Another holiday Winnie the Pooh DVD offering with a bonus plush gift. Disney DVD has released Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving - 10th Anniversary Edition (it's worthy of an anniversary edition?), featuring the 1999 full-length, straight-to-video movie that was cobbled together from the 1998 ABC TV special, A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving, and two episodes of Disney's cable series The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. And to make the push for early Christmas sales, there's a plush collectible Christmas stocking, suitable for hanging on the tree, included in the package. Even more than the earlier Halloween-themed Winnie the Pooh DVD I reviewed a few weeks ago (the Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie), the joins for the patchwork Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving are inartful and almost crude to the adult viewer...but your little children probably won't mind - and that's who this DVD is aimed at, after all.
In three distinct segments (not at all convincingly linked by songs and new animation), Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving begins with Tigger (Paul Winchell) waiting impatiently for Fall to end, and for the snow to fall so he can ski through the Hundred Acre Woods. But no one seems to know if it is indeed the first day of Winter, as Tigger insists it is - certainly Pooh-bear (Jim Cummings) doesn't know - so the gang tramps over to Rabbit's house, whom they're sure has a calendar. But a blustery wind blows away the pages of his calendar, and everyone thinks it's Groundhog's Day. Winter, apparently, has passed the Hundred Acre Woods by...until a snowstorm catches them all by surprise, with Piglet (John Fiedler) caught out in a snowstorm. The next segment finds Pooh and Christopher Robin (Brady Bluhm) discussing Thanksgiving, and soon, the gang brings their favorite foods to their own holiday festival. But persnickety Rabbit declares their food choices all wrong for the traditional meal, so he assigns each animal the task of bringing back a specific Thanksgiving dish...with Pooh and Piglet in charge of getting the turkey. But Pooh and Piglet have no idea what a turkey is, let alone how to trap one, and their efforts to do so cause much mayhem at the feast. In the final segment of Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving, grumpy Rabbit finds himself caring for a small bird, Kessie (Laura Mooney). After becoming quite attached to the kind Kessie, Rabbit finds it impossible to let Kessie go when it comes time for the little bird to fly South for the winter. But a Christmas miracle changes everything for the sad, hurt Rabbit.
The only problem I had with Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving was the same problem I had with the Heffalump DVD I reviewed a few weeks back: the coarse nature of the transitions between the different Winnie the Pooh episodes and films that make up this "new" feature. I'm not opposed to the idea of taking several episodes of the Winnie the Pooh cable series, along with the bulk of the Thanksgiving TV special, and creating a full-length feature. But if you're going to attempt that, at least doing it with some feeling for the editing, or with some cleverness - or even just some energy to cover over the obviousness of the process and the disparate nature of the separate elements. But that's not the case with Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving. The most obvious drawback to the slipshod fashioning of the various elements here is the widely varying visual design. The movie begins with some cheap-looking CGI animation depicting Christopher Robin's bedroom (anybody else ready to retire CGI in favor of a return to traditional animation?), and then we segue into a series of winter and seasonal-related clips from various Pooh offerings - including some shots from the original 60s theatrical Poohs, with the Sherman Bros.' Every Season Brings a Reason vainly attempting to give some structure to these short clips. Since all of the shots come from different sources of varying age, the visual look snaps back and forth between fuzzy, grainy shots and relatively crisp and clean ones. This visual unevenness occurs throughout Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving.
From the CGI opening, we then move into the first segment of the film, which is taken from the The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode, GroundPiglet Day. The transfer looks about on a par with a standard VHS recording. Another montage of seasonal-related clips appear (with the same song overlaid), and we transition into the 1998 A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving TV special. Here, the elements used for the transfer are far sharper and clearer, with much improved color and resolution, but we switch back again to VHS quality for the next segment, taken from the Find Her, Keep Her episode from The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Visual continuity is further scrambled when new linking material animated in 1999 pops up to make this non-holiday-themed episode more Christmas-friendly.
This herky-jerky visual ping-ponging may not bother your young children watching Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving, but that, along with the fact that we're obviously watching linked material that individually doesn't have much in common together, made me wish I could just see the individual episodes and the TV special, separately. A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving, in particular, looked like it might be fun on its own; I've never seen the special, so I don't know how much has been lost here in its transformation into the Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving movie. But considering how jumbled the final product is, not only from a technical aspect but also just from considering the movie's rhythm and flow, I can't see much improvement taking these separate elements and combining them. Still...any grumbling I may have as an adult doesn't really apply when you're considering who Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving is aimed at: little kids. My youngest daughter and son love Pooh-bear, and they certainly didn't have any problems watching the movie. They laughed in the right places and they got a little sad at the end when Rabbit was so upset over Kessie leaving the nest, so really, any criticism of the movie's purpose and structure are a moot point when the film succeeds for its target audience.
Additionally, two bonus episodes taken from The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh are included here: 1988's The Magic Earmuffs (11:04) and 1989's The Wishing Bear (22:42), and they're both far more successful on their own, than the cobbled-together Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving full-length feature. The Wishing Bear, in particular, is very sweet (in the final, lovely image, Pooh and Christopher Robin look up at a winter wishing star, with Pooh saying, "He made my most important wish come true," with Christopher Robin asking, "What wish is that?" Pooh replies lovingly, "You." That's a very nice moment to watch with your children. Two very simple games are included, too: Decorate Your Own Christmas Tree, where your little viewer can select with their DVD remote or computer keyboard different ornaments to hang on some Christmas trees, and Coloring Fun with Piglet, where you have to select the different correct colors to finish a picture of the gang sledding. These games provide English or French audio accompaniment.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.