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Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin
Special Edition DVD Review

Buy Pooh's Grand Adventure (Special Edition) from Amazon.com Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin
Movie & DVD Details

Directors: Karl Geurs

Voice Cast: Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh), John Fiedler (Piglet), Ken Sansom (Rabbit), Andre Stojka (Owl), Peter Cullen (Eeyore), Brady Bluhm (Christopher Robin), David Warner (The Narrator), Paul Winchell (Tigger)

Songs: "Forever and Ever", "Adventure is a Wonderful Thing", "If It Says So", "Wherever You Are", "Everything is Right"

Running Time: 76 Minutes / Rating: G / Video Debut: August 5, 1997
1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned

DVD Release Date: April 11, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
White Keepcase with Side Snaps

Nine years ago, you didn't need much of a roadmap or an ultimate guide to find your way around a complete canon of Disney's Winnie the Pooh fare, adapted from the literary works of A.A. Milne. There were the four featurette-length shorts, three of which usually formed The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). There were a couple of already-forgotten '80s television series which either tinkered with tradition ("Welcome to Pooh Corner" featured costumed performers) or relied on it ("Winnie the Pooh and Friends" recycled existing footage). Then there was "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh", the cartoon series that molded itself after the shorts and told of further encounters in the Hundred Acre Wood. This praiseworthy show spawned multiple TV specials and has itself endured as one of the most visible and popular Pooh productions. (Even the early morning reruns it currently receives on the Disney Channel offer more exposure than that given to other Disney cartoons of the late '80s and early '90s.)

Since 1997, the year that introduced the public to DVD, Disney has continued to bring the Bear of Very Little Brain to audiences via three theatrical outings and countless direct-to-video features and compilations (which have frequently proved challenging to distinguish). In 1997, the studio had not yet subjected to the public to an excess of Pooh movies and merchandise, nor had they yet revisited a bulk of Feature Animation's canon in divisive sequels, having merely twice sequelized Aladdin and once Beauty and the Beast. Fresh off the successful sales of those three low-budget DTV follow-ups and the 1996 home video release of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the company saw it fit to merge the two paths into a feature-length original movie destined to premiere on video the same summer that Hercules and George of the Jungle were released.

Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin enjoy the last afternoon of summer together. Pooh celebrates the arrival of autumn in his own special way.

The result was Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin, a colorful film which opens on the last day of summer. With Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh having enjoyed another long day of "doing nothing", the brown-haired boy struggles to tell his rotund friend that he won't be around tomorrow. Not only does he struggle, but he outright fails to get this point across, leaving Pooh to discover this truth the next day. Pooh awakens to the arrival of autumn, marked by leaves falling right on his very nose. The bear with the understated fashion sense wanders outside to find a pot of honey and, eventually, a sticky note from its presumed donor. The familiar personalities
of the Hundred Acre Wood are then introduced in typical fashion: Tigger bouncing about with excess exuberance, tiny Piglet facing his towering fears, Eeyore gloomily building a flimsy new home out of branches, and Rabbit demanding his vegetables observe Harvest Day. Unfortunately for Pooh, none of them have seen Christopher Robin and none of them -- not even the self-confident Rabbit -- can make sense out of the letter they determine was penned by their human friend.

The gang sets off for the treehouse of Owl, the land's seemingly most British and learned resident. Owl reads them Christopher Robin's note and the news is anything but good. It turns out that the boy has gone to "Skull", a treacherous place believed to be inhabited by heffalumps, woozles, and the dreaded Skullosaurus. So, in hopes of finding their friend, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit, and Eeyore bravely venture into the Great Unknown and past the Forbidden Mountains. Equipped with merely a map and a rudimentary understanding of it, the gang embarks upon a journey which seems both ambitious and well beyond their capabilities. All the while in looking for his very best friend, Pooh strives to remember the mantra that Christopher Robin told him the night before -- something about bravery and a goose or a moose, oh bother.

Not only does Owl get to appear, but he gets to sing about adventure and enjoy the inexplicable spotlighting. Tigger watches on as lavender butterflies really take to Piglet.

One of the most instantly recognizable qualities about Pooh's Grand Adventure is that it predates the Disney Company's current understanding of Pooh and friends being strictly for preschoolers. I must confess that I have yet to see Piglet's Big Movie, but having caught just about everything else in Disney's Pooh canon, it seems clear that sometime between 2000's The Tigger Movie and 2005's Pooh's Heffalump Movie, the powers that be determined that it would be best for anything Winnie the Pooh (especially shows and movies) to be geared chiefly towards the youngest of young viewers. Thus, it seems unlikely, despite the nearly-unparalleled profits that Pooh paraphernalia brings in each year, that the Emmy-winning "New Adventures" will ever be treated to a DVD box set priced above the estimated parent/toddler spending allowance. And it makes sense that the latest addition to the cast is a heffalump who seems even younger than Roo. And that Christopher Robin will be replaced by a six-year-old girl for a CG-animated series planned to for a 2007 Disney Channel bowing. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. While the present and future of Pooh seem plagued by questionable tinkering, what we have in Grand Adventure is unadulterated wide appeal Pooh in the tradition of Milne's writings.

