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The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: The Friendship Edition DVD Review
|The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Theatrical Release: March 3, 1977 / Running Time: 74 Minutes / Rating: G
Directors: John Lounsberry, Wolfgang Reitherman
Voice Cast: Sterling Holloway (Winnie the Pooh), Paul Winchell (Tigger), Junius Matthews (Rabbit), John Fiedler (Piglet), Ralph Wright (Eeyore), Barbara Luddy (Kanga), Clint Howard (Roo), Howard Morris (Gopher), Hal Smith (Owl)
Songs: "Winnie the Pooh", "Up, Down, Touch the Ground", "Rumbly in my Tumbly", "Little Black Raincloud", "Heave-ho!", "Blustery Day", "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers", "Heffalumps and Woozles", "The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down", "Hip-Hip Pooh-ray!"
Seventy years before Toy Story stormed the box office and redefined animation, another story imagined what it might be like if our toys had lives of their own. Winnie-the-Pooh was first published in 1926 by A.A. Milne. The collection of tales, inspired by Milne's son Christopher and his stuffed dolls, was soon followed by another: The House at Pooh Corner, published in 1928. More than three decades later,
Long a classic part of children's literature in England, Pooh was finally introduced to the American audience at large in 1966 with "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree." Shortly thereafter, Walt Disney died. More Pooh was already on the way, though, and "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" was released to theaters in 1968. That was followed by a third installment, "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!", in 1974.
Having spanned from the glory days of Walt Disney to the dark age that followed his death, Pooh was one property still capable of breathing life into the otherwise ailing company. It made sense, then, to bring Walt's original dream to life and give the bear and his friends their very own feature-length film... sort of. In 1977, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh combined the three preceding Pooh featurettes into one movie than ran just over an hour. The resulting feature emerged as the most recognizable version of Winnie the Pooh to date.
Set in the Hundred Acre Wood, the Pooh stories take place entirely within the imagination of Christopher Robin, a young English boy who is just on the cusp of having to grow up. In his fantasy, his stuffed dolls come to life for various adventures. Of all his toy animals, the stuffed bear named Winnie the Pooh, with little common sense and an affinity for honey, is his closest friend. Joining him are the shy but eager-to-assist Piglet, the easily agitated Rabbit, the exuberantly bouncy Tigger, the gloomy Eeyore, the wise and full-of-himself Owl, the fast-talking Gopher (native to the Disney adaptation), the maternal Kanga and her adventurous young son Roo.
There is no singular narrative that runs throughout. In fact, even within the individual featurettes there isn't much emphasis on plot. Each story is fully realized, but the lot of them is marked by a pervasive simplicity. This is the source of their abundant charm. Inside the Hundred Acre Wood, rainy days, a shift in the wind, or a bad dream are the greatest threats to be found. Good friends are never far away and always ready to pay a visit or lend a hand. When troubles arise, though few and far between they may be, they're satisfactorily dismissed with a simple but earnest "Oh, bother!"
This easy-going innocence brings Pooh closer to childhood than any other Disney film. An interrogation of the youthful imagination, the film connects to the most enduring hope of our formative years: that all is right in the world. This is complemented by animation that presents a bright and sunny landscape populated by characters colorful in both appearance and personality. Also effective to this end are the voices that are perfectly matched with each character to make them instantly lovable. The many songs written for the featurettes by the legendary Sherman Brothers emulate Winnie the Pooh's instantly appealing, carefree effervescence. The resulting warmth of all this gives the movie tremendous power.
For all its virtues, however, simplicity in film reaches a point of diminishing returns. For me, that comes about two-thirds of the way through The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Without much action and in the absence of a lasting narrative, watching the movie becomes a bit tiring towards the end. It certainly doesn't help that the third segment, "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!", is the weakest.
Fortunately, the segments aren't at all hastily strung together. Instead, they're interwoven in a very clever, nigh metafilmic manner. Beginning and ending in live-action, the movie meanders through Christopher Robin's nursery into a storybook, calling attention both to the material existence of these characters and their literary origins. As it moves from one featurette to the next, the book visually progresses from chapter to chapter -- a very effective technique, indeed. And when the ending arrives, all that simplicity is given a little depth. Though it comes off as something of an afterthought, the original books' theme of a boy having to leave his childhood behind hits home and hits hard in the final scene, laying some very emotional icing on top of this yellow, fluff-filled cake.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was first released to DVD in 2002 as a 25th Anniversary Edition. That release, widely praised as one of Disney's best single discs, quietly slipped out of print last year. That explains the arrival of the new Friendship Edition (as opposed to the hostile and stand-offish Anniversary Edition, I guess). Timed to coincide with the recently debuted "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" television series, this new single-disc release is largely the same as the 25th Anniversary Edition, with two significant exceptions. For detailed coverage and comparisons, read on.
