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Winnie the Pooh

(2011) *** G
63 min. Walt Disney Studios Distribution. Directors: Don Hall (II), Stephen J. Anderson. Cast: John Cleese, James Cummings, Craig Ferguson, Travis Oates, Bud Luckey.

/content/films/4249/1.jpgDisney kicks it old school with the short and sweet Winnie the Pooh, a back-to-basics charmer evoking the Pooh short films from the '60s and '70s ("Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree," "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" and "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too"). Though many fans of A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books aren't entirely sold on the Disney-fied versions, the new film is at least a step in the right direction, away from flash and toward the quaint gentility that characterized the Milne stories.

The unhurried plot of Winnie the Pooh loosely derives from three Milne chapters: "In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One," "In Which Piglet Meets a Heffalump" and "In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day and We Learn What Christopher Robin Does in the Mornings." The gang's all here: the roly-poly, semi-literate bear obsessed with where his next paw of "hunny" is coming from (Jim Cummings voices Pooh), bouncy-tailed Tigger (also Cummings), meek but good-natured Piglet (Travis Oates), high-strung Rabbit (Tom Kenny), purportedly wise Owl (Craig Ferguson), eternally depressed Eeyore (Bud Luckey), and mother and child Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez) and Roo (Wyatt Hall). All are stuffed animals belonging to Christopher Robin (Jack Boutler), whose credulity seems to bring them to life for their low-key adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood.

This time around, Pooh must postpone his acquisition of honey to help Eeyore replace his missing tail. The next hullaballoo concerns a misunderstanding caused by Owl, who incorrectly surmises that Christopher Robin has been abducted by a monster called the "Backson" (in fact, the boy has left a note reading "Back Soon"). The locals comically tumble into the pitfall they arrange for the Backson, but eventually all is set right, including the restoration of Eeyore's tail: it wouldn't be a Pooh movie if optimism and frienship didn't finally carry the day. The storybook visuals take the notion literally, returning to the original films' playful, self-aware attitude about the letters forming the narration (read here by John Cleese). The throwback style extends to the tuneful songs, eight in all, with three of them sung by Zooey Deschanel (and seven of them penned by Robert and Kristen Lopez). A thoroughly nice antidote to frantic CGI kiddie fare, Winnie the Pooh answers the musical question posed in its own Keane-scored trailers: "Oh simple thing where have you gone?"

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 10/25/2011

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Disney delivers Winnie the Pooh in DVD + Blu-ray combo packs that deliver perfect clarity in sight and sound. Every line is well-defined in the hand-drawn image, and color and contrast are beautifully calibrated. The rich, rock-solid image finds its compliment in a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix that makes the most of the original soundtrack, winningly bolstering the dialogue, spreading the love to surround channels as warranted, and giving the music the warmth and fullness that is its due.

Bonus features begin with making-of featurette "Winnie the Pooh and His Story Too" (8:33, HD), which contextualizes the film in its Milne origin and earlier Disney adaptations before giving a brief overview of the approach to the new film.

Five "Deleted Scenes" (15:06, HD) come with introductions by directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall.

Theatrical short "The Ballad of Nessie" (5:32, HD), which accompanied the feature in theaters, returns here. We also get the short "Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Pooh's Balloon" (2:47, HD), which reedits a portion of "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree."

Subtitle bonus "Sing Along with the Movie" and "Disney Song Selection" make it easier to access and enjoy the film's music.

"Creating the Perfect Winnie the Pooh Nursery" (2:52, HD) finds baby planners Melissa and Ellie offering nursery design tips in a Pooh theme.

The enclosed DVD includes three of the five deleted scenes, the two short films, and "Creating the Perfect Winnie the Pooh Nursery."

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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