One of the advantages of having a five-year-old daughter is that I find myself making time for lots of children's movies I might otherwise easily overlook. Such was the case of The Tigger Movie (2000), a Winnie-the-Pooh feature produced by Disney. I'd seen their original featurettes, each running about 25 minutes, in theaters: Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger Too (1974), Winnie-the-Pooh and a Day for Eeyore (1983), as well as the feature compilation of the first three shorts, The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh (1977). The early shorts, while deviating quite a bit from A.A. Milne's original concepts, were excellent, with a gentler tone and a far more methodical pace than most theatrical and television cartoons of the period. The last short, however, was very disappointing and it was 17 years before Disney tried again.
The Tigger Movie was conceived as a direct-to-video release, but green-lighted as a somewhat more expensive theatrical feature after CEO Michael Eisner heard the songs Richard and Robert Sherman (Mary Poppins) had written. Its commercial success prompted two follow-ups, Piglet's Big Movie (2003) and Pooh's Heffalump Movie (2005), all prior to a later attempt to completely "reboot" the franchise, 2011's Winnie the Pooh, produced following a protracted legal battle over rights and royalties.
I was thoroughly charmed by the 2001 Winnie the Pooh and assumed The Tigger Movie and its two sequels a misstep of little value or interest. In fact, director-writer Jun Falkenstein in Tigger clearly is laying the groundwork for most everything that would later work so well in Winnie the Pooh. The movie has the basic problem of trying to make Tigger, a high-maintenance character best enjoyed in small doses, its central character, but overall it's a vast improvement over Winnie-the-Pooh and a Day for Eeyore and charming throughout.
A line in Sherman Brothers' Tigger song inspired the simple story, that "the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is that I'm the only one! I'm the only one!" But Tigger's treasured uniqueness turns to loneliness when the other (stuffed) animals of the Hundred Acre Wood are reluctant to play with him, especially after he inadvertently destroys Eeyore's house, and his attempts to move it cause everyone to tumble into the mud.
Roo, who looks up to Tigger like a big brother, suggests everyone contribute to a letter conceived to cheer Tigger up. But Tigger misinterprets its contents, believing it to be from long-lost relatives, other tiggers like himself. He busily begins making preparations for their imminent arrival, while the others hatch a plan to save Tigger from the bitter disappointment certain to follow.
Despite its direct-to-video origins and the fact that the majority of the animation was farmed out to Disney's Japanese subsidiary, the $30 million production is extremely handsome, with beautiful character animation throughout. Working against its success is that Tigger is a basically one-dimensional, even delusional character, hyperactive, and oblivious to basic rules of social interaction. As much as I liked Tigger in the short film Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger Too, the character really can't sustain a 77-minute film. Unsurprisingly, the script finds ways to cut away from Tigger and his problems, offering charming little vignettes concerning the other characters, the best of these being Pooh's attempts to lull a beehive to sleep so that he might partake of its honey.
The film is very much a transitional work. As they had on earlier Pooh shorts, the Sherman Brothers' songs (their first Disney score in nearly 30 years) are a big part of the film's appeal, and John Fiedler returns as the voice of Piglet. However, for reasons not entirely clear the original voice of Tigger, Paul Winchell, was replaced by Jim Cummings, who also replaces the late Sterling Holloway as Pooh. Winchell was very much alive in 2000, and one story was that the 78-year-old ventriloquist's voice had simply changed to the point where the filmmakers felt the need to replace him with the more youthful-sounding Cummings. (However, Winchell was subsequently brought back to voice Tigger for a Disney Theme Park attraction.) Regardless, Cummings nearly perfectly captures both Holloway's and Winchell's original characterizations while, at the same time, offering excellent, original performances as these characters in his own right.
Video & Audio
Presented in 1080p, 1.78:1 full-frame and thus approximating its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, The Tigger Movie looks essentially perfect on Blu-ray. The film's primary colors are bright and the film is crystal clear throughout.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds great, certainly up to contemporary standards, and includes 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French and Spanish, along with subtitle options in all three languages. Watching this with my daughter, I had to pause the film a couple of times to answer the door, only to discover pausing triggers an intermission feature obviously designed to keep kids entertained for just such occasions. A DVD version of the film is also included, while the Blu-ray is all-region.
Supplements include a much too-short roundtable discussion with the filmmakers (HD); recycled footage from this and The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh, reworked into 10 "mini-adventures" (also HD)*; a sing-a-long featurette of the number "Round My Family Tree" (also HD); and a Kenny Loggins music video (SD). In short, lightweight supplements for general audiences, but very little for the animation buff, A.A. Milne scholar, or hardcore Disney fan/historian.
I was very pleasantly surprised with The Tigger Movie, expecting something several notches below 2011's Winnie the Pooh and instead discovering a film nearly as enchanting. Highly Recommended.
* Oddly, for these "mini-adventures" Cummings has revoiced Pooh and Tigger in the older segments. And while The Tigger Movie is narrated by John Hurt, these segments are introduced by John Cleese.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.