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The past few years the mention of Winnie the Pooh and Disney has been conjuring associations of bitter court disputes over rights and merchandising, so it's more than a relief to find out that the original old Disney animated feature The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh has lost none of its charm. Savant was fourteen when it came out but an early 80s video release coincided with my search for appropriate video viewing for my three year-old daughter. Nothing we ever showed her was as entertaining, or as popular. That's the nostalgic aspect of this colorful and funny animated Winnie the Pooh adventure for us; everybody with a kid surely remembers a show that clicked with their kids' bright little faces.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ties about six Pooh escapades together into an episodic storybook format. Animals hop from one page to the next and the text 'comes alive' in various ways, as when a downpour makes the lettering of one page sag and wash away as we read it. In another story, a character escapes from a high tree by climbing down the text directly to his right. At one point individual words drift across the screen as an animated character says them, an excellent idea to instill the notion that words on a page are the same as the words we speak.
Viewers unfamiliar with the world of A.A. Milne won't be at a loss to figure out what's going on. Christopher Robin's little stuffed toys Pooh Bear, Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga and Roo lead double lives in a forested playground called The Hundred Acre Wood. Other creatures Rabbit and Owl appear to be real animals, but back in Christopher's playroom we see stuffed versions of them as well. Pooh Bear is an inoffensive little guy and a great companion type with an agreeable disposition, especially when honey, or as he spells it, hunny, is involved. His worst tantrum is a soft, "Oh bother." If he isn't eating rabbit's available stock of honey, Pooh Bear is borrowing Christopher's balloon to drift up to a bee hive high in a tree. He rolls in mud so as to better resemble 'a little black rain cloud.' To help the illusion, he asks Christopher to walk around with an umbrella saying, "Tut-tut, it looks like rain." The bees aren't fooled, and the result is fun.
All of the humor is similarly gentle, even if the animals display a strange set of personalities. Little Piglet is shy and unassuming to a fault, but earns great respect by letting Owl take over his house, just to keep from hurting Owl's feelings. Kanga and Roo are a mother and baby; she frets a bit when tiny Roo gets into a potentially dangerous situation. The morose Eeyore is a donkey whose tail isn't pinned on straight. He's slow but adorable. Rabbit spends a great deal of energy trying to calm down the irrepressible Tigger, a spring-tailed hyper personality who likes to pounce on his friends and sing songs about how wonderful he is. Tigger continually says he's the best at everything new until he actually tries it and fails, whereupon he rejects the idea and moves on. Rabbit tries both to abandon Tigger in the woods, and to force him to keep a promise to stop bouncing. Neither gambit works.
The stories feature charming, easy to understand songs. The only time the narrative stops is for a dream song-sequence about "Heffalumps and Woozles." About ten seconds in we realize that the whole thing is copied from the Pink Elephants on Parade number in Dumbo. It's no particular bothersome, but it's also the only part of the show that's not 100% original and enchanting. Pooh and his friends come through high winds and a flood, and Pooh weathers indignities like getting caught in a doorway because he ate too much honey.
The xeroxed line-drawing animals are brought to life with delicate taste, and placed in front of excellent backgrounds resembling watercolors. The voice talent is phenomenal. The wonderful Sterling Holloway is Pooh Bear and kiddie TV host personality Paul Winchell is Tigger ("Woo hoo!") John Fiedler (The Odd Couple) is Piglet. Howard Morris is the Gopher and Sebastian Cabot is Owl. Rabbit is voiced by Junius Matthews. He seems to be patterned after old character actor Harry Davenport, who isn't normally remembered but makes a big impression in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Meet Me In St. Louis (Grandpa) The Ox-Bow Incident (Arthur Davies) Kings Row (Colonel Skeffington) and many other classics.
Sebastian Cabot also doubles as the narrator to bridge gaps between the episodes. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a compilation feature made from three previous short subjects: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968) and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974). I believe they were originally shown as program fillers for Disney features. All three blend perfectly.
Disney's DVD of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a flawless presentation. Some extras are repeated from an earlier 2002 release, like a docu with the modest name The Story Behind the Masterpiece. Games, a sing-along and a TV episode are also included. An extra-special bonus is a fourth short subject from 1983, Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore.
The packaging and menus are all well done. Just about the only objectionable thing about the packaging is that nobody except Walt Disney is mentioned, not the film's directors or even A.A. Milne, the original author. The Disney organization can be very stingy that way.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh rates:
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