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Pooh's Heffalump Movie DVD Review
|Pooh's Heffalump Movie
Theatrical Release: February 11, 2005 / Running Time: 68 Minutes / Rating: G
Director: Frank Nissen
Voice Cast: Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger), John Fiedler (Piglet), Nikita Hopkins (Roo), Kath Soucie (Kanga), Ken Sansom (Rabbit), Peter Cullen (Eeyore), Brenda Blethyn (Mama Heffalump), Kyle Stanger (Lumpy)
Songs: "Winnie the Pooh", "The Horribly Hazardous Heffalumps!", "Little Mr. Roo", "The Name Game", "Shoulder to Shoulder", "In the Name of the Hundred Acre Wood / What Do You Do?"
The off-season animated film has been a staple of Walt Disney Pictures' annual theatrical calendar for some time now. Near the beginning of each year, on what's almost always the second Friday in February, Disney releases a cartoon feature to theaters which does not offer the production values of their "animated classics." Typically, the movie might feel right at home among the Saturday morning cartoon lineup on TV. But it's a feature-length work by the bare minimum standards and it provides more or less a single narrative beyond what could be covered in a 20-minute-plus-credits episode.
An even more appropriate analogy is that the off-season cartoon feels like it could very well go directly to video, particularly in light of the general improvement that's been seen by Disney in this domain. In fact, DisneyToon Studios, a division of Disney's Television Animation department, is responsible for both direct-to-video features and most of these February films. These days, little qualifies the distinction between theater-worthy fare and movies destined for store shelves right away.
Pooh's Heffalump Movie, this year's entry into the off-season class, began as a direct-to-video film. Like those that came before it, Heffalump arrived at the box office against little new competition, at a time when many are preoccupied with the spate of films released around Christmas including the Oscar season favorites gradually expanding around the nation. Despite these circumstances, mostly favorable reviews (mild though they were) and the ever-strong popularity of Pooh and his friends, Heffalump wound up with a gross of just above $18 million. Now, Disney's off-season animation never brings in a huge amount. For these films, what's considered a high gross is somewhere in the $40 million range, which would make the intakes of Feature Animation's more expensive flops like Home on the Range and Treasure Planet look very respectable. Still, Heffalump failed to earn back its modest $20 million budget domestically, and it marked a decline from the two Pooh films released to theaters earlier in the decade. (2000 sleeper hit Tigger Movie earned $45 million, while Piglet's Big Movie took in half of that in 2003.)
The public indifference that Heffalump was met with may be indicative of a bigger problem Hollywood is facing with the dwindling grosses this year has seen. The film's unspectacular box office performance can more readily be attributed to this trend than to a conclusion that people have grown tired of the Pooh formula. Indeed, Disney wouldn't be releasing new DVDs starring the Hundred Acre Wood gang every few months if they weren't putting up solid sales numbers.
Still, Heffalump illustrates most clearly how today's Winnie the Pooh movies differ from Walt's first adaptations of the material (the award-winning 1960s featurette-length shorts which later became the full-length film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). Like the books by A.A. Milne which first appeared 79 years ago, Walt's Pooh had a universal appeal - adults could just as easily as children identify with the simple, flawed, but good-hearted characters of the Hundred Acre Wood. Indeed, Christopher Finch notes in his excellent resource on Pooh that many of the first readers of Milne's first Pooh book were adults buying it for themselves. Today, Winnie and company are marketed strictly to the preschool sect.
Sure, parents can appreciate the personalities and even those who first discovered Pooh from his popular '80s television cartoon may have kids in the target demographic today. But in an age where family films make concerted efforts to reach adults with references or humor that will fly right by the children who brought them along, Heffalump seems fairly oblivious to its older audience members. This is not a wholly negative trait. Efforts to win over parents and teens often consist of innuendos that don't belong in "family cinema" and Pooh cartoons have always been refreshingly innocent. However, word puns that may require literacy and other touches of Milne's subtle humor are disappointingly absent in Heffalump.
Supporting this thread of Pooh being strictly for the kiddies, young Roo is again at the forefront here and even more so than the previous film Springtime with Roo (which went direct-to-video). Strange things are afoot in the Hundred Acre Wood. Roo hears a trumpeting sound and the whole gang discovers some enormous footprints too. Rabbit concludes that "Heffalumps" have been in the area. He decides, along with the others, that they must capture the Heffalumps and put an end to it. After all, Heffalumps eat honey and do all sorts of terrible things, so they've heard. In spite of his wholehearted enthusiasm, the gang declares that Roo is just too young to join them on their expedition. He returns home to his mother Kanga, longing to be a grownup.
Meanwhile, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Rabbit set out for the Heffalump Hollow where they intend to put aside their fears and trap some of the monsters. Eeyore tags along too, but from a distance, and his moping is hardly seen. But it's Roo who winds up "catching" the Heffalump inadvertently while out and about. The animal in question is a young lavender-colored boy Heffalump who goes by the name "Lumpy" since his full name is quite a mouthful.
