Over the years, fans have become accustomed to two different visual versions of Winnie the Pooh and his friends. We have “Classic Pooh” as drawn by Ernest Shepherd in A.A. Milne’s books, and we also know “Disney Pooh” as seen in the studio’s animated films. The former bowed in 1925, whereas the latter debuted in 1966. As such, we’ve had a great deal of time during which to attach ourselves to these pictorial interpretations.
Now Disney want to change things on us with another look for Pooh as seen in their Disney Channel series The Book of Pooh. Actually, this Pooh looks a lot like their animated version, except he and his friends are all puppets! Being a reviewer of very little brain, I’m not sure I can handle this alteration in the status quo.
Nonetheless, I tried my best, and for the most part, I actually found this DVD conglomeration of tales, The Book of Pooh: Stories From the Heart to be an enjoyable program. I didn’t think the show offered Pooh and the others at their best, but their undeniable charm and warmth still came through fairly nicely.
Pooh shows a number of our old favorites as they gather in Christopher Robin’s room. One at a time we meet up with Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), Tigger (Cummings again), Piglet (John Fiedler), Eeyore (Peter Cullen), Rabbit (Ken Sansom), and Kessie (Stephanie D’Abruzzo). They want Chris to read them a story, but he’s nowhere to be found. As such, they ransack the area in search of his journal; from it, they hope to glean his return time. Along the way, they tell tales of their own, all of which fill this program.
Each of the six stories revolves around one specific character, though a certain level of Tigger favoritism occurs. I believe he’s the most popular of the bunch, so he essentially co-opts both Piglet’s and Rabbit’s narratives. Since both are essentially passive and reactive characters, this seems acceptable, although I still felt it was a little crass.
Nonetheless, I found Pooh to offer a generally pleasant and enjoyable experience. Nothing in these stories really stood out to me as being especially memorable, but I had no distinct complaints about them either. Each followed the same format in which one performance number would pop up in the middle of the tale. None of these songs was terribly fantastic, but they were short and peppy enough to be agreeable.
If it sounds like I’m unenthusiastic about Pooh, that’s an accurate assessment. I thought this was an eminently forgettable program, but I will acknowledge that I had a reasonably fun time with it as I watched it. Don’t forget that I’m far from its target audience as well. I’d assume that little ones would really like it, and it should be more compelling for adults than the usual kiddie fare.
As with The Tigger Movie, Pooh features almost none of the original vocal talents behind our characters. Cummings continues to do an admirable job as both Pooh and Tigger; if I didn’t know better, I’d think originators Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell still performed those roles. Oddly, Fiedler represents the only consistent vocal link across the years, but his Piglet sounds less like his old work than Cummings echoes the others. Well, I suppose Fiedler’s voice has changed over the years, whereas Cummings gets to emulate the sounds of others, which means he doesn’t have to be compared against a younger version of himself. In any case, all of the vocal work seemed to be more than fine, as the performers were lively and fun.
If you don’t recognize the character of Kessie from your childhood readings and/or viewings, there’s a good reason for that; the little bird was created for the Book of Pooh TV show. I thought this was an unnecessary addition, as she’s a fairly bland and uninteresting presence. However, I suppose Kessie was a result of the old Disney marketing machine. The world of Pooh has always been short on females. Other than Kanga - who makes no appearance during this program - the 100 Acre Wood lacked any estrogen. Kanga apparently appears on the Pooh TV adventures, but she remains a rather maternal presence, so I’m sure the powers that be felt the program needed a younger female character with whom the girls could identify.
Strangely, Pooh seems to have done rather well over the years without this creation, but it’s not the end of the world. Kessie is dull but at least she’s inoffensive, and this isn’t the first time Disney created a new character for their adaptations. Gopher never showed up in Milne’s books.
Speaking of new alterations found during Pooh, prissy little Brit Christopher Robin has suddenly become an active American boy. Why? I’d guess for the same reasons that we get Kessie; some folks probably believe a Yank will make the show more accessible to today’s kids. Frankly, this change bothers me more than the addition of Kessie; it seems so calculated that it’s really crass. I suppose I should be happy his full name remains intact; they might have decided to call him “C.R.” to spice up the show.
As for the new presentation of the characters, I found it to be generally acceptable, though parts of the image were a problem. As I’ll detail in my comments about the DVD’s picture quality, Pooh combined puppets with computer-generated backgrounds, and it didn’t do so tremendously successfully. However, this wasn’t the fault of the puppeteers, who brought their creations to life fairly well. The show went with a version of the Japanese bunraku format, though one can definitely be forgiven for thinking that the program was inspired by the Muppets.
Ultimately, The Book of Pooh: Stories From the Heart was a reasonably entertaining little program. Unlike the best children’s fare, it doesn’t provide a terribly memorable experience, and it should be nothing more than modestly enjoyable for adults. However, I still thought it was a fairly solid show, and it offered more fun than the average kiddie program.
The Book Of Pooh appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the picture usually looked pretty solid, some concerns appeared, albeit ones that generally seemed to result from the style of effects used.
