At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
It’s basically the first Spider-Man film with dirtier jokes. The plotline dutifully follows--and upends--all the story points of the wall-crawler’s big screen opus replacing Peter Parker with Rick Riker (Drake Bell) a geeky high schooler bitten by a genetically enhanced dragonfly who then gains requisite superpowers. Rick has the pert love interest (Sara Paxton) the megalomaniacal nemesis the Hourglass (Christopher McDonald) and a dotty doting uncle-aunt combo (Leslie Nielsen and Marion Ross) as well as walk-ons encounters from other superheroes spoofmeisters including Tracy Morgan as Professor X Craig Bierko as Wolverine Simon Rex as the Human Torch and Pamela Anderson in blink-and-you’ll-miss-her turn as the Invisible Girl quite literally. But despite some allusions to a handful of recent heroic hits Superhero Movie sticks surprisingly close to the Spider-Man template only and never adequately attacks the entire phenomenon of comic book flicks. To use accomplished parody film icons like Nielsen (of Naked Gun renown) and Robert Hays (of Airplane legend) is to invite disastrous comparison. Fortunately disaster doesn’t strike--not entirely. The new kids Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh fame) and Paxton (Aquamarine) are sunny enough on-screen personalities but don’t quite have the comic chops or the oh-so-serious ironic approach to mark them as standouts in the genre. Most of the star cameos fall flatter than you’d hope though Marion Ross surprises with a go-for-broke turn that will forever color the way you think of Happy Days’ Mrs. Cunningham. McDonald does all the film’s heavy lifting gleefully chewing the scenery spitting it out and then re-chewing the remains. Special props go to Miles Fisher for his brief but brilliant send-up of Tom Cruise. Superhero Movie neither soars to the silly heights of its predecessor Scary Movies nor crashes to the ground like the dreadful Epic Movie. Craig Mazin who wrote the third and fourth Scary Movie offerings and helmed the 2000 superhero spoof The Specials has enough of a solid feel for the material. The laughs come at a decent pace though lots of the gags lack inspiration and too many of the spot-on shot swipes from the Spider-Man films stop at imitation and rarely achieve a greater sense of parody and fun. Still if a silly look at superheroics is what you’re after--and TV’s The Tick is still lingering in your Netflix queue--then Superhero Movie wins the day in the end.