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The welcome return of 'Winnie the Pooh'

By Mark Rabinowitz, CNN
Full of whimsy, wry humor and emotion, "Winnie the Pooh" is the perfect summer children's film.
Full of whimsy, wry humor and emotion, "Winnie the Pooh" is the perfect summer children's film.
  • "Winnie the Pooh" is magnificent return to the hand-drawn watercolor animation of yore
  • Reviewer finds himself singing "The Tigger Song" to himself at random
  • Best kids' entertainment has a life lesson that parents approve of; 'Pooh doesn't disappoint'

(CNN) -- My apologies if I get a little personal in this review. From the opening title card of Mickey at the helm of the Steamboat Willie and the famous Disney logo set to "When You Wish Upon a Star," an involuntary shiver went down my spine and my eyes got a little moist.

Like most Americans "of a certain age," my childhood was informed by images of the Magic Kingdom and the inevitable joy that a Disney film would bring. Despite my less-than-thrilled feelings about much of the past 15 years of Disney animation, I was cautiously optimistic about "Winnie the Pooh" for many reasons, not the least of which is that I am the sort of person who finds himself singing "The Tigger Song" to himself at random.

Well, it turns out I had no reason to be cautious and every reason to be optimistic.

"Winnie the Pooh" is a magnificent return to the hand-drawn watercolor animation of yore. Full of whimsy, wry humor and emotion, it's the perfect summer antidote to 3-D "Smurfs" and all other manner of mindless (and loud) kids' films that the little ones might be drawn to and is not at all a disappointment to us adult Pooh fans from 40 years ago.

Inspired by several unadapted A.A. Milne stories, this new adventure of everyone's favorite "silly old bear" Winnie the Pooh takes place in the course of a single day and finds Pooh and all of his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood engaged in a noble endeavor: finding a new tail for Eeyore, who seems to have misplaced the original.

The prize is a new pot of honey, and Pooh, finding himself all out of the sticky stuff (Pooh's grumbling tummy is an uncredited character in the tale), is determined to win the prize and help out his friend.

Of course, he's constantly within reach of the honey he needs to slake his hunger, only to see it fall out of reach at the last moment.

Pooh is, in his own words, "of very little brain," and when you get right down to it, the rest of the gang spring from the imagination of a little boy and thus are wont to think like one, as well.

As a result, some of their imaginative, if less-than-practical, ideas for Eeyore's tail include a cuckoo clock, the famous red balloon (a character in its own right) and a chalkboard with "tael" written on it.

Shortly after that contest has begun, word comes that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by the fearsome Backson, and the search for Eeyore's tail is abandoned in favor of dashing to the rescue of their dear friend.

Of course, the Backson is actually completely made up by Owl to conceal his own ignorance and is, in fact, "Back soon" as misread by Owl on a note left by their human friend.

In short order, Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit and the rest spring into action to rescue Christopher Robin from the "fiend." Traps are set, scouting is done, and in one particularly funny and ingenious sequence, Tigger decides that two Tiggers are better than one when it comes to hunting Backsons, so he decides to remake Eeyore in his own image as "Tigger Too," much to the downbeat donkey's chagrin.

The best children's entertainment contains a life lesson that parents can approve of and that children can absorb without feeling like they are being "taught" something.

"Winnie the Pooh" is no exception, and the lesson here is that friendship, selflessness and loyalty are to be valued and honored. Pooh, Rabbit, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Owl, Roo and Tigger all put themselves in what they think is danger (and in Pooh's case, ignore a raging hunger) in order to save their friend Christopher Robin, without hesitation.

Full of wonderful new songs (including a snippet of an old favorite!) performed by Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward and the cast, and packed with playful and entertaining animation (the characters often literally interact with the words on the page), "Winnie the Pooh" is faithful to Milne's source, and the film is cast impeccably.

John Cleese is wonderful as the narrator, especially when he interacts with Pooh, et al., and the rest of the voice actors do a great job, especially Jim Cummings as Pooh and Tigger as well as 7-year-old Wyatt Hall (son of the film's director, Don) who steals the show as Roo. ("Send the pig.")

I'm not giving anything away by telling you that everything works out in the end, and parents should feel comfortable bringing small children to the theater.

The screening I attended was probably 50% under 6 years old, and not a one complained. At just under 70 minutes, the film is the perfect length, as well.

The credit sequence is partially animated, and there is a post-credit sequence that needs to be seen, as well.