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Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year: Gift of Friendship Edition Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year: Gift of Friendship Edition Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy cover art - click to buy combo pack from Amazon.com Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year (2002)
Movie, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Directors: Gary Katona, Ed Wexler (Merry Pooh Year); Jamie Mitchell (Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too) / Writers: Karl Geurs (Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too & interstitials), Brian Hohfeld ("Happy Pooh Year"), Mark Zaslove (Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too), Ted Henning (interstitials)

Voice Cast: Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger), Peter Cullen (Eeyore), John Fiedler (Piglet), Michael Gough (Gopher), William Green (Christopher Robin), Nikita Hopkins (Roo), Ken Samson (Rabbit), Kath Soucie (Kanga), Michael York (Narrator), Paul Winchell (Tigger - Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too)

Songs: "Winnie the Pooh", "Jingle Bells", "Snow Snows", "Jingly Bells", "Happy Pooh Year", "Hunny, No Not for Me", "Auld Lang Syne"

Video Premiere: November 12, 2002 (Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too Premiere: December 14, 1991) / Running Time: 64 Minutes / Rating: G

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio / Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Blu-ray only: English
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Blu-ray Release Date: November 5, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $36.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD + Digital Copy ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on DVD and VHS (November 12, 2002)

Buy Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year from Amazon.com:
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It's not easy being a Winnie the Pooh fan above the age of seven. Until then, you're still a part of the demographic most frequently targeted by Disney's countless animated works adapted from A.A. Milne's children's books.
Young kids like the colorful characters, maybe enough to have toys of them in their bedroom or officially licensed clothing in their little dressers. That Disney continues to aim strictly for the little ones, even though nearly fifty years have passed since Walt's studio first turned them into cartoons, suggests that we're supposed to outgrow our appreciation for the likes of Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, and Eeyore.

If like me and the other adults contributing to the franchise's nearly $1 billion annual revenue (which ranks Pooh fifth among all entertainment brands, trailing only Disney Princess, Star Wars, Hello Kitty, and Cars), you find it difficult to suddenly stop seeing the appeal in Pooh, then good luck trying to maintain a typical grown-up fandom. There's so much Pooh out there that it's tough to know what's what without a Richard Gray to set you straight.

Not all Pooh is created equally. For some reason, probably linked to the belief that the audience is young and undiscerning, a number of the gang's direct-to-video movies have made use of pre-existing cartoons. Take Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year, for example. This premiered on VHS and DVD in November 2002. Its cover declared it "A Brand-New Full-Length Adventure", which was true if you consider 64 minutes "full-length" (hey, Dumbo does) and if by "Brand-New", you meant "Partly New."

Unsurprisingly, directions are a challenge for Winnie the Pooh, who mistakes lets the wind blow his letter south, away from Santa. Winnie the Pooh fills in for Santa Claus in "Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too."

Roughly the first half of this film is Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too, a half-hour Emmy-nominated 1991 television special born out of Disney's Emmy-winning "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" series. After a live-action bedroom opening which lets Carly Simon put her own spin on the Sherman Brothers' theme song (beginning Simon's short-lived association with the franchise), we open with the new material on Christmas Eve, as friends come over to Pooh's to decorate his house and tree. Within seven minutes, the gang is reminded of a past Christmas, which they recall, i.e. recycle.

Christmas Too finds the gang writing a letter to Santa asking him for the things they most want. Rabbit, for instance, needs something to combat the pests attacking the carrots hanging on his Christmas tree. Tigger wants a snowshoe for his tail. Eeyore, an umbrella. After mailing it to the North Pole by simply letting the wind blow it north, Winnie the Pooh realizes he forgot to ask Santa for anything. He tracks down the letter and revises it, only to have the wind blow it south and away from Santa.

With the gang all hopeful to get the presents they requested, Pooh takes it upon himself to fill in for Santa Claus, delivering some hastily-crafted versions of the items sought. The items quickly fall apart and Pooh's disguise is discovered, but, of course, everything turns out all right in the end.