Of course, simplicity exists at the heart of Grand Adventure. As with other Pooh productions, this one finds harmony in its leisurely pacing, relaxed instrumentations, and appealing vivid imagery. It also, as is often the case, relies upon a simple misunderstanding for the crux of its plot. The gang mistakes "school" for "skull", providing a subtle pro-literacy moral and a comforting cue that the illiterate will likely miss. Like the best of Pooh films, this one is fairly intelligent and well-structured, presenting a silly problem and basic character flaws as something palpable, relatable, somehow complex, a bit educational, and plenty fun. Anyone who agrees with my assessment of recent Pooh fare being "dumbed down" to preschoolers (it seems most critics rarely have anything but kind words for the series) will surely also concur that such a quality is definitely not present here.

That said, Pooh's Grand Adventure does not achieve perfection the way its quasi-predecessor The Many Adventures does. In certain ways, it feels like the single narrative approach is being stretched here, making the proceedings taxing on one's patience and a bit meandering. Most Pooh films maintain a dichotomy about them which makes them simultaneously fast and slow-moving, but this one seems to err a bit towards laggardness. That might be attributable to the songs, written by Michael Abbott and Sarah Weeks (a duo whose services have yet to be enlisted again), which don't supply the spark or fluidity that the slick tunes of the Brothers Sherman did in earlier works. They're not bad; I preferred them to the recent Carly Simon-sings-in-her-usual-way approach and I further warmed to them on a second viewing. But they just don't captivate on par with the indelible, free-form, fluff lyric melodies of the '60s and '70s Pooh shorts.

Oh no, it's the dreaded Skullosaurus! Ahhh! This is one of many literal cliffhangers the movie provides.

At times, the movie wavers into the overly dramatic, a claim one can't usually attribute to the subject matter. The many black fadeouts stylistically divide the events of the movie and almost give it an anime or avant-garde feel (but not quite).

Other than these few charges listed, which register as "mildly troubling" at worst and "semi-refreshing" at best, Pooh's Grand Adventure does provide a largely pleasing affair. For a direct-to-video production, it's ambitious and fairly clever, not unlike the titular rescue mission itself. For a Pooh film, it is visually and scripturally faithful to the line, as established by Walt's shorts, anyway. And though it differs a bit thematically, the adventurous bent is not unwelcome, nor is the Wizard of Oz-like story.

Now, many years after the film became available on DVD in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other parts of the world, Disney has finally has brought Pooh's Grand Adventure to Americans in this modestly-promoted "Special Edition" which launches company-wide celebrations of the 80th Anniversary of A.A. Milne's beloved creation (precisely half of which has been spent as a Disney protagonist).

A couple of brief, final notes on the feature before you move on (if you haven't already). Firstly, it was produced by Walt Disney Animation in Japan, not the Australian-based Television Animation department that would come to be called DisneyToon Studios and has been responsible for most Pooh cartoons. Gladly, most will only know this from the end credits, as the visuals stay true to the established modern look (not much different from the '60s/'70s appearances) and do not pose many inconsistencies the way that Disney's few previous direct-to-video outings did. Secondly, it seems like very few Pooh productions these days include the whole gang. Kanga and Roo are absent here and Gopher, the whistling know-it-all character created for the original shorts, also goes unseen and unmentioned. Nowadays, it's Owl and Christopher Robin who usually get left out, but both figure prominently in this outing.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Despite being announced otherwise, Pooh's Grand Adventure is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. That seemed like a strange choice because for all international DVD engagements, the film appeared in 1.33:1 fullscreen. Anyone who has studied Disney's worldwide DVD releases can tell you that usually but not always, when there is a BVHE aspect ratio discrepancy, European countries are the ones to get the 16x9-enhanced presentations. Furthermore, as the misframed Aladdin
and the King of Thieves
DVD
illustrated, Disney was composing direct-to-videos for the 1.33:1 aspect ratio as recently as 1996. But then 1998's The Lion King II has twice appeared on DVD in 1.66:1 to little questioning of its ratio. Perhaps the change to wider dimensions began with Grand Adventure?