During Pooh, puppets were filmed against greenscreen so that we wouldn’t see their operators. For the final product, the marionettes appeared in front of computer-generated backgrounds. It was the latter that really caused the most visual concerns. Frankly, the two elements didn’t blend very well, and this created an awkward appearance to the show. The puppets looked fine, but the backdrops were usually unattractive. At times I felt as though they’d been lifted from videogames; their resolution seemed to be low, and they were unconvincing and distracting.
As such, the combination of these two factors created some ugliness to the program. Nonetheless, the puppets always looked nicely crisp and detailed, and they showed few concerns. Some jagged edges appeared at times, but those aspects were minor, and the coloring of the characters seemed to be bright and vivid.
Unfortunately, those ugly backgrounds mucked up the presentation. They often looked bland and lifeless, and they were somewhat fuzzy at times. The computer work betrayed a few examples of moiré effects; for instance, Rabbit’s crops displayed definite strobing. Those elements also offered more jagged edges, and their colors were a bit bland. Ultimately, the visuals of Pooh were good enough to merit a “B”, but I found the computer-generated settings to provide some definite problems.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Pooh didn’t show the same number of active issues, but its general blandness meant that it also earned a “B”. The soundfield was pretty strongly anchored toward the forward spectrum, and even within that domain, I didn’t detect a great deal of activity. Music displayed fairly solid stereo separation, but effects stayed more limited. I heard some minor ambience at times, but there was little to stand out among the elements.
Surround usage also seemed to be subdued. The rears added some general reinforcement of the music and effects, but these factors lacked more power. On the other hand, I did notice a nice surround piece when Pooh dunked his head in the water; there was a fun gurgling sound to it. Nonetheless, this soundfield offered little of much interest.
Audio quality seemed to be good for the most part. At times, some dialogue appeared to be slightly tinny, but as a whole, speech was fairly warm and natural, and I discerned no concerns related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects were clear and accurate, though they displayed subdued dynamics; low-end response sounded decent but not terrific. The same factor affected the music. In general, the songs were nicely bright and bouncy, and bass response appeared to be reasonably adequate. I felt that these factors could have sounded deeper, but I didn’t hear any real concerns. Overall, the audio of Pooh was somewhat bland but acceptable.
The Book of Pooh includes some supplements, most of which are aimed at the little ones. Those aspects primarily consist of three interactive features. Connect the Dots requires kids to click on numbers in sequence to create an image, and the “Coloring Pages” works on a similar principle. For Pooh’s Puzzles, the participants have to click on the proper shape to fit into a highlighted spot in a picture. There are three examples found within each area, and all feature the vocal talents of Jim Cummings as Pooh and Tigger. For “Pooh’s Puzzles”, correct completion of each one rewards the player with a short clip from the show; otherwise, there are no special treats obtained for success. For anyone over a very young age, these will be dull and simple, but some wee kids may enjoy them.
Character Biographies provides short text discussions of six characters: Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Rabbit and Kessie. These tell us a little about the inhabitants of the 100 Acre Wood and also a smidgen of their literary history. These shouldn’t be regarded as detailed listings, but they’re decent enough. Note that the ubiquitous narrator also reads the entries, so kids who can’t read them will still be able to hear the information.
Speaking of the narrator, he shows up all over The Book of Pooh. When we first encounter the DVD’s main menu, he tells us what we can do with all of its options. Obviously this feature is aimed at kiddies new to DVD, and I think it’s a good addition. It doesn’t slow down access for those of us who know what we’re doing, and it may be very helpful to neophytes.
Next we get a short featurette called When Pooh Was Very Young: The Literary Legacy of Winnie the Pooh. The title is a little deceptive, for while the 10-minute and 10-second piece offers a quick summary of Pooh’s origins, it also shows us some information about the Book of Pooh program. Essentially we get a short look at Pooh’s history from his printed roots through Disney’s animated features and the TV show. In regard to the latter, we hear from executive producer Mitchell Kriegman as he discusses how the material is created. Coolest moments: brief excerpts of radio readings from both A.A. Milne and his son, the real Christopher Robin. Ultimately, this was a decent little featurette, but a longer and more detailed version would have been preferable.
Finally, we find some advertisements in the Sneak Peeks area. There we encounter promos for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Dumbo Playhouse Disney, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II and Cinderella II: Dreams Come True. All but the last two also appeared at the start of the DVD, and the opening segment presented an ad for The Book of Pooh Disney Channel show. Although I’m sure these will irritate some “forced” trailers, they can easily be skipped if you press the “menu” button on your remote, so they don’t bother me.
Disney have been slow to issue their older Pooh efforts on DVD. To date, all we have are 2000’s The Tigger Movie and this program, 2001’s The Book of Pooh: Stories From the Heart. Although both were unexceptional, I thought Pooh was the preferable of the two. It was a modest affair but it offered a gently pleasant and entertaining piece. The DVD featured good but not terrific picture and sound plus a minor complement of extras. I doubt Pooh fans will wildly embrace The Book of Pooh, but I think they’ll mostly enjoy it, and the little ones should have a good time with this warm and gentle program.