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Review: Whimsical 'Winnie the Pooh' Is Perfect for Preschoolers

I am a movie snob.

I love movies, and I especially love seeing movies in honest-to-goodness movie theaters. But I’m very picky about the movies I go see, and in recent years, have used the site Rotten Tomatoes as a barometer of whether a film is a critical success.

So I put a lot of thought into what movie would be my daughter’s very first film. (She’ll be 3 later this summer.) When a well-meaning friend suggested this past spring that I take her to “Hop,” I nodded my head politely. But inside I was thinking, “There is no way some craptastic live action/animated hybrid starring the voice of Russell Brand is going to be my daughter’s first theater experience!" 

Instead, with input from my hubby, we decided that “Winnie the Pooh” would be the perfect first film for our daughter. And it was.

Winnie the Pooh the character is of course a constant presence on toys, coloring books and other merchandise, and there have been several straight-to-DVD releases in recent years. Yet this movie is the first big-screen Pooh adventure from Disney in more than 35 years.

The film takes place over the course of one day in the Hundred Acre Wood, and the gang is all back: Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga, Owl, etc. The plot is thin – Pooh is looking for some honey (big surprise); Eeyore is looking for his tail; and the gang all join forces to look for Christopher Robin, who they mistakenly fear has been taken by a creature called the Backson.

The whole movie is only about 70 minutes long. But the traditional, hand-drawn animation is absolutely gorgeous, and there are some lovely songs as well. It’s a gentle, sweet whimsical little movie – perfect for young children and not onerous for adults. (In fact, a few teens were sitting in front of us with their parents at our Saturday matinee.)

For those with children who are especially anxious, there is the plot point about Christopher Robin being held by the mythical Backson. It’s all a mistake, played mostly for laughs: Christopher Robin meant to leave his friends a note saying he’d be “Back Soon.” The Backson is shown as a “giant creature with a tail” who “sneaks into your library and scribbles in all your books” and “puts holes in your socks.” He also dances a lot and ties a kite to his toe – not too fearsome – and of course (spoiler alert) Christopher Robin is soon back with his friends.

One of the filmmakers' choices I especially liked is that the movie emphasizes how these stories come from actual books. The characters “walk” on top of letters in the animated book being read by the narrator and even use a ladder made of letters at one point. A good reminder to kids that movies are great, but books are even better.

My own young child was beyond excited to see “Winnie the Pooh.” We had read some of the original A.A. Milne stories, and she had seen the trailer. We took pictures of her standing below the poster before the film and got some snacks from the concession counter. I thought she would sit through the film enraptured.

But when the little girl next to us had to get up to use the bathroom, my daughter did, too. When we ran into movie theater employees dressed as Winnie and Tigger in the lobby, she was excited and distracted and two more trips to the bathroom quickly followed.

She made it through the movie, and has talked about it quite a few times since. So I’m glad we held out and took her to a quality film like “Winnie the Pooh.” Still, it will likely be six months or more before we take her to another one. Hmmm. I wonder if there are any critically adored films opening around Christmastime?

Editor's Note: A reader made a comment on Facebook about the trailers and the movie short shown before the film, and I thought it would be good to add that info here. Before our matinee showing, we saw three trailers -- one for the upcoming "Muppet" movie, another for a live action movie about a dolphin who loses its fin and another one for an "Alvin and the Chipmunks" sequel that made my daughter laugh uproariously. (Uh oh.) Then we saw a cute animated short, probably about five minutes long, called "The Ballad of Nessie" about the Loch Ness monster. Don't worry: She's friendly.

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