WINNIE THE POOH, that willy-nilly, silly old bear all stuffed with fluff, is back for a new generation. I’m sure I saw the original POOH when I was a child, but I don’t have any particular connection with the characters, though I have been compared to Eeyore on numerous occasions (most recently immediately following this screening). In the film, Pooh must interrupt his perpetual search for honey to locate a missing Christopher Robin, who is suspected of being kidnapped by the fictional Backson.
While the stakes aren’t particularly high, dramatically speaking, the film packs a wallop of good old-fashioned nostalgia into its brief 69-minute running time. The traditional 2D hand-drawn animation is clean and uncluttered, and the gentle humor (with the occasional bit of bite) had both kids and adults laughing at the screening I went to.
The new songs by two-time Tony-winner Robert Lopez (of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon fame) and wife Kristen-Anderson Lopez may not match the Sherman Brothers’ classic title tune, but they are unassuming, melodic and especially effective in the context of the film. The banjo strumming energy of Tigger’s “It’s Gonna Be Great” takes full advantage of the energetic slapstick shtick onscreen, while the success of the simple loping melody of “Everything Is Honey” rests on the beautifully animated sequence it accompanies.
Of particular note is the end credit song, “So Long,” written and sung by Zooey Deschanel. The Beach Boys-inspired retro flavor of the song is infectious and the imple message of friendship is kid-friendly, even though the former lyricist in me cringes at some of the false rhymes. If I had my way, Deschanel will be occupying the first Song nomination slot come Oscar time. Let’s see if it qualifies and if its placement over the credits dampens its chances. That would be a shame.
Equally enjoyable—and a welcome surprise—is Henry Jackman’s delightful score. Composed, orchestrated and mixed in classic Disney fashion, the music is reminiscent of classic Disney scores of the ’40s and ’50s, while still remaining contemporary. Jackman employs the four-note motif from the syllables of the “Winnie the Pooh” song as a subtle melodic and rhythmic device for the bear, without ever directly quoting the classic melody. By doing so, Pooh gets a honey of a theme (sorry) that is all sweetness and light, with a twinge of nostalgia.
The brass theme for the Backson is never overly menacing and the loping martial music used for Pooh and his pals in cues like “Hundred Acre Spy Game” winks its eye at The Great Escape. The score throughout uses its Mickey Mousing sparingly and appropriately.
The action cues are well-crafted and crackle with energy. In cues like “Beehive Chase,” staccato winds, growling brass and swirling strings give the music a giddy sense of motion. When Pooh’s theme arrives in its full-bodied, heroic trumpet fervor at the end of “Balloon Chase,” I got one of those chills that only film music can provide.
The album ends with a delightful suite of the main themes from the score. The bonus music that follows the silence at the end of the suite accompanies a delightful animated sequence at the end of the credit roll. If you see the film, make sure you stick around to the very end. You won’t want to miss this last little bit of subversive humor.
I’m not sure today’s ADD-riddled kids and their constantly “connected” parents will sit still for something so leisurely-paced, gentle and sweet, even for an hour. If not, they’re missing out on something special. Watching the film left me in a delirious high with its innocence, classic animation, and numerous musical joys.
Henry Jackman, you win the honey pot!