BROOM This was three different short features that had been packed into one movie, and I think the quality of those three shorts varied. They weren’t all at the same level, and I think the idea of packing them together was detrimental to all of them.
BETH Which was the worst one?
BROOM The middle one.
ADAM All of them. I thought that was almost unwatchable. I was so upset.
BETH I didn’t think it was unwatchable. I thought it was dull, but it was interesting to me that both Pooh and Tigger seemed like very self-involved characters. That felt new. It seemed new to be so self-referential in general.
BROOM How do you mean?
BETH Like, “I’m rumbly in my tumbly…” Basically they were saying “I’m so cute, aren’t I?”
ADAM They were assholes.
BETH And Tigger and his song about how he’s the only one. “The best thing about me is that I’m the only one!”
ADAM It’s true. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but that does feel very, like, Tiny Toons…
BETH The seventies were the “me” decade.
BROOM But both of those things come from the book, which is from 1925 or something.
BROOM Have you never read the book?
BETH I haven’t.
ADAM Have you ever read the book?
BROOM Yes I have.
ADAM I adore the books and that’s part of why I’m so angry about this.
BROOM Really? Because at the end, when Christopher Robin was going away to school, you said “this doesn’t happen in the book,” and when he was saying sentimental stuff like “will you always remember me,” you said, “oh, man…” But it does happen in the book. I remember the end of the book making me tear up because it was so manipulatively poignant, exactly like that.
ADAM Which book? “Now We Are Six”?
BROOM Whichever one is the last one. Whichever is the one where Christopher Robin has a little talk with Pooh about where he’s going, and Pooh doesn’t understand, and Christopher Robin is sad that he can’t really explain to him why he has to leave the Hundred Acre Wood.
ADAM I don’t remember that scene.
BROOM Well, it was just painful. I don’t think I’d ever seen this feature-length version with that ending. The first short I had seen many times; we must have had that in some accessible place on tape. To me, the only truy awful thing in here was the redo of “Pink Elephants.” What did they think they were getting away with? “Shameless” doesn’t begin to cover it.
ADAM I’m sure that they convinced themselves that it was homage.
BETH They just ripped it off.
BROOM Or did they think that kids wouldn’t have seen Dumbo? Was there a point at which the Disney properties were not a constant in the public consciousness?
BETH Prior to home video, were Disney movies really always available?
BROOM Not always available, but they were released cyclically.
ADAM Recall when we were children that they came out every seven years in theaters.
BETH So if you were five, you might have missed Dumbo. And the sequence worked in the context of the era.
ADAM It’s interesting that this tried so slavishly to make the point that it was following the books, because it failed so utterly to capture their spirit.
BROOM That’s the issue I was focused on, when we started watching, and I thought that at least in the first segment, they had in some ways gotten the spirit of it across. The conceit that they’re stuffed animals and these stories are sort of Christopher Robin’s playing with them, but they’re also sort of their own beings in their own world… I thought that was handled carefully. I liked that he would drag Winnie-the-Pooh along like a kid dragging a stuffed animal, but at the same time Winnie-the-Pooh would sort of be alive. I thought they had struck a nice balance. And then in the latter segments it drifted and started to feel more like an episode of “Gummi Bears” by the end.
ADAM But what saves Pooh from being an asshole in the books, from being this self-absorbed sort of Hunny Monster, is that he’s so dumb. The real Pooh has an intense seriousness about everything he says, which makes it all humorous.
BROOM When he invents a little hum, he’s very truly proud.
ADAM He’s very serious all the time. When he says, “I think the bees are getting suspicious,” that’s funny because he’s dead serious.
BROOM Because he’s announcing his new thought.
BETH It’s not ironic at all.
BROOM There’s no sense of winking.
ADAM And he’s not cute!
BROOM But the author is constantly winking at the reader.
ADAM Right, but Pooh is not.
BETH He’s not aware of how cute he is.
ADAM Which is how little kids are cute, too, because they’re very serious. Picture a little kid with a furrowed brow and a pouting face, which is adorable. This was just treacly.
BROOM He wasn’t really winking here, either. But he did remind me of Homer Simpson in the scene where he was falling asleep and talking about how he couldn’t hear because there was fluff in his ear.
BETH Yeah. Stuff like “go back to the part when the fluff got in my ear” made me not like him. Because he has no awareness of how others might be experiencing the world.
ADAM And I used to think that Sterling Holloway was a great choice for the voice…
BETH I never liked it!
ADAM … but it’s just so treacly and bumptious! I said “treacly” twice, but I mean it.
BROOM You’ll get them both. Who should the voice have been? Should they have done it like the Peanuts cartoons with an actual six-year-old reading the lines as best he could?
BETH I think that might have helped. Sterling Holloway seemed too old, like an old man being Pooh.
