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Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh DVDs: Vol. 1: A Great Day of Discovery | Vol. 2: Friends Forever
Vol. 3: All for One, One for All (2005 Target exclusive) | Vol. 4: It's Playtime with Pooh | Vol. 5: Love & Friendship

Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: It's Playtime with Pooh DVD Review

Buy Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: It's Playtime with Pooh (Volume 4) from Amazon.com Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: It's Playtime with Pooh

The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Show Details
Directors: Terence Harrison, Carole Beers, Charles A. Nichols, Jamie Mitchell

Writers: Eric Lewald, Stephen Sustarsic, Carter Crocker, Lynn Feinermann, Mark Zaslove, Sindy McKay, Larry Swerdlove, Bruce Talkington

Voice Cast: Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger), Paul Winchell (Tigger), John Fiedler (Piglet), Ken Sansom (Rabbit), Peter Cullen (Eeyore), Michael Gough (Gopher), Tim Hoskins (Christopher Robin), Patty Parris (Kanga)

DVD Details
Running Time: 59 Minutes (4 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-Y equivalent)
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Ratio), Dolby Digital Stereo (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: May 23, 2006
Episodes Originally Aired Between 1989 and 1991
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5); Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
White Keepcase


It took almost sixteen months, but two new volumes of Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh have finally joined the debut wave on store shelves. The DVD line, which originated earlier this decade in the United Kingdom and Australia under the title The Magical World of Winnie the Pooh, did not make its way to the United States until just days before the February 2005 big screen release of Pooh's Heffalump Movie, the latest entry into the Hundred Acre
Wood gang's collective filmography. Nevertheless, little had changed besides the name: the discs were still composed primarily of episodes of "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh", an Emmy-winning Saturday morning cartoon series which aired on ABC from 1988 to 1993 and continues to live on in Disney Channel reruns.

The title of the much-loved animated television show is nowhere to be found on the Growing Up keepcases, however. Instead, the volumes' contents remain deliberately unclear and are touted for their rich education value. For instance, the subject of this review, It's Playtime with Pooh (which is best labeled Volume 4, though numbering has been dropped altogether this time around), is said to deal with "Feelings & Emotions, Problem-Solving, Creativity, and Social Skills" while teaching "Manners, Working Together, Responsibility, and Sharing." Gladly, it would appear that Disney's Television Animation, which was blossoming in the late '80s and early '90s, did not sit around coming up with a list of lessons that could be taught. They, like A.A. Milne had done sixty years earlier in the best-selling children's books from which Pooh sprung, were concerned with telling simple stories full of appeal.

Pooh and company are shocked at the DVD treatment bestowed upon their show. Christopher Robin, an ordinary boy, plays with his lively, extraordinary toys.

The makers of the show largely succeeded, but that makes this marriage -- of a cartoon series better than most with DVD treatment worse than most -- a highly unsatisfying one. Presumably, this tactic is being employed because Pooh puts up great sales numbers. On the business magazine Forbes's 2004 list of top-earning fictional characters, Pooh and Friends placed a very close second to Mickey Mouse and Friends. The Hundred Acre Wood gang's annual income of $5.6 billion dwarfs the intakes of highly lucrative franchises like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Spider-Man. So, rather than asking customers to pay $1 per episode via thrifty but satisfactory box sets like last November's "DuckTales" and "Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers" collections and the recently-announced "TaleSpin" and "Darkwing Duck" volumes due this August, Disney charges 2 times as much for episodes that typically run half as long here. And that is taking into account the new, lower suggested retail price of $14.99, which is also now being adopted by the first pair of discs.

To add insult to injury and further the illusion of these discs posing new material, the opening title sequences have been dropped altogether in favor of a new flat paper character motif which resurfaces in disposable barely-animated minute-long puppet shows, much briefer interstitial transitions, and the imagery which adorns the menus and the rare bonus feature.

