3 stars (out of 4)
Oh bother! Some conservatives are not going to like this.
In a season that has already seen two popular cartoons draw ire for their themes of diversity and tolerance, the latest Winnie the Pooh film is weighing in with its own message. Andhold on to your valuesit's all about embracing those who are different from us, even if they are pink and lavender creatures who talk funny and given to frolicking.
They're called Heffalumps. And in the delightful new 68-minute feature "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," they serve as menacing, mysterious creatures who need to be captured and stopped.
So one morning, when the crew from the Hundred Acre Wood hears a rumbling from the other side of the fence in Heffalump Hollow, they decide to organize an expedition to collar one.
As Rabbit, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and Pooh prepare for the mission, tiny Roo pleads to join the posse but is told he is too young. His mom, Kanga, assures him that one day he will be big enough, but not now.
Determined to prove that he has grown up, Roo sneaks out with the rest of the bumbling crew and indeed runs into a Heffalump, whom he captures with a rope. Lumpy (or Lumpster as Roo eventually calls him) thinks it's a game and plays along as Roo tries to drag his trophy animal back to the Hundred Acre Wood.
Along the way, though, Roo and the fuzzy lavender elephant with the British accent become fast friends, realizing they have a lot in common. Each adores his mommy and can't wait to grow up. Each loves to play in the mud. And each has been taught to fear the creatures on the other side of the fence, who are clearly "dangerous."
"Who told you this?" asks Lumpy.
"I don't know" replies Roo. "Everybody just knows."
When Lumpy tells Roo about how everyone on his side of the fence is freaked out by that "stripy thing that bounces, the pink thing that squeals and that loud thing with the long ears who yells at everybody," Roo says, "There's nothing scary about them once you get to know them."
And through this derailed hunting expedition the two groups do get to know each other, replacing fear and hatred with love and understanding. Cue the soaring Carly Simon tunes (complete with children's chorus) about friendship and you have some of the most moving scenes in the film, scenes that miraculously manage to avoid schmaltz or preachiness.
But the film is more than a lesson about overcoming bigotry and ignorance. It's also just a beautifully animated romp through the world of Pooh as created by A.A. Milne. The animators stay true to Ernest H. Shepard's idyllic drawings of the English countryside while adding clean, simple action scenes that even appealed to my 6-year-old, who usually prefers fast-paced Japanese animation. He almost didn't come to the film, poo-pooing it as a "baby movie." But as soon as it started, my son became entranced, laughing and worrying along with the other kids, even applauding at the end. My 20-month-old showed her approval by not making a peep through the whole movie.
And as far as I can tell, the messages of tolerance, acceptance and diversity haven't warped them yet.
"Pooh's Heffalump Movie"
Directed by Frank Nissen; screenplay by Brian Hohlfeld and Evan Spiliotopoulos; art direction by Tony Pulham; edited by Nancy Frazen, Robert Fisher Jr. and Anthony Rocco; animation directed by Don MacKinnon; produced by Jessica Koplos-Miller. A Buena Vista release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:08. MPAA rating: G.
Winnie the Pooh, Tigger - Jim Cummings
Roo - Nikita Hopkins
Piglet - John Fiedler
Mama Heffalump - Brenda Blethyn