Something you learn early as a parent is that not all kids’ movies are for all kids. It’s quite easily forgotten that there are parts to most Disney animated films that would scare the pants off a two-year-old. Sure, Frozen is all singing and dancing and funny little snowmen, until that whopping great snow fiend comes along and your toddler is left cowering in the corner. I’m still not ok with The Black Cauldron.
It’s also hard to estimate what will scare them at such a young age. Of course, there are obvious no-goes (anything by Laika: Coraline, Boxtrolls etc.), but some can be unexpected. It took my son a long time to come to terms with the Teletubbies popping up out of their hole, something that now fills him with joy. And while TV shows for the little ones are plentiful (we’ve discussed some of the best at length), film options are few and far between.
Another problem is increasingly arduous running times. Sing, for example, ran just shy of two hours which, to a 2-year-old, can feel like watching Apocalypse Now: Redux followed by the director’s cut of Amadeus. Rejoice then for Winnie The Pooh, a film that not only has brevity in its corner (69 minutes), it’s also utterly charming and remains hilarious even after the 10th time you’ve watched it – a boon than every parent will appreciate. Owl’s misinterpretation of a note leads Pooh and friends to think that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by a creature called the Baksun, setting about an elaborate and incompetent rescue mission. All the while, Pooh has missed breakfast and is growing more and more desperate for honey, while Tigger bounces around the fringes, trying to convince a tail-less Eeyore to become a tigger.
It’s such a simple little set-up, but its execution is impeccable. The voice cast is spot-on, featuring John Cleese, Craig Ferguson (stealing the show as Owl) and the late, great Bud Luckey, while the honey-voiced Zooey Deschanel performs the bulk of the songs, written by the award-winning Frozen combo of Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez. The script is beautifully witty, using language to create some delightful sequences, such as Pooh and Eeyore mistaking Owl’s use of the word ‘issue’ for a sneeze, or Piglet’s ability to take every word at its most bizarrely literal meaning.
Language and literacy are such a huge part of this movie that it feels like a curious outlier in our digital world. The film is framed as being contained within a book and the line between the two blurs repeatedly. Pooh occasionally wanders out of a scene and into the lines on the page and, in one brilliant scene, the word ‘ladder’ tumbles out of the page and into the film, forming an actual ladder when one is desperately needed. There’s no shortage of colourful, kinetic fun in the film, but its playful way with language ensures its longevity as its audience grows. It’s a rarity that can charm all ages while remaining ageless itself.
(24:04) The Baksun himself might be a little scary for the youngest viewers, although he only appears as a sketch in this hugely creative musical number. However, his hilarious post-credits appearance removes any idea of him as malevolent.
(49:00) Piglet ventures off into the spooky woods alone and thinks he’s stumbled across the Baksun. There’s a little bit of tension but it quickly rights itself.
Highlight for the grown-ups
The whole movie is a delight, but Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s ‘So Long’, which plays over the closing credits, is an earworm that will stick around for months.