*This is a user-submitted post by Jordan Hashemi-Briskin*
Since Winnie the Pooh and his friends first joined the Disney fold back in the 1960s, they have become integral parts of our childhood and spawned one of the most successful franchises in the history of Disney Animation, starring in two canonical movies, several spinoff movies (some of them direct-to-video), a few TV shows, and more books than one could possibly count. But I imagine that Disney must have faced a bit of a problem, after the first shorts (Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree through Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore) had been released: How were they to expand on the Pooh universe while staying true to the spirit of A.A. Milne’s stories? Aside from some of the later feature-length original stories (i.e., The Tigger Movie, Piglet’s Big Movie [which, admittedly, does contain scenes adapted from previously-unfilmed stories in the books], and Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin), I think that The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1988-1991) comes the closest to achieving this goal, as far as I’ve seen.
As evidenced by the show’s title, this was the first entry in Disney’s Pooh franchise to not take direct inspiration from the source material (save one episode, “The Old Switcheroo”). Each episode’s plot frequently stems from a misunderstanding on the part of one or more of the cast; oftentimes, such mix-ups lead them into some downright ludicrous situations (some of them played out in fantasy, à la Muppet Babies), before everything is cleared up in the end. By and large, I found that each of these plotlines helped to expand the Pooh universe effectively enough, though they could have done a few things differently (more on that later).
What I appreciate most about The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is its dedication to further exploring the characters, whom we all know and love. Previously minor characters like Eeyore and the canon-immigrant Gopher get much more focus this time around, and we get to see all of the more prominent characters’ personalities explored in more detail, thus adding a bit more complexity to them. Piglet, for example, is given several opportunities throughout the series to rise above his timidity and size-related insecurity and demonstrate his inner courage, and Pooh occasionally reveals his own well-hidden wisdom. But by far, the one character who receives the most development is Rabbit. Throughout the Winnie the Pooh universe, he has always been shown to be an extremely detail-oriented, straightlaced guy who wants nothing more than to maintain some semblance of order and peace in the Hundred Acre Wood, so naturally, he’s not one to suffer fools gladly. However, on this program, Rabbit gets several episodes devoted to him which allow us a glimpse of his more humble, compassionate side (especially evident in the two-part story arc covering his adoption of Kessie the bluebird), thus proving that, grouchy control freak though he may be, when the chips are down, you would be hard-pressed to find a more dependable friend.
Now, speaking as someone who grew up watching some episodes of the series on home video, I must reiterate that certain aspects of the program seem a little off to me, as an adult. The first issue that springs to mind is the fact that, while Christopher Robin was shown to live in the Hundred Acre Wood in the feature-length films (at least some of the time; his real home is never shown), here he appears to live in a quite obviously suburban household. By making him live so far from his animal friends, that sense of fantasy that is so integral to the universe of Winnie the Pooh is, in a way, violated.
One other issue that I must take, having recently read and re-read the original A.A. Milne stories, is the lax attention paid to continuity. In the most glaring example that I can think of, Piglet’s house in the beech tree was explicitly stated to have been gifted to Owl in Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day after his own home was blown down by the wind, while Piglet went on to live with Pooh Bear; in this series, however, the little guy is back to living in what seems to have been his former home, while Owl, likewise, is back in his tree-top estate. So, what happened, exactly? Did Owl finally decide to find a new tree to rebuild his house, and then give his new one back to Piglet? Or did Piglet perhaps find another tree somewhere else in the forest, and start afresh? Quite honestly, the fact that this is never explained makes my head spin. (Then again, pretty much every animated Winnie the Pooh film, from Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore onward, disregards the events of the first three shorts, so maybe I shouldn’t be too critical.)
These flaws notwithstanding, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is charming and inoffensive enough to make it a decent expansion on the Pooh universe, without sacrificing the sense of nostalgic whimsy that is a hallmark of the franchise. That being said, die-hard fans of the silly old bear ought to at least give this show a chance.
Did you grow up in the Hundred Acre Wood? Did you watch the series as a child? Let us know!
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