Lumpy, who speaks with a British accent, is undoubtedly the best thing about the movie. The introduction of a new character to the Hundred Acre Wood may be unexpected, but "Heffalumps" are not entirely new. Milne did write a little bit on them, though never specifically going into depth on any of the characters. A father-son Heffalump team also did appear from time-to-time in "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" series. But Lumpy's arrival winds up being both significant in its own right and rather welcome since the story featuring the regulars up to this point of the film is marked by stagnancy. Judging from the Heffalump-and-Halloween-themed direct-to-video film arriving in September, Lumpy may be with the gang for the long haul and that opens an exciting number of possibilities for Disney to explore with Pooh and friends.
When Lumpy is on screen, the film peaks in likeability. Roo and the young Heffalump quickly get along, despite their prejudiced expectations. There's a very nice message in here about not discounting those who are different, and it's handled about as subtly as you can hope for in a movie that's set to win the hearts of preschoolers. Their friendship is sweet and compelling.
Unfortunately, when Lumpy is not on screen, the film comes across as weak by the usually high standards of Pooh films. The letdown stems from a mix of things being very simple, uneventful, and very slow, even by the normally calm Hundred Acre Wood expectations. That the "grown-up" protagonists (Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Rabbit) seem hardheaded and out-of-character doesn't help much. Rabbit is particularly gung-ho about trapping Heffalumps, and the whole gang seems atypically hostile. Owl and Gopher, the supporting characters of Disney's Hundred Acre Wood, never show up and Christopher Robin makes only a brief appearance in the end credits, never uttering a word.
The music in the film is especially disappointing. The songs, mostly written and performed by Carly Simon, are maudlin and simply out-of-synch with what's on-screen despite lyrics that adhere too closely to the mise-en-scθne. A choir of 5th grade children is brought in for the end credits and this doesn't dispel the notion that the movie is playing down to tots who would think of "5th grade" as the domain of "big kids." On the whole, the songs have you yearning for the bounce of the Sherman Brothers, whose "Winnie the Pooh" theme is briefly excerpted near the beginning (in a showy Simon performance) and whose "Heffalumps & Woozles" is most needlessly updated in the tone-deaf "The Horribly Hazardous Heffalumps!".
Pooh's Heffalump Movie is not at all a total disaster and most within its strictly-defined target audience probably won't have such critical qualms, making this the type of thing one graduates to from "Baby Einstein." For the rest of us literate folk, though, "harmless" is the kindest thing to apply to the film. It has a good message, some simple but appealing animation, and a few glimpses of the Pooh characters in their familiar roles that have been etched into the public consciousness.
Nonetheless, the film runs a very slight 61 minutes to the start of the end credits and feels noticeably lacking in entertainment for that period. It lacks the sharp wit, clever puns, and edge of early Pooh films. In their place, there is a mentality to appease preschoolers with inoffensive but bland content. Even when compared simply to Disney's off-season animation, Heffalump Movie falls short of the fun that's been offered in such little-to-big screen jumps like Recess: School's Out and Teacher's Pet. Recognizing that Pooh films aren't going to go away anytime soon (nor should they), let's hope there's more originality and excitement in the gang's next outing.
VIDEO and AUDIO
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer which is nearly perfect. The print is immaculate. Colors are bright and beautiful. The one shortcoming will only be noticeable to those with large screens and an eye for these kinds of things: edges are often marked by mild ringing, a trait which some might label as "edge enhancement." The 1.78:1 aspect ratio is slightly wider than the 1.66:1 normally employed for Disney animation, but nothing suggests that any framing is off and perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that Heffalump started out as a direct-to-video production (where DisneyToon seems to be employing the 1.78:1 ratio lately). Like the past Pooh films, this video presentation delivers the Hundred Acre Wood's nice colorful palette and serene visuals with hardly any flaws.
Audio comes by way of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which is entirely acceptable but not particularly demanding. Music, dialogue, and effects exhibit the clarity you'd expect from so recent a film. The soundfield is mostly subdued; even music never seeks to employ the surround speakers much. Nonetheless, that's simply the sound design of the film. It shouldn't be too surprising and it certainly doesn't reflect poorly upon the mix offered here. A 5.1 French track is also provided.
On Disney DVD, Pooh films have generally offered little in the way of bonus features. (Only the 25th Anniversary DVD for first Pooh feature The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh delivered the goods.) This disc upholds that fairly disappointing tradition and too goes light on extras.
"Song Selection" is a stretch of a bonus feature, providing 5 songs from the movie with plain yellow subtitles that illustrate the lyrics. Using the "Play All" option, you get an entirely-musical cut of Pooh's Heffalump Movie that runs 9 minutes and 23 seconds and that includes a not particularly exciting excerpt of the end credits on the black screen.
"Hide 'N Seek with Roo and Lumpy" is a simple enough game, but one which offers some fun. There are really four different stages, since you get to play as either Lumpy looking for Roo or Roo looking for Lumpy. With either setup, you have a choice of playing at one of two locations (the Old Mill or Heffalump Hollow's border for Lumpy; Roo's house or Rabbit's garden when searching for Roo). There's a narrator who talks down to the player, but otherwise, this is well-designed, with plenty of appropriate dialogue from Lumpy, Roo, and Pooh's other friends who you'll likely discover in your searches. Another nice thing about this is you can play again and the characters won't necessarily be hiding in the same spot.