After watching the movie twice with an eye for framing, scouring the Internet in the hopes of finding screencaps from the International DVDs, and eventually settling on the fullscreen clips in the "Pooh's Symphony" featurette as a reference for comparison, I can tell you that the answer is not as clear-cut as it was on King of Thieves. Ultimately, I'm going on screencaps depicting three identical frames in both 1.33:1 and 1.66:1 (which actually varies from 1.63:1 to 1.66:1). Does the feature presentation gain any picture? Yes, it gained anywhere from 4 to 7 percent in terms of frame width, next to the same scenes as glimpsed upon in the bonus. Does the feature presentation lose any picture? Yes, in the comparison caps, a loss of about 13 percent of frame height was observed. Now, admittedly the featurette's clips may not be a reliable indication of the 1.33:1 presentations. If they are, my conclusion is this: big deal. Or once again without the sarcasm, this is not a big deal.

Christopher Robin tries his best to scare Pooh with a twilight E.T. impression. This screencap was taken from the feature itself, presented in widescreen. Chris Rob tries again, this time in a fullscreen clip from the bonus feature, revealing there's more to his shoe than you thought there was!

The difference between 1.33:1 and 1.66:1 (often 1.63:1) wanders into a territory of irrelevance. Seven to thirteen percent of picture is not a great deal different from what is affected by overscan, which is programmed into just about every television set in existence. It's not much more significant than the 1.78:1/1.85:1 dilemma and it's probably not worth the time I've already spent investigating merely because I assumed no other reviewer would. The 1.66:1 presentation here nullifies most overscan, offers higher resolution for widescreen displays that would seem to be the future, and does indeed reveal a tiny bit of animation (or more likely, background/setting elements) otherwise not seen. The framing is not majorly affected and can't really be deemed better or worse. Unless writer/director Karl Geurs contacts me and tells me this is a mistake, I'm fully content with this and you should be too.

What's far more significant when comparing the fullscreen clips to the fullscreen presentation is the superior visual quality of the feature. That's right, because aspect ratio issue aside, this is a highly pleasing transfer. In fact, the picture quality is just about flawless...for the first half. Oddly, a little bit more than halfway in, some imperfections turn up. Scratches and tiny artifacts become especially noticeable in certain stretches set in the dark skull cave. I wonder if Disney only allocated enough budget to revitalize half the movie or what. It's not a major deal, but it contrasts with what is otherwise clear perfection. No matter, this only falls a bit short of it, is almost definitely the best the movie will look on DVD, and more than gets the job done. Four paragraphs on picture enough?

Moving onto sound, one finds a nice engulfing Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. There is much bass and lots of directionality in this mix, which is surprisingly active for a Pooh film and unexpectedly effective for a 1997 DTV. For a less satisfying but more foreign aural experience, check out the two-channel surround tracks provided in French and Spanish.

Helping Eeyore build his house is the most challenging part of the five-level "Pooh and Friends" game. What is an orchestra, you ask? Watch "Pooh's Symphony" and learn about movie music! In the Oscar-winning short "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day", Pooh grabs onto his pal.

BONUS FEATURES

There is not much that would seem to justify the DVD's bold "Special Edition" label, but the three extras here lift this disc a bit above the light supplemental slates that have accompanied the latest direct-to-video features' debuts. The bonuses are arranged in increasing order of importance, it would seem, and that's how I'll discuss them.

First up, under the heading "Game Time", is the set-top game "Pooh and Friends: Adventures in the 100 Acre Wood." In this mildly time-consuming and mildly fun activity, you guide Pooh through the map to Skull.
Though the eventual goal is to find Christopher Robin, your responsibilities lie squarely in teaming up Pooh with his four expotition companions and mastering a number of little challenges along the way. What's not explicit is that there is one particular pre-determined order you must follow as your path to Skull. The five little activities relate to the growing cast of characters in your search party: you must find the right honey pot, use just the right amount of bounce to rescue Piglet, select the right sticks with which to build Eeyore's house, and so on. Naturally, these skills-testing dilemmas are pretty youngster-friendly, though some might require the help of a more cunning player.

Next, under the title "Backstage Disney", is "Pooh's Symphony", a six-minute featurette on the use of music in films. Any hope at a new genuine making-of Pooh featurette can be left aside, as this piece aims at young kids to discuss concepts of a movie orchestra and such. The female British narrator is often interwoven with well-timed clips from the movie. In addition to footage of scoring sessions, the brief piece also includes a demonstration of a suspenseful scene without and with the score in place and an explanation of how different kinds of music match the different Hundred Acre Wood personalities.

Last but definitely not least is the Bonus Short, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (24:58). The middle section of Many Adventures, this featurette was released to theaters just before Christmas of 1968 alongside the Dean Jones comedy The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit. A few months later, Blustery Day proved more powerful than Windy Day (and two other nominees) in the Best Short Subject category, giving Walt Disney his 19th and final Oscar more than two years after his death.

