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My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Super Sleuth Christmas Movie DVD Review

Buy My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Super Sleuth Christmas Movie on DVD from Amazon.com My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Super Sleuth Christmas Movie
Series & DVD Details

Executive Producers: Jeff Kline, Brian Hohlfeld / Director: Don MacKinnon

Writers: Nicole Dubuc, Brian Hohlfeld / Line Producer: Angi Dyste

Voice Cast: Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Snowman), Ken Samson (Rabbit), Chloe Moretz (Darby), Peter Cullen (Eeyore), Travis Oates (Piglet), Max Burkholder (Roo), Oliver Dillon (Lumpy), Kath Soucie (Kanga), Mikaila Baumel (Holly), Jeffrey Tambor (Santa), Dee Bradley Baker (Buster, Frost), Tara Strong (Vixen)

Running Time: 44 Minutes / Not Rated (TV-Y equivalent)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: November 20, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99 / Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
White Keepcase with Embossed Cardboard Slipcover

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As someone who considers the earliest Winnie the Pooh featurettes and the 1977 anthology that collected them among the finest things ever created by Walt Disney Animation Studios, you might think I'd be bothered by "My Friends Tigger & Pooh". I'm not, but ranking even lower than perturbment on my list of reactions to this new television series is surprise.

It's been a number of years since the Walt Disney Company considered the universe inspired by A.A. Milne's 1920s books as something worth the attention of those above the age of, say, 7.
On the heels of the well-received Playhouse Disney series "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", Disney would naturally seek to duplicate the success. It makes perfect sense than that they'd turn to another perennially popular franchise that had already been reduced to serving the tot demographic and had proven effective in a number of diverse TV incarnations.

"My Friends" was actually in development as early as 2005, months before "Clubhouse" took to the air, but as usual, Disney's market research ensured a carefully-planned public embracing of the two series. "My Friends" is cut from the same mold as "Clubhouse", rendering time-tested personalities in flashy new three-dimensional computer animation and encouraging some participation from the young viewer.

The Hundred Acre Wood gang, which now includes 6-year-old Darby (left) and her dog Buster, sing of the joys of Christmas. Babies of the bunch Lumpy and Roo befriend another young animal in Holly the lisp-addled reindeer in "Super Sleuth Christmas Movie."

I like what I've seen of "Clubhouse", both in its educational value and its entertaining employment of characters that are older than your parents. Why then in my opening sentence did I suggest that you'd think I'd be bothered by "My Friends"? Well, a single glance at the show seems to instantly put a bad taste in one's mouth. Christopher Robin is nearly gone, essentially replaced by a sassy-looking girl named Darby. The CGI look seems to betray the elegant simplicity of E.H. Shepard's illustrations and the typically-upheld Walt Era adaptations. And the preschooler-friendly design moves us as far as ever from the universally appealing tone of those early cartoons.

Before the show even premiered, the buzz was unfavorable among those old enough to express an opinion and even more so from those who remember when "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" were actually new. Unsurprisingly, those impressions mattered little to Disney and like just about any property into which present-day Disney Channel seems to pour its faith, "My Friends" debuted to big audience numbers and quickly received the order for "more." Before that even happened late last spring, the company's home video division already scheduled the subject of this DVD review, My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Super Sleuth Christmas Movie, for inclusion in the studio's holiday season slate.

It seems safe to think that this release is representative of the show at large. As a discerning adult viewer whose exposure to the series is limited to the 44-minute made-for-DVD special ("Movie" seems overly generous) and bonus episode found on this disc, "My Friends" strikes me as being similar to "Clubhouse" but not as good. "My Friends" goes a little lighter on the conventions, something "Clubhouse" could stand to do if it weren't so grounded in them. Pauses for young viewers to interact with Darby are kept pretty sparse, as a narrative remains focal. But the world of the Hundred Acre Wood remarkably doesn't lend itself especially well to this format, at least that's how I, who have long held the utmost fondness for the calm universe, feel.

Pooh, Tigger, Darby, Roo, Lumpy, and Holly set out for the North Pole, with Kanga (center) wishing them luck. With a little help from his friends, Tigger reaches down to rescue Lumpy from a cave.

Whereas Mickey and company solve problems, the biggest theme of "My Friends" is the solving of mysteries. When the Sleuther Siren sounds, renowned Super Sleuths Darby, Pooh, and Tigger don costumes and silly headgear while attempting to arrive at answers to unique and everyday uncertainties.

In Super Sleuth Christmas, it's Christmas Eve and everyone is excited but each member of the gang (which includes Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, but not Gopher and Owl) is wishing for something different.
While playing outside, the youngest in the ranks -- Roo and 2005 inductee Lumpy the lavender Heffalump -- discover Holly, a lisp-addled young reindeer who is trapped in some thicket. Holly, a petite thus-flightless trainee for Santa's sleigh team, is in the area searching for the big guy's magic sack. When that is found, it's time for a trek to the North Pole. Not knowing the way, Holly gets some assistance from her new friends, the Super Sleuths and their entourage. What they lack in a collective sense of direction, they make up in motivation: without the bag, Christmas will be cancelled by Santa.

Minor obstacles, minor lessons, and some songs turn up on the group's short nighttime walking trip to Santa's domain. An instantly forgettable take on familiar territory, the brisk production failed to produce any genuine festive spirit for me, a holiday special junkie, even in its inevitable wishes-granted happy ending.