The conclusion of Christmas Too brings us to the halfway point of Merry Pooh Year and the start of the original material. Befitting the title, it takes place on New Year's Eve. The typically crabby Rabbit encourages the gang to make New Year's resolutions to change their ways as he takes off to get away from them. Tigger vows to stop bouncing. Pooh intends to swear off honey. The oft-timid Piglet decides to no longer be afraid.

As characters shed their defining traits, they inherit another's. Eeyore gets into honey and starts wearing a red shirt. Piglet takes up bouncing. And so on. There's a lesson about remaining true to yourself, but the outing seems like an excuse to mix up the gang's personalities, an idea that isn't as fun as it maybe sounded to the writers.

Leave it to crabby Rabbit to put everyone in a bad mood around the holidays. With Pooh giving up honey for his New Year's Resolution, Eeyore develops a taste for the treat... and a tiny red shirt too.

A lazy and fairly underwhelming feature which happens to house a pretty strong television special,
A Very Merry Pooh Year surprisingly hit Blu-ray last week in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack called the Gift of Friendship Edition. An unnamed DVD + Digital Copy set was also released alongside it.

Each disc's feature presentation retains the original blue Walt Disney Pictures logo at the film's beginning (over which snow falls), but places the current 21st century Disney CGI castle logo at the end.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though the packaging doesn't mention it, Very Merry Pooh Year comes to Blu-ray retaining the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of its original DVD. The 1991 TV special certainly would have been created in that and the 2002 bits were likely produced in matching dimensions, even though home video had begun its shift to widescreen. The Blu-ray's feature presentation doesn't seem to look any better than the DVD upscaled. Watching this, I'm not even sure that either half was produced in a resolution much higher than DVD's.

The picture on And Christmas Too is generally as fine as it should be under the artistic limitations of twenty-year-old television animation. Meanwhile, a number of the 2002 scenes' shots look poor and blurry, pale and soft. Furthermore, the 2002 material's frame rate seems off, most noticeably in the jerky end credits scroll. The animation is attributed to Cuckoo's Nest Studios and Wang Film Productions Company, a Taiwanese animation studio generally assigned to low-end DTV movies. Their work on Merry Pooh Year is a far cry from what DisneyToon Studios was putting out just a few years later. I don't know if the transfer's shortcomings can all be traced back to shoddy production methods, but the two issues seem related.

Sound, meanwhile, is presented in plain old Dolby Surround 2.0. Disney was generally doing 5.1 mixes for their direct-to-video films back in 2002 and you'd think this would get one now, or at least an uncompressed two-channel DTS-HD master audio mix. But, no, instead it settles for the same format with which it made its DVD debut. The unexceptional soundtrack could easily add some gusto, but the content isn't really crying for that.

Disney Intermission spices up paused playback with activities like counting the carrots on Rabbit's tree. If you thought the gang's variation on Jingle Bells was good, wait 'til you see it with Disney's Song Selection's italicized subtitles showing the lyrics!

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with Disney Intermission, 2013's biggest contribution to the Disney Blu-ray. With this activated by default, pausing the movie triggers some childish activities like counting carrots on Rabbit's Christmas tree,
Disney Tabletop Christmas Tree: The Wonderful World Of Disney Disney Wonderland Express Miniature Snowglobe Train Collection
finding a hiding character, and dancing with Eeyore. There's some effort to link this 8 minutes and 21 seconds of content to the feature itself. There's even a creepy narrator trying to emulate actor Michael York's off-putting filling of that role. Lest you thought this was a family movie, this feature reminds you it's meant for the little ones.

The disc's few additional supplements fall under the heading Classic DVD Bonus Features, indicating their recycled nature.

Disney's Song Selection lets you watch any or all (5:33) of the movie's eight short to super short musical numbers with lyric subtitles over them. A logical offshoot of that is the chance to watch the entire film with subtitles appearing over the songs.