ADAM This was so depressing because it was like the difference between drawing and tracing. It was actually quite faithful, literally, to the book, but it just felt…
BROOM It felt traced. I hear that. Those illustrations in the book — especially the watercolored ones — are really lovely, and these backgrounds looked just like the Shepard illustrations.
BETH I really liked the look of this.
ADAM Well, except that those illustrations have a slightly watery, hand-drawn quality, whereas these lines were too thick and the colors were too opaque.
BROOM Yes, the original illustrations are much nicer, and one of my clearest memories of reading my mother’s copy of “The World of Pooh,” the compendium edition, is that particular quality of color, that muted watercolory look. But this was definitely a rendition of it, and I give them points for doing that instead of, for example, what they did in the Winnie-the-Pooh Saturday morning cartoon that they made in the 90s, or whenever that was. Maybe there was a little hint of that look, but mostly it was just standard cartoon backgrounds.
ADAM Right, well, this wasn’t “Pooh Tales” (woo-ooo!), but… it was so depressing. Those books have a slight otherworldliness — like a Beatrix Potter fable-iness. This was just too literal.
BROOM I don’t disagree that this had problems and didn’t nail it, but still, somehow the weather of it, the way the trees looked, gave me a sense of this place as a clearly imagined place for a child. It looked like Hampstead Heath out there — I’m sure that’s what all the British countryside looks like — and like looking at a landscape painting, you have a certain fantasy of that world is, and I felt like it had the childlike quality that it was supposed to have.
ADAM But none of that is their doing.
BROOM It’s their doing to allow that to come across visually. In one of the many scenes in one of their little houses, when the characters were having a pointless conversation about nothing, which is what most of the action here is, and I thought about how as a child, you just watch that for what it is: then Tigger says this, then Pooh says that, then Tigger says this… I felt very comfortable watching things like that, where there’s no plot pushing it forward, there’s just a sequence of mundane events, of comfortable situations. That felt essentially childlike.
ADAM I want to come back to what I was saying earlier about Pooh being serious. As a child, part of what’s entertaining about it is that the characters are so obtuse that you can understand their motivations even when they can’t, and that’s part of what makes you feel like a grown-up. Even you, the child, can see that Rabbit is selfish, and Piglet is timid, and Owl is a pedant — but they can’t see that. And so you feel like Christopher Robin, which is to say affectionate and knowing toward these childish creatures, and that makes you feel good about yourself. But here…
BROOM I think it was like that here. Christopher Robin was the authority figure in these woods.
ADAM Well, yeah, everything here was literally the same as in the books, but they had trouble communicating the actual gravity with which these characters act. When Rabbit is in his hole and he’s got that cartoony cliché “exhausted” face, where his eyes are bloodshot and his teeth are chattering with exhaustion… it’s so like a Looney Tune, and it takes it out of the realm of grown-up seriousness and into the realm of cartoony, and the whole effect is ruined.
BROOM Fair enough. That reminds me that I was in a bookstore and picked up a book by Gilbert Seldes, the guy who wrote “The Seven Lively Arts,” but this was a book from later, and it had a section on Disney in it. And it was all about how his first few movies are great, but that Alice in Wonderland was a complete abomination, that Disney’s whole career had been building up to tackling that material, and by throwing out everything wonderful about the book in favor of American cartoony crap, he showed his true colors. And you’re saying something similar here. But I felt about this the way I felt about Alice in Wonderland, which is that of course it’s nothing like reading a book — it has none of the fineness of a book — but…
ADAM But the whole concept of this was “we are reading a book! We are looking at the original typesetting!” It’s openly playing on your nostalgia for the text in a way that Alice in Wonderland is not, so it has more of an obligation to be faithful. It just seemed caught between this desire to be a big blowsy Disney cartoon and the desire to play to the affection of those who liked the original, and it felt like a half-measure in a way that made me really upset. As soon as I saw that Pooh was that gruesome orange, I was like, “I can’t watch this.” And I was right!
BROOM So you truly had never seen any of this before?
ADAM I had seen it before. I just didn’t have very much taste as a child.
BROOM Everything you’re saying seems right to me, and so I think, “well, but I’m lowering my standards as we go, as befits the material!” My gut reaction to what you’re saying is, “why would I raise my standards that high?” But I guess Snow White, way back at the beginning of this, was a much more honorable rendition into film of the impression you get from a lovely book of fairy tales. And this definitely doesn’t feel like a book in that sense, but that’s a sense in which I don’t expect them to “get” a book at all. I just don’t expect that.
BETH Not knowing the books, I was mostly struck by how unlikable almost all the characters were.
BETH I liked Piglet fine…
ADAM No, Piglet’s a milquetoast.
BETH As a kid, I didn’t like Piglet because he seemed so wimpy. Eeyore I was always a fan of, although his voice in my head was different — so I guess I must have read the books a little bit.