Though the writing and general premise of the series are both lacking, "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" is quite sound technically. As on "Clubhouse", the 3-D versions of traditionally flat characters are unobjectionably faithful and pleasant. The animation merits some criticism in character movement, but this is hardly a major issue. Four actors who have long been doing voices for Pooh characters continue to skillfully do so here. As usual, the standout is Jim Cummings who does excellent double duty for both beloved title personas. The loss of John Fiedler is felt, as Piglet's first recasting finds the part played by Travis Oates, someone striving to stay close to Fiedler vocally. That he fails is less troubling than the fact that Piglet comes across with unfortunate insincerity. On a plus note, the handful of songs offer welcome departure from the recent trend of having Carly Simon write and sing everything. The tunes heard here are appealing musically and lyrically, while also providing more than a narrow-minded style.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Super Sleuth Christmas Movie is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, slightly wider than the series' and standard TVs' dimensions but not wide enough for the package to avoid designating it "family-friendly widescreen." As the movie is sure to have been transferred from computers to DVD, there are unsurprisingly no unintended imperfections with the picture. Both brighter and darker than the Hundred Acre Wood you're probably used to, the visuals lack the pastel serenity of past Pooh productions. Still, the DVD can't be faulted for the look that the series' producers have decided upon; the worst one observes is that making greater use of a DVD-9's capacity might have lessened the artifacts present in the busiest sequences.

Both a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a subtitles track are offered in English, French, and Spanish. The mix isn't especially aggressive, but it makes use of the sound field in a few fun places and isn't troubled in delivering songs and speech to the viewer's ears.

Which one of these three Hundred Acre Wood characters do you think wants a big box with a little peppermint candy inside? Pooh, Darby, and Tigger catch snowflakes on black paper and investigate them in the bonus episode "Tigger Goes Snowflakey." Pooh makes an appearance on the decorative Super Sleuth Christmas Movie DVD main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

First up is the 100 Acre Wood Downhill Challenge. Recognizing the target audience's lack of dexterity, this Darby-narrated set-top game requires minimal use of the remote control. The first part involves snowboarding down a hill, where you're merely asked to follow the course's design with -- I guess -- your mind or body. The more demanding follow-up activity quizzes you on the intended recipient is of the gifts you picked up.
From a changing menu of three characters, players choose which one would most want stilts, a doll, striped pajamas, etc. There are four different runs available and each provides five different gift questions. Kids should find this satisfactorily simple but as the game plays out the same on return visits, it's not something with a great deal of replay value once it's all been done.

Next is a 24-minute bonus episode of "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" which has not yet been aired. In "Symphony for a Rabbit", Rabbit's annual Spring Has Sprung garden concert is threatened when his one-of-a-kind orchestra machine breaks, but his friends have a rescue plan. "Tigger Goes Snowflakey" finds the Super Sleuths trying to track down two identical snowflakes after a misunderstanding makes Tigger thinks it's the only way to get back in Rabbit's good graces. The episode is presented in fullscreen, two-channel stereo in English, French, and Spanish, and with optional English subtitles.

Trailers at the start of FastPlay-enhanced disc promote 101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition, Wall-E, "Little Einsteins": Race for Space, and "Handy Manny": Fixing It Right. As usual, these promos are also available from the Sneak Peeks menu, where they're prefaced by ads for Ratatouille, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Disney Movie Rewards, and "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse."

The main menu features a music-accompanied seasonal animated environment loop of Pooh's decorated house while snow falls. Submenus are surprisingly low-key, featuring wintry images of single characters against the snowy Wood, but lacking sound and motion.

The DVD's standard keepcase is housed in a cardboard slipcover which replicates the artwork below, only with some slight embossing. Three inserts are located in the case: a scene selection list/ad, a Disney Movie Rewards sheet with code and information on the heavily-promoted soon-to-end program, and a booklet which announces DVDs and other media involving Playhouse Disney fare.

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The Super Sleuths dress up and strike poses while performing their signature Think, Think, Think song. Singing and dancing snowmen welcome the gang to the North Pole.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Should you go out of your way to buy Super Sleuth Christmas Movie? Not unless your child loves "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" and you want some lesser gifts to supplement the inspired ones under the Christmas tree. Though the technically competent special and bonus episode aren't objectionable for some youngster TV time, there's nothing about them that cries out for ownership. Plus the price is disproportionately high for how light the disc is. You'd do much better for your kid and yourself buying higher quality Christmas DVDs for the family. There's no shortage of titles out there (including two cheaper Pooh ones) that offer much more and don't limit themselves to formative years appeal.

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Related Reviews:
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey Saves Santa and Other Mouseketales Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year
A Very Playhouse Disney Holiday Eloise at Christmastime The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Friendship Edition
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause Sing Along Songs: Sing a Song with Pooh Bear and Piglet Too
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: A Great Day of Discovery Disney Learning Adventures: Winnie the Pooh - Wonderful Word Adventure
Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin
Disney Channel Holiday The Christmas Star Jingle All the Way: Family Fun Edition The House Without a Christmas Tree
In Search of Santa Mickey's Party Songs (CD) Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Treat Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas

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Reviewed November 9, 2007.