And so we launch into My Summer of Sequels and my gosh I hope I do not end up regretting this. But, man, if today's movie sets the tone for the project than this is going to be a very long ride.
A bit of background before we begin. Disney started making direct-to-video (henceforth DTV) sequels to it's beloved animated films in 1994 with "The Return of Jafar". Now something that may surprise people today is that most fans actually did not have much of a problem with this first sequel, as it was essentially setup for the well-liked "Aladdin" animated series. "Return of Jafar" was soon followed by "Aladdin and the King of Thieves", which many still consider to be the best DTV Disney sequel of them all. (Sadly, neither of these films are readily available through Netflix.)
"Pooh's Grand Adventure" was the third-ever Disney DTV sequel, and still few people had a problem with it (in principle, but we will get to that when we get to that). It was "Beauty and the Beast: the Enchanted Christmas" that started to sour everyone on the concept. At the time, many people considered "Beauty and the Beast" to be the overall finest animated feature Disney had ever created, and to make an obvious cash-grab Christmas movie that takes place *during* the original, happily retconning a great deal of it to hell and back, cheapened both the film and, in many ways, the very Disney name itself. (I will not be covering "BATBEC" as that's not something I want to suffer through again.)
And then "Cinderella 2" came along in 2002 and Disney fans were basically done with DTV sequels for good.
This brings us back to the lecture at hand: "Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin". I think fewer people had a problem with this movie for many of the same reasons last year's "Winnie the Pooh" had a disappointing box office: over the years, Disney has done a spectacular job of Pooh oversaturation. For as long as the character Winnie the Pooh has been around, Disney has been producing animation, toys, books, and whatever for well over HALF that time. And so this particular DTV sequel felt, at the time, less like a cheapening of the character and everything we love about him, and more like another drop in the bucket.
That said, "Pooh's Grand Adventure" might just be the most deeply upsetting and inappropriate thing Disney has ever done with Winnie the Pooh and the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood since "Too Smart For Strangers". (By an astoundingly wide margin, to be sure, but still.)
"Grand Adventure" isn't entirely sure whether it wishes to be a direct sequel to "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" or a finale of sorts to "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh". It's much much closer in tone and overall look to the Saturday morning series, "New Adventures", which had its share of surprisingly dark episodes. Those dark episodes were pretty short, though, while "Grand Adventure" is so very long. Yeah, the running time is listed at only an hour and a few minutes, but the pace is excruciatingly slow. The bewildering songs that seem to be included only as an obligation rather then to keep the plot going do not help.
The plot seems like a test run for last year's "Winnie the Pooh" theatrical film (Pooh et al misinterpret a note left by Christopher Robin and set out to find him) and, oddly, "Toy Story 3". Like "TS3", you've got a gang of toys struggling to reunite with their master in a story with sometimes surprising darkness and depth. The thing is, the "Toy Story" series is generally pitched towards older kids, and it earned that darker deeper tone over the course of three feature-length films. Winnie the Pooh is, when all is said and done, a character created for very young children. The tone is kept exceedingly light and "safe"; cheerful songs assure us if the characters appear to be in danger and any monsters are exaggerated and silly. (Case in point: the DVD of "Pooh's Grand Adventure" contains the short "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" among the extras and... man, that's not even fair!)
By contrast, "Grand Adventure" takes the perils and sadness of its story very seriously, and it is damned jarring. (Take a drink whenever the particularly discordant term "Skullosaurus" is uttered. Just, what?) These are all going to sound like I am making them up, but I promise you I am not. Before the gang finally meets up with Christopher Robin again...
* Piglet is carried high into the sky by cute little butterflies and nearly falls to his doom.
* Tigger is trapped on a flimsy bridge and the whole gang falls down an impossibly deep chasm trying to rescue him.
* Pooh wanders off in the middle of the night and sings a song that's utterly heartbreaking (though it comes across as cloying to adults, it'd certainly cause it's target audience to wake up crying at night.)
* Everyone gets lost in a huge perilous cave and they each suffer their own tedious ordeals before finally running into each other again...
* ...But meanwhile, Pooh is trapped in a small cave all alone for what feels like forever(!) and is damn near ready to spend the rest of his life stuck down there(!?) with only the memory of Christopher Robin to keep him company(!?!)
* And this happens:
Take as long as you like looking at that screen shot. It'll tell you everything you need to know about this movie. Just, the longer you stare at it, the more it'll start freaking you out.
During an overlong and utterly mystifying sequence that is far stranger than I could possibly describe, Pooh stays in that... position... for what feels like several minutes. At least it was long enough for me to realize that somebody had to storyboard this sequence and that some poor animators had to draw him like that for a while. At no moment did anyone point out, in so many words, WTF.
Might as well mention (I want to wrap this up because my gosh, these are an awful lot of words about a direct-to-video Winnie the Pooh movie) that the DVD format does not do this film any favors and I figure the same will be true for most of the upcoming DTV sequels as well. The animation mistakes are far more obvious now, and there are some moments that are downright sloppy; jumpy foreground shrubs and whatnot. Given that the next sequel coming up had to satisfy a theatrical audience, one can only hope it'll at least look better.
Sketch of the Day!
Thinking of Pooh inevitably makes me think of college, since my dorm basically adopted him as our spirit guide power animal. Here's an old sketch of campus: