I avoid Disney movies like the plague. Nasty sarcastic little characters that teach kids without repercussions how to tease and call people names. Lurking menaces that terrify my kid. Dead mothers that set up a premise of orphan kid on its own. And gender stereotypes that have stepped way over the border of obscene. You know I won’t let my kid watch most of the stuff out there. He’s never seen a movie in the theater (we tried Horton but he was too little for a whole movie; he walked out 15 minutes in because he wanted to run around outside).
So I hesitated about seeing Winnie the Pooh. I read the reviews (all stellar) and thought about how Disney had ruined Pooh over the years. The bear himself (atrocious, orange, perky), the TV show (dastardly, trite, uninspired), and the books (“gee, Dora is popular, so how can we make the Hundred Acre Woods less British and more WonderPets-esque?”)
And then I watched the trailer. No menaces, no sarcasm, generally sweet characters whose biggest flaws are ebullience and gloominess, neither of which is foreign to a 5 year old. More important, no teasing or sarcasm or nastiness. Just sweet friends trying to pursue tasks that are very important to them. Finding honey and whatnot. Ought to be harmless, right?
So we went. And I’ll tell you I was teary one minute in. This film honors the Milne books by shooting the opening sequence in the real, non-cartoon bedroom of Christopher Robin. The slow sweep through his bedroom tells us explicitly that the imagination of a small boy is the source of all the animals’ adventures. That language is in the magical phase of newness and fluidity. That what we will see comes directly from the love and creativity of one boy.
And the first view of the Hundred Acre Woods reveals that the film is quite aware of its textual origins. At various points throughout the movie we see the set piece, outside the frame, of the book from which the narrator is reading. Drawn )not CGI-looking) images of Pooh and Piglet and Tigger bounce into the words of the text, knocking the type-set alphabetic characters into the story. Throughout, we know that the formal language of the narrator/book and the misspelled, painstakingly printed language of the animal friends are the two worlds Christopher Robin straddles as he learns to read and write. (sob)
The movie was fun. It was sweet. It was smart. And it was honest in a way that almost no Disney films are. It was a movie of a book of a turning point in children’s life.
And it was just perfect this weekend, one month before Peanut starts kindergarten. As his tooth wobbles and his letters stand proudly (and occasionally backwards) on his art, labeling and naming and telling stories.
Winnie the Pooh was exactly what I’d hoped. It was childhood captured in a moment of joy and imagination and song; supportive of healthy, adorable, bookish childhood. How can that be wrong?