Despite Disney's long-overdue and finally-realized efforts to bring their fondly-remembered syndicated Disney Afternoon shows back to customers, no such treatment appears to be in the works for the vastly profitable Pooh and friends. This latest batch of two brings the total number of Region 1 Growing Up discs to 5, with Volume 3 (All for One, One for All) being a fairly limited Target store exclusive packaged alongside one of two Christmas-themed Pooh DVDs last November. In the United Kingdom, they're already up to eight volumes, though progress, like here, has been stilted for over a year. With only four episodes served per platter, that leaves the majority of this successful series (of which 82 episodes were produced) still unavailable and customers eager to own it all highly disappointed.

Here's a look at the individual episodes which are found on It's Playtime with Pooh. Note that the running times do not include the opening title or end credits sequences, which are absent and disjointed, respectively.

An April without pranks is like a Tigger without stripes! The jig is up for The Tigger With No Name and The Pooh With A Name.

"April Pooh" (1990) (10:34)

Pooh wakes up from a honey dream to find no honey around, Piglet's house appears to be underwater, and Tigger's stripes have inexplicably turned to spots.
What is behind all these things? An April Fool! Banding together with Rabbit and Eeyore, those three become "invisibibble" and plot to get back at the April Fool's prankster, whose intentions confound them.

"The Good, The Bad, and The Tigger" (1991) (21:06)

When Christopher Robin instructs the gang not to touch his remote-control train, role-playing ensues and everyone (sans Christopher) ends up in the Old West. Tigger (The Tigger With No Name) and Pooh (The Pooh With A Name) are behind a train robbery that runs amuck. Piglet the sheriff and his deputies Rabbit and Eeyore arrest Pooh in connection with the "trainnapping." With the threat of a swinging sentence from the judge (Gopher), Pooh doesn't know how to respond and Tigger tries to help his outlaw friend escape.

"Bubble Trouble" (1989) (10:33)

Pooh gets stuck inside one of Tigger's long-lasting bubbles and is relegated to staying in a tree pretending to be an apple. Meanwhile, Gopher looks for a missing hole.

"What's The Score Pooh?" (1990) (10:32)

Gopher wants to work, ruining a ball game that everyone else is content to play, despite some uncertain rules.

In addition to these four episodes (or half-episodes, as three of the four would have been accompanied by others to fill a half-hour timeslot), the DVD includes a still 10-second title screen, the 40-second Growing Up/Magical World opening theme, a few brief transitional images, and two little narrated "interactive puppet shows" (a term only loosely accurate) tailored to the very young. The first (1:00) comes halfway into the set and pertains to "The Good, The Bad, and The Tigger", prompting viewers to find a compromise regarding one engineer hat for two playmates. The second (0:45) closes the program (that is, until the theme is briefly reprised and four end credits sequences play in succession, giving due to three episodes not included here) and finds Pooh and Piglet playing ball.

Raindrops keep falling on Pooh's head in "Bubble Trouble." Gopher wants to get a little work done. (whistle, whistle)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Everything on the disc is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, which is appropriate for the show and I'm sure intentional for the mini puppet shows. On the whole, picture quality varies from episode to episode, but it is never very good. At its worst, the element is inexplicably beat-up looking for a teenaged television series produced by a major studio. Other times, the artifacts are fairly minor, but then colors are called into question. Rabbit appears uncharacteristically green in one of the shows and the hues of other elements are more inconsistent than Christopher Robin's voice has been over the years. Sometimes, the video is overly bright and blooming. Other times, it's dark and muddled. While last November's box sets of "DuckTales" and "Rescue Rangers" did not unanimously delight in the picture department and showed little evidence of efforts taken to maximize their visual potency, these "Pooh" episodes pale even in comparison to those.

As far as sound goes, there is a two-channel Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack. I didn't notice any instances of episodes having mono soundtracks the way some did on the first two volumes. I also didn't notice too many problems this time around. Obviously, there's not as life in these mixes as can be found in even shows just a few years younger, like "Gargoyles." Some may notice particular issues which plague the basic recordings, but expecting something dramatically different is unfounded.

