Winnie the Pooh (2011)
Disney produced a whole slew of Pooh related films through the 2000s. There was a Tigger movie named The Tigger Movie (2000) and a Piglet movie named Piglet’s Big Movie (2003) and a Heffalump movie named Pooh’s Heffalump Movie (2005), and they reached a crescendo with the film titled simply Winnie the Pooh in 2011. This last one was also the most successful one of the lot, and incidentally might have been the last hand-drawn animated film by the studio. Pooh is voiced again by Jim Cummings, who reprises the role again and again since his first appearance as Pooh in the cartoon from the late 1980s (you can probably hum the title song from memory).
The film is very faithful to the first Winnie-the-Pooh book by A.A. Milne and incorporates a bunch of his stories into one. But it is faithful in only some dimensions. This film is strictly meant for children, and really only interesting for children. It is very short, about an hour, and very sweet and charming and a bit slow. It misses some of the interesting emotional insights and jokes that made Milne’s story so much fun for adults as well. Some of the jokes are also ruined because of the visual medium, because while Milne was very clever with his wordplay, on screen you can see the answers before the punchline, as it were. The book is simply much funnier.
The art style is very typically Disney, with repurposed models for the animals that the studio has be reusing since forever. The way that Owl or Rabbit have been drawn is lifted straight from films like The Jungle Book or Robin Hood. The film does one interesting thing: it zooms out sometimes and shows paragraphs of text in which you can read the narration of the story. And Pooh interacts with the text, like stumbling over letters or sliding down a paragraph. So, that meta level of the story being narrated from a book has been preserved, and has been playfully added to the film.
It’s not actually innovative, though. The text and pages thing was present too in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh from 1977! That leads me to conclude that the 2011 film is just not all that special. Easily recreated stuff by the studio. I guess I am recommending the 1977 film.
Christopher Robin (2018)
Seven years after Winnie the Pooh (2011), the film business had transformed into a different world. Life-action remakes were the name of the game as far as Disney was concerned, and Pooh could not be spared that. The new Christopher Robin (2018) stars Ewan McGregor as a grown-up C. Robin, and the film works as a direct sequel to the two books by A.A. Milne, which end with Christopher going off to Boarding School. Flash forward 20 years and Robin (McGregor) has a wife and daughter and he is all work, no play. Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood are forgotten.
On the one hand one could compare this film to Hook (1991), about a grown-up man rediscovering the magic from his childhood. But Spielberg’s chaotic creation is a lot more flashy and experimental compared to the basic Disney plot of Robin. And, in 2014 and 2017 we got two very successful Paddington movies which surely convinced Disney that Pooh had a chance of following those beary footsteps. Who can tell the difference anyway?
I’m happy to say that Christopher Robin is a lot more fun than I expected. The comedy from the books is more present here, especially in the speech patterns of Pooh and Eeyore, who are really quite funny in this movie. Eeyore’s relentless depression and Pooh’s innocent but deep questions make for great quotes. Pooh and his friends are recreated as lifelike stuffed animals, which gives the film a sort of surrealist or magical realist work. The second half of the film shows that Pooh and his friends are really quite different from Paddington and have their own unique mood.
Finally, here is a great side-by-side comparison of the two films that I found: