There are two ways to consider "Winnie the Pooh," Disney's newest animated entry based on the beloved works of A.A. Milne. The first is to compare this gentle, hand-drawn effort to the kind of splashy, smart-mouthed, CGI-driven — sometimes 3-D —- juggernauts many have come to expect from animated studio features. On that score, "Winnie the Pooh" is going to seem like an awfully retro, fairly juiceless affair.
But, if judged against its 85-year-old source material and the various features, featurettes, TV shows and direct-to-DVD movies Disney has successfully extracted from it over the last five decades, this current picture — the first "Pooh" installment crafted at the Walt Disney Animation Studios since 1977 — proves a fitting tribute to one of the last century's most enduring children's tales.
Either way, this musical comedy's appeal will presumably top out with very young children and the nostalgic parents who escort them, the latter of whom will likely appreciate the picture's ultra-brief running time: 68 minutes including leisurely end credits and an opening, eco-friendly cartoon called "The Ballad of Nessie," narrated by Billy Connolly.
This latest "Pooh," directed by Stephen Anderson and Don Hall with watercolor-rich visuals true to E.H. Shepard's original drawings, was inspired by three stories from Milne's books, which were adapted by a raft of story editors, with veteran Disney staffer and "Pooh" animator Burny Mattinson serving as senior story artist (Pixar-Disney creative master John Lasseter executive produced).
It all takes place during one eventful day in the Hundred Acre Wood, the enchanted forest conjured up by Milne's equitable young protagonist, Christopher Robin (stodgily voiced by Jack Boulter), where the English schoolboy's stuffed animal collection comes to life.
For the uninitiated, Christopher Robin's imaginary menagerie includes impulsive Tigger (Jim Cummings), gloomy Eeyore (Bud Luckey), pseudo-intellectual Owl (Craig Ferguson), fussy Rabbit (Tom Kenny), anxious Piglet (Travis Oates), maternal Kanga (Kristen Anderson-Lopez), her eager young son, Roo (Wyatt Dean Hall) and, of course, that good-natured, honey-obsessed "bear of very little brain," Winnie the Pooh (again, Jim Cummings).
This dizzy, not terribly resourceful group finds itself facing a series of rudimentary obstacles mainly borne out of confusion and a pervasive bent for misspelling. There's a somewhat "Dumb and Dumber" aspect at work here that, frankly, leaves one wishing for a wittier rehashing of life in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Along the way, Eeyore loses his donkey tail and needs a replacement, Owl mistakenly thinks Christopher Robin has been abducted by a concocted monster dubbed a "Backson," and jelly-bellied Pooh tirelessly — and, to be honest, tiresomely — lusts after his elusive honey pots.
It's predictable, painless, occasionally amusing fluff perked up by a clever visual interplay with the book text and John Cleese's avuncular narration.
As for the music, it's largely standard issue, starting with actress-musician Zooey Deschanel's placid cover version of the Sherman Brothers' classic title song (their "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers" is also featured). Six original numbers by Robert Lopez (from Broadway's Tony-winning "Avenue Q" and "The Book of Mormon," no less) and Anderson-Lopez are sweetly serviceable, if unmemorable, except for the energetic "The Backson Song," which provides for a standout segment.
Be sure to stick around post-end credits, as there's a cute moment that should've been included long before most viewers will probably be in the parking lot.