New puppet shows like this one hardly add any value to the disc. The oh-so-exhilarating "Soccer Playtime with Pooh" game Owl appears on the animated Main Menu but is otherwise a no-show on the disc.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The feature program here narrowly makes It's Playtime with Pooh the slightest volume yet,
and the same can be said of the bonus features included. Actually, that should be "bonus feature" singular, because the only supplement is "Soccer Playtime with Pooh" game. Like the other portions created just for this DVD, this set-top activity is clearly aimed at the youthful. The player guides the ball from character to character, moving towards the goal. To make a pass occur, you must match the character in possession of the ball with items that "go with" them, the answers of which are sometimes questionable. Again, there is the paper cutout look. It's pretty cheesy that the visuals are deliberately cheap-looking for no apparent reason. Speaking of cheap, no action has been taken to Americanize this game; the narrator still calls it "football" despite the different title.

And that's it. But of course, there's FastPlay. So, if your youngster is watching solo and cannot operate a remote control (a context which certainly speaks highly of the parents), that's okay. He or she will simply be subjected to two rounds of sneak peeks for other Disney properties that will mostly be "enhanced" by FastPlay as well, thus continuing the passive cycle and making the fingers of little Bobby or Sue at home in their mouths.

By the way, those pre-feature sneak peeks advertise The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition, Disney Princess Fairy Tales: Volume 1 (which has since undergone a name and date change), the long-delayed Disney Learning Adventures Winnie the Pooh: Shapes & Sizes and Winnie the Pooh: Wonderful Word Adventure, and "triple-length adventure" (which is a fancy way of saying "overpriced 3-episode compilation") Little Einsteins: Mission Celebration! The Sneak Peeks menu and post-feature sneak peeks promote Cars, Brother Bear 2, the forthcoming reissue of Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, and Playhouse Disney's "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

Though last week's compilations skimped on inserts, one is found inside this case which lists inaccurate "scene selections" and bonus feature on front and promotes the Pooh Learning Adventures on back. There's also a reservation form for Disney's new baby magazine Wonder Time. Like the other volumes' menus, this one moves along the Hundred Acre Wood, cycling through the flat versions of characters. Though the airborne bees would suggest it's summer, the falling leaves state otherwise, though both represent transparent attempts to distinguish this Main Menu from those found on the series' other discs.

Oh, bother. Sheriff Piglet and his deputies discover that enforcing the law can be dangerous.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As a critic, these Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh DVDs throw me into conflict about as much as any of Disney's output. On the one hand, "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" merits a recommendation for a range of viewers far wider than what the studio now considers the target audience for Pooh and friends. On the other hand, even at this lower retail price, It's Playtime with Pooh still fails potential buyers by butchering the episodes' original format, offering only an hour of stories, and providing spotty picture quality. Furthermore, with packaging that screams "children's education" and the only additions being puppet shows and a game that leave any interested non-preschooler to feel unwelcome, this disc ostracizes a considerable demographic and undermines the featured show's worth.

In short, It's Playtime with Pooh finds Disney again mispromoting an esteemed animated television series as an educational tool for tots. Yet, due to the characters' incredible selling power, box sets and more reputable treatment stupidly appears unlikely. Once again, that leaves you the customer deciding between an inferior product and nothing at all.

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UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Upcoming Disney DVDs | Recent Disney DVDs | Disney TV Shows | The Ultimate Guide to Pooh

Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh DVDs: Vol. 1: A Great Day of Discovery | Vol. 2: Friends Forever
Vol. 3: All for One, One for All (2005 Target exclusive) | Vol. 4: It's Playtime with Pooh | Vol. 5: Love & Friendship

Related Reviews:
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: A Great Day of Discovery Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: Friends Forever
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (25th Anniversary Edition) Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo
Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin (1997) Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year
Under the Umbrella Tree: Volume 1 Disney Princess Stories: Volume 3 - Beauty Shines From Within
Goof Troop: Volume 1 Sing Along Songs: Sing a Song with Pooh Bear and Piglet Too
Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005) Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005)
The Tick vs. Season One Disney Learning Adventures: Winnie the Pooh - Wonderful Word Adventure

Reviewed May 25, 2006.