VIDEO and AUDIO
The film is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, which preserves the original aspect ratio of each featurette. Video quality is quite pleasing, though not quite perfect. There is some detectable grain and occasional flickering. That said, Disney's animation from the '60s and '70s was never meant to look like present-day animation and never will. The new transfer's improvement over the 25th Anniversary Edition is immediately noticeable. Brighter, cleaner, and more colorful, Pooh looks better than ever on the new DVD. Though the 2002 DVD looked fairly good itself, it appeared a bit washed out and occasionally rough around the edges. That has largely been corrected in this wonderful new transfer.
Audio comes by way of a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, though to call it surrounding is something of a stretch. The audio stays primarily confined to the front speakers, the center channel in particular. Only with your ear against the rear speakers will you hear much reinforcement. For a feature this old, that's certainly acceptable, especially given that the sound quality leaves no real complaints. Still, it's too bad that a more dynamic Disney Enhanced Home Theater mix wasn't made available alongside the original mono as an alternative.
The disc's most impressive bonus feature is "The Story Behind the Masterpiece," a 25-minute retrospective on the making of the film.
In lieu of an audio commentary, "Pooh's Pop-Up Fun Facts" has been carried over from the old DVD as well. This plays the movie from beginning to end with various bits of trivia appearing on the screen in subtitle form throughout. This format is just about the worst way to present information, as the viewer must keep their eyes nervously glued to the screen in fear of missing something. It's difficult to concentrate on either the movie or the trivia and nearly impossibly to do both. The trivia varies from the obvious to the interesting and comes in spurts, with long gaps of no text in between. It's better than nothing and a good thing that it wasn't left off altogether (as the press release had suggested), but some improvement or an audio commentary would have been preferred.
Also carried over from the 2002 DVD is an expansive art gallery that is available in two forms. The first lets viewers select each photo as a still frame, one by one. The second is a "video gallery" (9:15) that plays all the stills in succession, panning across each as delightful music plays. It's also accompanied by occasional narration that provides more information about the photos (did you know, for instance, that posters are made to "celebrate a new movie"?). There are 66 stills in all, covering concept, production, promotion, and even Pooh's place in Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Tokyo Disneyland! Though not as plentiful as some of the studio's other DVD art galleries, the presentation is fantastic.
"A Day for Eeyore" (25:22), the Pooh cartoon short released just six years after The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1983, is also included. In it, the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood try to make up for forgetting Eeyore's birthday. Featuring a largely different voice cast and somewhat shoddy animation, it isn't very good, but thanks to its insertion in the feature film for some television broadcasts, it has emerged as something of a classic in its own right. It's therefore a very a nice inclusion on this disc.
Also provided is the debut episode (24:04) of the new Playhouse Disney show, "My Friends Tigger & Pooh". In it, a young girl named Darby (the new age Christopher Robin stand-in, though he apparently still appears in the show now and then) solves mysteries with the eponymous characters, interacting with the audience and teaching lessons along the way. In this particular episode, two 12-minute mysteries are solved, the first involving Rabbit's missing rutabagas and the second concerning Tigger's missing shadow. There's some merit to the show, but its inclusion on this disc merely illustrates the contrast between the broad appeal Pooh and friends once had and the preschool entertainment they are restricted to today.
There's a music video (2:34) by Carly Simon, who pulls out her acoustic guitar to give a stripped down performance of the "Winnie the Pooh" theme. It's a nice take on the song and the video, which mixes live-action and animation, is nicely made as well. After that is a 2-minute sing-along for an extended version of "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers", comprised of animation from the '80s Pooh TV series and featuring subtitles for most (though frustratingly not all) of the song.
"Pooh's Shadow" is a Disney Storytime feature that tells a rather pleasant little Pooh tale in storybook form. You can choose to read each page of the story yourself or have it read to you. The latter is much more fun, presenting various chances for interaction. There's also "The 100 Acre Wood Challenge" game, which asks for answers to easy trivia questions and visual identifications. As is often the case with these games, there's not a lot of rhyme or reason to the last level but the rest of it isn't so bad (for a DVD game).
