoulos make—within the gentle Pooh universe—the strong, kiddie-sized point that fear of the unknown leads to dangerous prejudice. Adults will be forgiven for checking their watches, but Pooh's Heffalump Adventure is innocent family entertainment of the dying 2D-animation breed. In the absence of anything better, it's a fine outing for the young'uns.

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