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Trailer Review: Winnie the Pooh

By / Posted on 16 November 2010

Winnie the PoohI took a semester of traditional animation in college. The instructor was a former feature animator for Walt Disney, as evidenced by his collection of leather jackets with the logos of films like Mulan and Lilo & Stitch across their backs. Once a week, as inspirational reference, Disney features would play on a screen in the corner at one-quarter speed, granting a very informative new perspective on films like the Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood. The film that grabbed the most attention in class, though, was 1977′s the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It wasn’t just the charming nostalgia (who doesn’t adore that cast of characters?) or the story structure (the film is actually composed of three featurettes, each based on an existing story from the A.A. Milne books); it was the radiant heart of the animation. Each character felt truly alive with bouncy motion and expressive reaction, and all the artwork was done with decidedly rougher pencils than every other film we watched. There were several parts in the final film where you could still clearly see the animators’ guidelines over Pooh’s blissful face and Owl’s proud chest.

Pooh has become a very successful franchise for Disney since, with a number of tv shows aimed at preschoolers and spinoff movies for his supporting cast, but for summer 2011 Disney is promising the first Pooh feature film in 35 years.

First and foremost, the simply-titled Winnie the Pooh seems to be following in the narrative parameters of the Many Adventures… in that it is a collection of adaptations of stories from the original A.A. Milne books. This trailer clearly shows elements of the stories “In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One” from Winnie-the-Pooh and “In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day, and We Learn What Christopher Robin Does in the Mornings” from the House on Pooh Corner, though Disney promises the film will adapt five classic Milne tales. It’s also fantastic to see the fourth-wall-breaking awareness of their existence within a book brought back. There’s no joy quite like watching a balloon-suspended Piglet blow right out of the illustration and start knocking the page’s typography down from above, or Pooh fall through a hole into a ditch just beneath the next paragraph, or Rabbit getting caught in the rain and wait for the page to turn for sunlight again.

Winnie the Pooh

You can clearly see some of the animator's guideline pencils in this clip from 'Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree'

Second, oh my goodness, does this seem like an Apple commercial. The no-frills black text on white screen and pleasantly nonchalant Keane soundtrack make me want to complain about iPhone reception issues, not glow with delight at the sight of new Pooh.

Third, though not directly referenced in the trailer, just a little bit of research shows that the lead story artist on this new feature is Burny Mattison, a Disney animator who served as key animator on the Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too segment of the original film, in addition to work on such seminal Disney classics as Lady and the Tramp, the Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. This almost guarantees a strict adherence to the classic style, complete with fully-watercolored backgrounds.

Fourth, I want to hug Eeyore forever. That is all.

While I personally enjoyed Welcome to Pooh Corner and the New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on television, along with the past decade’s trilogy of the Tigger Movie, Piglet’s Big Movie and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, there is absolutely no denying that they were all lacking the spectacular charm of the original stories and the animated feature that brought them to the masses in 1977. (Note that I did not mention the recent CGI tv series My Friends Tigger and Pooh. This is because it is not very good at all and the less said the better.) From what’s been seen so far, Winnie the Pooh exemplifies the strong focus on classical animation quality Jon Lasseter stressed when he became chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006, with a finger on the pulse of the future and a thorough understanding of why the past succeeded or failed where it did.

Winnie the Pooh is expected to hit theaters July 15th, 2011.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.