Everything from the 25th Anniversary Edition is carried over to the Friendship Edition with the exception of the outdated sneak peeks, which supplied special looks at Piglet's Big Movie and Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year. The only addition to the bonus material is the episode of "My Friends Tigger & Pooh". Altogether, this is a terrific ("Tiggerrific", even) release, especially for a single-disc affair. Of course, this easily could have been expanded into the two-disc set that the film deserves, had there been an audio commentary, a presentation of each "Pooh" featurette in its original form, a more extensive art gallery, a featurette on the theme park attractions, a longer making-of documentary, and an additional audio option. Hopefully that will all come day, but for the foreseeable future, this is likely to be as good as it gets, which happens to be not so bad.
MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN
The DVD comes packaged in standard white keepcase, which is housed inside a cream-colored cardboard slipcover. For once, the slipcover actually improves the cover art -- which is itself very nice and a big improvement over the 25th Anniversary Edition's lackluster design -- by giving it an embossed texture that really works to bring it to life. The disc art repeats part of the cover art and is printed directly onto the disc.
Inside the case is an insert that provides the chapter index (and breaks it down by each featurette) and advertises upcoming Playhouse Disney DVD releases.
The menus have been altered just a bit from the 25th Anniversary Edition, though only in layout, not in theme or design. Cream colored backgrounds are accented by illustrations and modest animation from the Hundred Acre Wood while Pooh music plays cheerfully in the background. Of course, to see the menus at all, you'll have to bypass the Disney's FastPlay set-up that proceeds by default when the disc is inserted.
The following previews are included on the DVD: The Jungle Book: 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition, Disney Princess: Enchanted Tales, Little Einsteins: Rocket's Firebird Rescue, Meet the Robinsons on DVD, the Disney Movie Rewards program, "My Friends Tigger & Pooh", and "Handy Manny".
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a wonderful little movie, comprised of three very entertaining featurettes. Delightful personalities, a fun set of songs, and an intoxicating air of simplicity combine to make the world of Winnie the Pooh very charming. Though the lack of a cohesive or compelling story means it tapers off towards the end, the movie is absolutely worth seeing again and again.
The new Friendship Edition DVD mostly pleases. It's not quite a definitive Pooh DVD, but for a single-disc release, it's pretty darn good. Carrying over all the previous bonus features from the 25th Anniversary Edition, it's clearly recommendable to those who don't already own the movie. For those who do, the lone addition to the bonus features platter (a single episode of a new preschool series) doesn't warrant an upgrade. The new and improved video transfer, however, does. While it's not as drastic a difference as, say, an old VHS compared to a Platinum Edition DVD, the newfound color and clarity is noticeable enough to justify ditching your old DVD and picking up the new one.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: 25th Anniversary Edition (1977)
New to DVD: The Secret of NIMH: Family Fun Edition (1982) • Silver Spoons: The Complete First Season (1982-83)
The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition (1981) • Robin Hood: Most Wanted Edition (1973)
The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition (1989) • The Aristocats: Gold Collection (1970) • The Jungle Book: Limited Issue (1967)
Dumbo: Big Top Edition (1941) • 101 Dalmatians (1961) • Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition (1955)
The Rescuers (1977) • Bambi: Platinum Edition (1942) • Pocahontas: 10th Anniversary Edition (1995)
The Muppet Show: Season One (1976-77) • Freaky Friday (1977) • Pete's Dragon (1977)
The Cat From Outer Space (1978) • The Shaggy D.A. (1976) • Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)
Winnie the Pooh on Disney DVD:
Sequel: Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin (1997)
Piglet's Big Movie (2003) • Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005) • Sing a Song with Pooh Bear and Piglet Too (2003)
Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year (2002) • Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo (2004) • Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005)
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: A Great Day of Discovery • Friends Forever • It's Playtime with Pooh • Love & Friendship
Disney Learning Adventures: Winnie the Pooh - Shapes & Sizes • Disney Learning Adventures: Winnie the Pooh - Wonderful Word Adventure
UltimateDisney.com's Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown
(featuring "Rumbly in My Tumbly", "Little Black Rain Cloud", "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers", and "Winnie the Pooh")
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Reviewed June 19, 2007.