BLU REVIEW: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

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This review covers the two disc Blu-ray/DVD set, which includes a digital copy of the film.

THE SET-UP
Winnie the Pooh, a honey-loving bear, as well as Tigger, Rabbit, and other residents of the Hundred Acre Wood have a series of adventures involving a honey tree and a windstorm, much to the delight of their young friend Christopher Robin.  

THE DELIVERY
Having grown up during the 1970s, I always identified with Winnie the Pooh. I had the stuffed animals, read the books, and the Pooh piggy bank I had as a kid still sits on my desk. Pooh and I were kindred spirits: he was a fat, laid-back bear who loved honey, and I was a fat, laid-back kid who loved tacos, which is a greater similarity than you might think.

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The release of this 1977 film, however, would mark the beginning of the end of my Pooh obsession, as later that summer, my mind would be blown by a little movie called Star Wars. However, I still have a place in my heart for that silly old bear, and to finally see The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on Blu-ray offers a big old hunk of nostalgia for me.

The film is actually a re-release of three Winnie the Pooh shorts previously released by Disney: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974). Additional scenes were added to meld the shorts together, and a touching final scene was also added.

While other Disney animated films may be considered greater classics, I can’t think of another Disney offering that is a better suited for young children. The Pooh shorts never tried to be too clever or hip; it had a simple, honest humor that is timeless and appealing regardless of age. It never tries to be too hyper or manic, but tells its story deliberately, like a good book. It has a leisurely pace and a simple goodness that connects with kids. Pooh is a sweet soul that isn’t perfect, but he loves his friends and enjoys the simple things in life. It’s a lesson even grown-ups need to remember.

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The stories are simple, but effective. First, we follow Pooh’s obsessive quest to raid a honey tree, followed by a “blustery day” that leaves Owl without a home. The film’s third segment, which features much more Tigger, is perhaps the most fun, as Paul Winchell (the comedian-turned-voice-over actor) left his indelible mark on the character. According to a featurette in the special features, Winchell ad-libbed Tigger’s signature “Woo-hoo” call, as well as his catchphrase “TTFN – Ta Ta For Now!” 

Sterling Holloway is perfect as Pooh, giving him the right mix of simple-mindedness with a lot of heart. Sebastian Cabot (Family Affair) is wonderful as the narrator, and the supporting cast is equally good. Andy Griffith Show fans should take note: Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass) voiced the Gopher, and Hal Smith (Otis the Drunk) voiced Owl.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh only gets better with age. The timeless characters, and the wonderful stories, should be required viewing for youngsters. The film’s ending, in which Christopher Robin has to say goodbye to Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood to go to school, may be bittersweet, but it is a fittingly perfect ending for what many be, arguably, a perfect Disney film.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
Much has been made of Disney’s “remastering” process of their recent releases, with Sword in the Stone’s Blu-ray being a key offender of the process gone awry. For Pooh, Disney has made some of the same mistakes, but the results aren’t nearly as bad. The stills included in this review are cropped screenshots taken from our DVD review copy.

There has been some Digital Noise Reduction (DNR), a process that “smooths” an image to remove film grain. This often results in a major loss of detail, but here, the results aren’t truly that bad. The image looks clean and crisp, and there appears to be much of the “sketch” detail in the animation indicative of the Pooh style. The DNR is most apparent in the live action opening sequence, but overall, the quality is good. There has been some color correction in an effort to brighten some of the color, but it is not extreme. Many of the original earth tones and watercolor style is still intact. There are a few minor exceptions, but overall, most viewers will be pleased with the look of the image.

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The problem I had is with the film’s aspect ratio. The shorts were originally in 1.37:1 (essentially square-shaped), but the new release places mats that image into a 1.66:1 format, essentially cutting off edges on the top and bottom. Most viewers won’t notice the difference, but since the film was never intended to be in this format, I find fault with Disney for doing this just to fill widescreen TVs. The DVD that is included used the same transfer and format as well.

Even with all the issues, the remastering didn’t radically change the original look of the film. It stayed fairly true to the original colors (although reds seem a bit too bright), and there is good detail.

Audio is excellent, with a 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (their version of Dolby Digital, I suppose). There is very good clarity, even though you can tell a slight difference from the different segments. Still, given the age of the shorts, this is a very good mix.

SPECIAL FEATURES
A few new extras, as well as some old ones, are included on the Blu-ray. A “Play Along” featurette invites viewers to stretch, jump, and march along with the characters. Five “mini-adventures” are also included: “If I Wasn’t So Small,” “Piglet’s Drawings,” “The Expedition,” “Geniuses,” and “The Honey Song.” They are modern shorts (made in 2012), and they all nicely animated. The art direction is very similar to classic cartoons, although the actual character animation is much sharper and smoother, whereas the classic characters had more of a “rough sketch” look. It’s not a drawback at all, but it is obviously a modern cartoon. It’s also nice to still see Disney doing hand-drawn animation. Carly Simon sings on several of the shorts, and John Cleese narrates, which each only lasting a few minutes each.

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Also included on the Blu-ray are all of the special features included on the previous DVD release (although not in high definition). That includes the 25 minute short “Winnie the Pooh and A Day for Eeyore,” released in 1983. The quality of the animation isn’t nearly as good as the other Pooh cartoons; it is more like a made-for-TV cartoon. The quality of the video is also lacking, with the print showing a lot of dust. for crying out loud, did no one clean the animation cels before they were photographed? The video compression also seems lacking.

“The Story Behind the Masterpiece” is a 25 minute documentary from 2001 that provides a bit of history about the Pooh books and author A.A. Milne. It also delves into Walt’s work to bring Pooh to the big screen. Vintage interviews with Paul Winchell (the voice of Tigger), John Walmsley (the voice of Christopher Robin), animator Ollie Johnston, and the music-writing duo of Robert and Richard Shermans are also included. 

The Winnie the Pooh theme song gets a new cover by Carly Simon in a music video also included. I didn’t care for it, personally. A “Disney Intermission” feature is activated when the viewer pauses the movie, and includes a number of games geared to very young kids. It also plays segments from the “Play-Along” featurette. Going with the “blustery day” theme, a kite is also enclosed, which I admit I am going to use. There is also a code for a digital copy of the film. 

The DVD included with the set only has the “Geniuses” short and the Carly Simon video for extras.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR NETFLIX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 9

Video: 7

Audio: 8

Extras: 8

Overall score: 8

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is an outstanding family film, perfect for very young children. The new Blu-ray set has satisfying extras, even though the issues with the video and aspect ratio caused me to score those elements lower. Still, I consider it a must buy. Bring the silly old bear home. 

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release date: August 27, 2013

Running time: 74 minutes

Rating: G

Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Audio: English 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix, English Dolby Digital 2.0, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English for the Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish

Special features: “Pooh Play Along” featurette, Winnie the Pooh shorts (“If I Wasn’t So Small,” “Piglet’s Drawings,” “The Expedition,” “Geniuses,” “The Honey Song”), “A Day for Eeyore” short, “The Story Behind the Masterpiece” featurette, Winnie the Pooh Theme Song music video (sung by Carly Simon), Digital Copy, Kite.

Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

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