Watch a clip from Disney Intermission:

Enchanted Environment aims to get you in the Christmas spirit with holiday melodies and this festive living room view. Eeyore and Piglet are ambivalent about being alternately joined by Pooh and Tigger on the all-new Merry Pooh Year DVD main menu.

Finally, "Enchanted Environment" is a simple but nice holdover
which treats you to a view of Pooh's living room decorated for Christmas. You have the chance to experience this non-looped, 24-minute standard definition reel with just sound effects (light fireplace crackle), just music (instrumental versions of Christmas carols), or, most logically, a combination of the two. I'm pleasantly surprised that Disney didn't drop this basic feature.

The DVD has the same extras minus Disney Intermission, which means Disney could have probably just left the old 2002 disc as it was. But they update it, making its previews current, equipping it with FastPlay, redoing its menus, and, of course, stripping it of label art. The reauthoring also means that two lightweight games from the original DVD -- "Covered in Snow" and "New Year's Eve Party" -- are dropped and, to no great lament, unlikely to ever be seen again.

The discs open with trailers for The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition, Frozen, and Mary Poppins: 50th Anniversary Edition. Second string sneak peeks promote Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Store, the Disney Junior Appisodes app, Disney Parks, Planes, The Little Mermaid sequels' Two-Movie Collection, and The Pirate Fairy.

The scored main menu sees Pooh and Tigger bounce around while Eeyore and Piglet look on, nonplussed. The Blu-ray doesn't resume playback or support bookmarks, but it does remember where you left off if you didn't finish the movie.

Inside the slipcovered case, the plainly-labeled discs are joined by a Disney Movie Rewards/digital copy and Disney Movie Club inserts. Joining them is a plastic packet holding a "Letters to Santa Kit." That consists of two postcards with character images on front and a form letter on back allowing you to tell Santa if you've been nice or naughty as well as three things you want either way. The cards fit into faux-stamped red envelopes addressed to the North Pole and easily decorated with the six character stickers provided. There's even a cheap pen that looks like a wintry Pooh bookmark with a ballpoint tip. This could be a fun activity for children of the right age, but as usual I'm not crazy about the implication that this young demographic is the one for whom Pooh and friends are intended.

Pooh and friends ring in the New Year while Carly Simon sings "Auld Lang Syne" at the end of the short, thrift "Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year is not the most obvious choice for Blu-ray treatment or in line with what Disney has been releasing to high definition. It's kind of bizarre that this unremarkable and not especially popular video
has hit the format before the likes of Aladdin and Hercules. The studio seems to be counting on prospective customers thinking "Pooh! Christmas! Blu-ray combo!" and buying it for their kids without knowing exactly what this 10/20-year-old hodgepodge truly is and maybe not even watching it to find out.

High definition doesn't even seem to add anything significant to the movie in terms of picture, sound, or bonus features, as this sports the worst-looking Blu-ray transfer I've seen from Disney. The letters to Santa kit is a nifty touch for young ones, but if you're going to spend nearly $30, you'd be better off choosing two or three of the many more worthwhile and widely appealing holiday Blu-rays out there over this one.

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1. Source: Disney Princess, Star Wars, Hello Kitty Topped $1B Each In Licensed Merchandise Sales in 2012. abc27. October 21, 2013. return

Disney Store Friends & Family

Related Reviews:
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The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh The Tigger Movie Winnie the Pooh Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving
Prep & Landing A Chipmunk Christmas A Charlie Brown Christmas Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse
Christmas Blu-rays: The Muppet Christmas Carol The Santa Clause It's a Wonderful Life A Christmas Carol (2009) DreamWorks Holiday Classics
Christmas DVDs: Elf Santa Claus: The Movie White Christmas How the Toys Saved Christmas Fred Claus On the 2nd Day of Christmas

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Reviewed November 11, 2013.



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