ADAM Yeah, his voice was too way-out-there here.
BROOM I guess I spent more time with the book than I realize, because a lot of my favorite incidents, which I assumed I was going to see here, were not included. When Eeyore has his birthday that nobody remembers, and they give him a deflated balloon and he’s thrilled by it.
ADAM Winnie-the-Pooh is going to give him a honey pot, but he gets too greedy and eats all of it so he gives him an empty one, and then Eeyore puts the balloon into the pot and takes it out again, and then in, and then out…
BROOM And I remember than whenever I saw this as a child, the fact that you see heffalumps and woozles, even for a second, even in a dream, felt completely wrong. They shouldn’t have appearances, and if they do, they definitely shouldn’t just look like elephants and weasels. And he certainly shouldn’t say, “You mean elephants and weasels?” That seemed on the nose in a way that nobody needed.
ADAM And again, the point is that children aren’t as good at drawing inferences as grown-ups are, so when a child manages to draw an inference, it’s especially pleasurable. Which is why it has to be played so straight.
BROOM I don’t even want to think about what goes on in something like Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. The fact that Pooh has become one of their characters and one of their franchises is sad to me, in a way that this movie itself was not sad to me.
ADAM What if their next movie were “Peter Rabbit”? You know?
BROOM I would just accept it! The force of Disney I just accept, and the fact that they made their own thing, which is of course coarser and broader and vaudevillian where the original is touching, I accept. Yes, there’s a Disney version of it. I don’t even have emotions about that. I guess I should be questioning that, but it all becomes depressing once you question it.
BETH Well, you seem pretty predisposed to liking everything they do. I don’t know why. You are less judgmental about Disney movies than you are naturally. You come in with a less judgmental attitude than I think Adam or I do. You tend to be more delighted. I think it has to do with your childhood somehow.
BROOM Well, it probably does, but I also feel sympathetic to them because they exist. If there weren’t this, there would be no animated film of Winnie-the-Pooh. And that seems like a great idea, to make an animated film of it. Did they do it in a commercialized way? Yes, they did. But yeah, I love animated movies. It doesn’t get done very much, and it especially doesn’t get done with care and attention very much.
ADAM Yeah, this is better than “The Jetsons.”
BROOM That’s right. There just aren’t very many such things. I know it’s taking us forever to get through them so it seems like a ton of material, but there really are only these Disney movies and then those Don Bluth ones that are a step below even this…
BETH Two steps below.
ADAM What about, like, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones?
BROOM I mean features. I mean, yes, there are cartoons — there’s tons and tons of animation out there… And of course there’s all the art animation, which I generally think is superior to this.
ADAM Well, wait until we get to Howl’s Moving Castle.
BROOM We’re not going to.
ADAM I know. But it gets better when we get to Beauty and the Beast, too.
BROOM But it’s never going to get fundamentally better. It’s always going to be middlebrow; it’s never going to get to the point where anything about it is really fine again.
ADAM There’s no Seven Samurai.
BROOM That’s a weird example, because when I finally saw that, I thought, “That was Seven Samurai?” But yeah, there’s not going to be a Citizen Kane.
ADAM Well, Steven Spielberg called “One Froggy Evening” “the Citizen Kane of animated shorts.”
BETH It really is great!
ADAM Is this the end of Sterling Holloway?
ADAM His quavery reign is over!
BETH The songs in this felt really old-fashioned, if you were paying attention. Like, forties-style songs.
BROOM I thought that was to make them seem simplistic and childlike. And given that, since they’re doing the Disney version, they’re of course going to have to set all those goofy little poems, I thought they weren’t so bad.
BETH No, I liked them!
ADAM I guess I must have seen this several times, because I remember singing to myself “Winnie-the-Pooh, Winnie-the-Pooh…”
BROOM Oh, I sing it all the time even now.
BETH There were just some songs in the middle that weren’t very catchy but had such an authentic forties sound. If people were doing a forties sound now, you’d think, “oh, that was trashy.” I don’t think they would do it as authentically.
BROOM I don’t know what you mean by “forties.” They all just seemed childlike to me. Which one?
BETH I don’t remember, but it had a chorus…
BROOM Oh, “Down in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Christopher Robin plays…” ?
BROOM That’s the verse of “Winnie-the-Pooh.”
BETH It was impressive to me that that was done in the mid-seventies.
BROOM Well, that one was done in the sixties.
ADAM Yes, we can be grateful that Pooh does not ride in a rocketship, that Pooh does not join a Beatles-like band of vultures….
BETH That he doesn’t show up in a Hawaiian shirt.
BROOM Yeah! Think about all the restraint it took to make it like this!
[We spend 10 minutes attempting to find the original New York Times review as usual, but it seems there was none!]