Pooh's Heffalump movie directed by Frank Nissen, written by Brian Hohlfeld and Evan Spiliotopoulos, with Jim Cummings, Nikita Hopkins, Jimmy Bennett and David Ogden Stiers. 68 minutes. A Disney Release. Opens Friday (February 11). For venues and times, see page 107. Rating: NN
Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear. Calvin and Hobbes. Charlie Brown and Snoopy. The boy and his talking-animal best friend are beloved, iconic.
Those dabbling with the formula beware: take away the boy and you're stuck in a static fakery of a fantasy that neither appeals to adults nor rings true to children.
A new formulaic Pooh movie leaves Christopher Robin out of the 100-Aker Wood. This serves to basically clear-cut the suspenseful enchantment you expect to find in your average fantastic forest. Without the foil of the flesh-and-blood boy needing -- but dreading -- that parental call to return to the real world, all charm and tension are lost.
Where adults are concerned, boy and imaginary buddy function as a metaphor for the lost Eden of childhood. For kids, these stories teach that growing up doesn't necessarily mean jettisoning the made-up. For dreamers of all ages, the successful tale is always about the tension between make-believe and reality.
For some reason, my seven-year-old nephew has developed an obsession with the comic strip Calvin And Hobbes. At bedtime, he insists on a Calvin And Hobbes anthology, flipping feverishly through thumbed pages to share his favourites with me. He refuses my offer to read him a "real" story. In fact, he wants to read out loud to me.
It isn't long before I fall under the spell. Zap -- Calvin has invented a shape-shifting laser. Zoop -- Hobbes isn't the only one turned into a chicken. Pow -- Hobbes is back to tiger shape. Now it's time for him to return our hyperactive hero to a boy. Oh no! The laser has run out of power. Calvin is doomed to live his life as farmyard fowl. AIGGH! Time for lunch. What will Calvin do when his mom sees? Hey, look at that -- his mom doesn't notice. Ah, Calvin realizes, the effects of the ray-gun must be temporary. He's a boy again just in time.
Storytellers and their boy-animal alter egos do not live purely in a universe of their own making. Instead, like us all, they struggle to maintain the fantasy in the face of stupid old boring reality.
Recently, I've rediscovered the greatness of Charles Schulz's Peanuts. I'm reading the second of a series of gorgeous compilations now being released by Fantagraphics and edited/designed by Toronto's own Seth.
Like Christopher Robin and Pooh, early-1950s Peanuts characters occupy a world where grown-ups are relegated to the sidelines, though their influence is always felt. This is Peanuts as it was meant to be -- complex, weird and a perfect bridge between kiddie fantasy and adult reality.
But, of course, even little kids know that idyllic fantasy friendships are always temporary. This is the source of all the joy, sadness, wonder and nostalgia packed into the real Pooh. Obvious to anyone but Disney, the classic formula should not be messed with.
Winnie the Pooh without Christopher Robin only makes us appreciate the original more.
"Pooh," Christopher Robin says to his bear friend in A.A. Milne's The House At Pooh Corner. "Promise you won't ever forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred."
"How old shall I be then?" Pooh asks, not really understanding that his pal is referring to the inevitable arrival of adulthood and the end of their friendship.
Pooh nods. "I promise," he says.
POOH’S HEFFALUMP MOVIE (Frank Nissen) Rating: NN
Pooh’s Heffalump Movie dishonours A.A. Milne. It leaves out Christopher Robin and renders Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore nothing more than backdrops to the clichéd tale of little Roo. Roo, who longs to show he’s a grown-up, tries to capture the dreaded Heffalump, an elephant-like creature with pink hair and an English accent who’s disturbing the idyllic forest. What follows is saccharine-sweet, padded to a meagre 68 minutes by forgettable songs and average animation. My five-year-old nephew sat through it and giggled a few times. For kids, it’s probably safe to rent the video version of a cartoon utterly lacking in cinematic imagination.