The featurette "Welcome to the Family, Lumpy" (7:22) is the most substantial extra on the disc. It provides a kid-friendly look at how the filmmakers approached depicting Heffalumps for the movie. Director Frank Nissen, producer Jessica Koplos-Miller, and others discuss their process, conveniently ignoring the fact that Heffalumps already appeared on the TV show. Their comments are complemented by a few words from ordinary kids, plenty of widescreen clips from the film, and a very brief glimpse of the "Heffalumps & Woozles" segment from Many Adventures. Hosted by Roo, this is a very light-hearted piece, so those expecting genuine insight into the film's creative process will be disappointed. Near the end, Koplos-Miller and Nissen makes a batch of Rumpledoodles together and that tells you what they're going for here.
Inserting this DVD into a DVD-ROM-equipped computer brings up a local webpage which links to the disc's two DVD-ROM extras. Both the Coloring Pages and the Rumpledoodle Recipe require Adobe's Acrobat Reader, so if you don't have that, you'll want to download it to proceed. The real appeal to these two low-key bonuses is printing, so you'll need a printer too and plenty of hard drive space for some reason. The Coloring Pages document offers five full-page black & white drawings mostly featuring Lumpy and Roo. The "Rumpledoodle Recipe" is a colorful multi-layered PDF which makes it a little challenging to work with. Nonetheless, it provides the ingredients and directions for what sounds like a delicious oatsy-cinammon-raisiny snack, which makes it easy to forgive that it has little to do with the movie. (Lumpy makes a passing reference to Roo about "Rumpledoodles.")
MENUS and PACKAGING
The pleasant 16x9 menus somewhat emulate the style of E.H. Shepard's illustrations from the original A.A. Milne Pooh books, but feature the Disney renditions of the characters. The Main Menu moves three-dimensionally through a variety of colorful character drawings. The Bonus Features menu is mildly animated as well, and all are accompanied by selections of score.
Underlining the "Pooh's for preschoolers" philosophy currently in place, this DVD is equipped with Disney's "FastPlay", which treats the medium like VHS and cycles through previews, the film, and select bonus features without you needing to press a single button. If you'd like, you can choose the Main Menu option at the opening selection screen or simply press the "Menu" button at any point after to proceed to the menu. This playback method accompanies discs that Disney gears strictly at the kiddie sect and perhaps they (and the very lazy) find it useful.
Previews play automatically at disc's start for Chicken Little, Little Einstein, and Pooh's Heffalump Halloween: (The) Movie. The Sneak Peeks menu adds promos for Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin (at last making its way to DVD soon), Disney Princess Wave 3, the upcoming wave of new Pooh Disney Learning Adventure DVDs (due in October), Tarzan II, and "JoJo's Circus" on Playhouse Disney. As to be expected, the trailer for Pooh's Heffalump Movie is not found on this disc, but it did appear on many earlier Disney DVDs released late last year and earlier in 2005.
Inside the case, you'll find a sterile tattoo bandage featuring one of five Hundred Acre Wood designs (I got Eeyore) with a coupon to buy more. Speaking of coupons, there's a whole booklet of them, which promotes upcoming DVDs including Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie and offers $3 discounts on Princess, (Growing Up with Winnie the) Pooh, and Preschool (Jo Jo's Circus and Disney Learning Adventures) DVDs plus a mail-in certificate to get $3 when you buy more of those Pooh tattoo bandages. A two-sided insert devotes half of its front to the 20 scene selections, half to an ad for Heffalump Halloween, and the entire back to an overview of bonus features.
Pooh's Heffalump Movie introduces a charming new character but provides little else exciting for the Hundred Acre Wood gang. This is a weaker than usual Pooh film and one which continues to narrow in a preschool audience. That demographic could do far worse, but they're still better off watching the movies or show that came before this. Light on entertainment and light on extras, the DVD is probably best suited to a rental for all but those seeking a complete Pooh collection.
Piglet's Big Movie The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: Vol. 1 - A Great Day of Discovery
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: Vol. 2 - Friends Forever
Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo
Sing a Song with Pooh Bear and Piglet Too: Sing Along Songs
The Best of Pooh & Heffalumps Too (Audio CD)
Pooh's Heffalump Movie Picture Book
Related Page: The Ultimate Guide to Pooh
Upcoming Pooh DVDs:
September 13: Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (Pictures and Info)
Date TBA: Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin
October 11: Winnie the Pooh: Shapes and Sizes (Disney Learning Adventures)
October 11: Winnie the Pooh: The Wonderful World of Words (Disney Learning Adventures)
UltimateDisney.com | Upcoming Disney Movies | Upcoming Disney DVDs | Reviews | Other Animation | The Ultimate Guide to Pooh
Reviewed May 11, 2005.
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