The second Pooh film that Disney made is pretty clearly his best. It's an eventful "Windsday" which finds the Hundred Acre Wood residents dealing with heavy winds and flood-inducing rains. All the elements that make the early Pooh films so endearing are on display here: the wonderful songs from the Sherman Brothers, the jolly, authoritative narrator, the living book format, and of course, the beloved characters. Tigger is introduced and his tales lead to Pooh's psychedelic nightmares about heffalumps and woozles. When the wind turns to a thunderstorm, Piglet clings for a bumpy honey pot ride, while the rest of the gang searches for him and Pooh. The original opening credits have been preserved here, but otherwise "preserved" is not a word that comes to mind when watching this. The messy picture quality is definitely lacking compared to the Many Adventures transfer, but the short's vast charm clearly overshadows this shortcoming.

Winnie the Pooh meets Tigger for the very first time in "Blustery Day." Pooh pops out of the FastPlay pot in this still from the animated main menu.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The 16x9 menus are well done. The Main Menu nicely captures the feel of autumn while the all-important map crinkles due to the blustery breezes and Pooh emerges from the FastPlay pot o' hunny. The submenus are either barely animated or not at all, but they are accompanied by soothing selections from the film's score and uphold the map motif.

It wouldn't be a Disney DVD without sneak peeks. The first set promotes The Little Mermaid Platinum Edition, Disney Princess Fairy Tales (Volume 1), and the long, repeatedly-delayed Winnie the Pooh Disney Learning Adventures (for which there is still no firm new release date). The menu holds additional looks at Little Einsteins: Team Up for Adventure, Disney Princess Sing Along Songs: Volume 3, Brother Bear 2, Dumbo Special Edition, and Playhouse Disney's forthcoming "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" (well, the logo, anyway).

For a limited time, at most stores, inside the DVD, one finds a storybook which retells the movie's story. Only a few pages are devoted to promoting DVDs, and one of those oddly and prominently advertises the very DVD you currently own. While it certainly wouldn't be a major loss if you get a copy without it, it's a nice touch and perhaps a fine stepping stone to reading A.A. Milne's original books. There's also a double-sided insert listing scene selections and extras overview and a subscription form for what sounds like a grossly overpriced bimonthly Disney Winnie the Pooh magazine.

Pooh sits contently, knowing that the rumbly in his tumbly won't last much longer. Yay! We found Christopher Robin! Yay!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you are to add only one Winnie the Pooh DVD to your collection, this is not it. As a film and a DVD, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is far superior and its recently, quietly discontinued 25th Anniversary Edition disc is well worth tracking down. If you love the "tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff" and seek adventures beyond Many, then The Tigger Movie ranks your second best bet. But if you want three or more DVDs set in the Hundred Acre Wood, then Pooh's Grand Adventure makes a fine acquisition. With wide appeal and only a handful of mild shortcomings, Grand Adventure does nicely and stands out among both direct-to-video and Pooh productions as something special.

Though its moniker suggests otherwise, its long-awaited Region 1 disc isn't too special. The widescreen transfer appears to be an okay move and for the most part, it's very nice. The stellar 5.1-channel soundtrack leaves no room for complaint. As far as bonuses go, though, an unexceptional game, a brief kiddie-tailored piece on music, and a limited print storybooklet feel hardly worth mentioning. The Oscar-winning short Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, on the other hand, is the bear and friends at their very best. It's neat to get that in its original format, even if it's a bit beat-up and already owned by most on the must-own Many Adventures DVD.

Overall, it's tough to understand why this fairly light disc of a 9-year-old direct-to-video flick should carry a full $29.99 SRP, but if you like Disney's treatment of Pooh (or did 9 years ago) and can find a decent discount, then this DVD comes recommended.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) Piglet's Big Movie (2003) Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005)
Winnie the Pooh: Springtime with Roo (2004) Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005) Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year (2002)
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: A Great Day of Discovery Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: Friends Forever
Sing Along Songs: Sing a Song with Pooh Bear and Piglet Too! Disneyland 50th Anniversary Report
The Year was 1997: Hercules Jungle 2 Jungle Angels in the Endzone Ellen: The Complete Season 3 Shall We Dance?

Direct-to-Video Features:
Aladdin II & III Collection: The Return of Jafar & Aladdin and the King of Thieves Mulan II (2005) The Three Musketeers (2004)
The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998) Tarzan II (2005) Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (2005) Kronk's New Groove (2005)

Recent to DVD:
Bambi II (2006) Lady and the Tramp (1955) My Neighbor Totoro (1988) Classic Cartoon Favorites: Best Pals - Mickey & Pluto
Dream On Silly Dreamer (2005) Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World (2005) Chicken Little (2005) The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)

Related Preorders:
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: It's Playtime with Pooh (release date: May 23, 2006)
Growing Up with Winnie the Pooh: Love & Friendship (release date: May 23, 2006)

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Reviewed April 13, 2006.