Review: Winnie the Pooh
Once upon a time I was a conscientious mother. Following the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of no television at all for children under the age of two, I never allowed my daughter’s eyes to view a single minute of television, lest the poisonous media waves enter via the retinas and destroy her infant brain. I’m not a daytime TV watcher anyway, but even in the evenings her father and I were careful about never turning on the TV at all until she was safely fast asleep. I’m pretty sure she was under the impression that the black rectangle in the living room was a nonfunctioning decorative object.
Then she turned two. I was pregnant with her brother, and, in my weakened and nauseated state, I finally gave in one day and turned on half an hour of Miffy on Noggin, a show whose only source of conflict involves whether the little cartoon bunny will choose the red ball or the blue, on a channel which, in place of commercials, runs animated shorts on the number of sides in a triangle. I did feel guilty (and alarmed at my child’s instant enamorment), but not as much as I was grateful to lie down on the sofa for 24 minutes and get a break from the exhausting intensive helicopter parenting I was foisting on my daughter.
Soon we were black diamond skiing down the slippery slope. Horror of horrors, my daughter was watching an episode of Miffy once or twice a week. (The AAP recommends no more than 1-2 hours of television a day for children over the age of two, but I took that to mean no more than 1 hour a week). We did hold off on Dora until she was three and I was dealing with her reflux-screaming newborn brother. After all, I didn’t want her to grow up to be a criminal.
Then one day, my daughter came home from preschool and asked: “What’s Madagascar?”
“It’s an island off the coast of the continent Africa,” answered her father. Every bit the overconscientious older parent that I am, he took advantage of the “teaching moment” and walked her over to the oversized world map that covered one of the walls of her bedroom to point out Africa, then Madagascar, then their respective flags along the bottom of the map. He may also have explained the concepts of “continent” vs. “island.”
“Why did you want to know?” he finally asked.
“Oh,” said our daughter, thoroughly confused. “I think a lot of the kids from my class have been there.”
We eventually figured out (although we never did let our daughter know) that her classmates were talking about the DreamWorks movie. (In fact, it being 2008, they were talking about the sequel,Escape 2 Africa.) We were scandalized to learn that people in our nice, genteel, pricey preschool were letting their children watch movies. A PG rated movie, at that. We sniffed, self-righteous. Maybe other families didn’t care about their children’s brain development, but we did.
Then, last summer, I became more and more busy with freelance projects. The baby brother had grown into a loud, rambunctious three-year-old. That’s when the children’s father discovered an amazing special at our local movie theaters, wherein second run children’s movies were screened in the mornings for only $1 per person admission. Just like that, the floodgates opened. The three-year-old and six-year-old were suddenly taking in the entire last decade’s worth of children’s movies. Rated G, rated PG, sexual innuendos, frenetic editing, inappropriate violence, smart-alecky dialogue? What did it matter? It was $1! It was air-conditioned! And for their father, it was a break from playing Legos and reading Richard Scarry books! MPAA ratings and AAP recommendations be damned! I mean darned! Suddenly, we were Marge and Homer, and our kids were sniggering at Ren and Stimpy.
Which brings me to Winnie the Pooh.
Things have come to such a pass that when I told the kids I was taking them to the screening, my daughter (now seven years old) opined that she was far too old for Winnie the Pooh. I beg your pardon? In my day! I mean, I was still reading Winnie the Pooh at eight and nine years old. As were generations before me! How has my daughter been afflicted with that premature maturation that’s turned our country’s children into snarky brats, when we were oh so careful? For, um, the first six years of her life?
To this day we don’t let her listen to Hannah Montana or watch iCarly. We don’t even let her befriend those who do. The children still watch television for only half an hour at most per day and many weeks, not at all. She knows all of Bob Dylan’s oeuvre, none of Justin Bieber’s. I rent Charlie Chaplin films for them. I took them to the latest Werner Herzog documentary last weekend (more on that in another post). Have all our insufferable precautions, our precious liberal elite standards, been for naught?
I was outraged. “You’re coming, and that’s that,” I announced, grimly.
Well, I needn’t have worried. She was thoroughly entertained and charmed, as was her four-year-old brother. They giggled out loud all the way through its quick 70 minutes. What a relief. So they aren’t ruined beyond repair, as I feared.
The fact of the matter is that there are simply not enough truly G-rated movies offered to the younger set. In fact, I have a friend whose 5-year-old has seen only 2 children’s movies in the theater because they are mostly so loud, hyperstimulating and assaultive (he did go to the Werner Herzog film with us and loved it. It’s rated G, by the way). As soon as we got out of the theater I texted to recommend this one to her. How thrilling to see Winnie the Pooh delivered to the new generation with its classic charm intact. I feel huge waves of gratitude to Disney for not messing with it.
Christopher Robin, we are told by narrator John Cleese, is a boy with a lot of imagination, and this movie is for children who are the same. The pacing is gentle, the storyline is simple, the characters are exactly themselves and the music is sweet (one written and performed by Indie sweetheart Zooey Deschanel). It is thoroughly old-fashioned, and it is a delight. While there are occasional jokes for the grown-ups, none are sexual or snarky, as is practically de rigueur in movies like Gnomeo and Juliet and its ilk.
My children got a big kick out of the literally metatextual jokes, which plays with the experience of reading the books. I loved the beautiful watercolor forest scenes and background washes. Although the story is new, it is an amalgam of familiar storylines, with the familiar tropes of Pooh’s tummy needing honey, Eeyore looking for his lost tail and Tigger looking for a monster that turns out to be himself, à la the Heffalump (this one is called the BackSoon). Craig Ferguson plays Owl (I didn’t recognize his voice until the credits). Otherwise, it’s mostly unknown talents responsible for this wonderful gift to our children. And their overconscientious, frazzled parents.