Friday, 12 September 2014

Winnie the Pooh is a Redshirt

Winnie the Pooh is a character beloved by all, or if not all, most. Nice to a fault, but not annoyingly so since he can be obliviously inconsiderate, with a naivety that is rather endearing in its innocence, and, while considerably not smarter than the average bear, he still manages to think up some original ideas sometimes.

You see, Winnie the Pooh is a Teddy Bear. A Teddy Bear that liked to think, although being a Bear With Little Brain, he wasn't necessarily that good at it. Nevertheless, a think was something that he liked to do. However, to have a think, Pooh Bear had to get his bear brain working by tapping his head fiercely with his paw while saying, "Think, think. Think, think." until he had thunk a think.

He did it while looking in the mirror since doing it twice helped to think the think.

Now, Pooh, as he was known, always wore a red shirt. The shirt he wore was red, and red was the shirt he wore. Yet despite this he never perished after beaming down on a foreign planet as part of an away team. Not once had an alien drained all the salt out of his body, since he was a Pooh Bear and had no salt in his body to drain.

Nor had he been shot by a spore from a vengeful Gamma Trianguli VI plant, since Pooh Bears have little occasion to visit the planet Gamma Trianguli VI to admire the deadly flora.

This Redshirt admired the flora a little too deadly.

Now I obviously must have seen the first Winnie the Pooh movie, The Many Adventures of Winne the Pooh, as a child. I mean, that is, I remember it. I remember parts of it, I think. I know what Pooh sounds like and some of the things he, Piglet and everyone get up to. That is, they get up to things that seem familiar to me. Definitely familiar.

Ah, remembering things that I saw in my childhood. Childhood rememberings.

It was while watching the Nostalgia Critic review The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, that I realised two things. 1) That I really should watch this movie again, it looks interesting, and 2) I really don't have any rememberings of parts of this movie.

You think I would remember this.

In his review, the Nostalgia Critic notes how the film doesn't really have a narrative, or at least not a big driving narrative with a clear antagonist. And he's right, there's no Dirk Dastardly twirling his moustache while threatening to burn down the Hundred Acre Wood if our heroes don't accomplish some task or stop him. There's no Big Bad of any kind. Just Pooh and his friends just doing stuff and getting into little adventures.

And that's great, because these characters are all so nice and interesting with their own personalities, that seeing them interact is much more entertaining than seeing them forced into a contrived "we have to defeat the bad guy and save the day" narrative.

Instead we accompany Pooh Bear going about his daily life, like that one time when trying to get hunny from a beehive at the top of a tree, he covers himself in mud to go all black cloud face to trick the bees into thinking that he is a rain cloud. Because bees confuse bears covered in mud holding on to a balloon for rain clouds all the time.

"I tell you, that is to say, I think that, it will work, Christopher Robin. Bees only exist to make hunny so I can eat it. They won't notice.
It all comes down to them not having any purpose other than to satisfy my unceasing, that is, well, insatiable rumbly in my tummy."

And then when Pooh realises that the bees suspect that he may in fact not be a little black rain cloud but rather a bear covered in mud holding on to a balloon, he asks Christopher Robin to grab his umbrella, open it and say, "Tut-tut, it looks like rain" in order to better sell the ruse. Shockingly, this ploy doesn't convince the bees and thereafter ensues a thrilling bee swarm chase for the ages.

But the thing is, that while of course his plan to trick the bees that he is a rain cloud so that he could steal their hunny obviously would never work and is flawed from the get-go, it does follow a bizarre logic that is actually rather clever.

See, Pooh Bear's problem is not that he is stupid exactly but rather that he has a lack of self-awareness and a failing to perceive how others perceive him. For Pooh, little black rain clouds are black, so he needs to be coloured black. Mud is dark brown/black, so obviously to look like a little black rain cloud he needs to cover himself in mud. The line of logic is consistent but is completely oblivious to the fact that bears covered in mud bear little resemblance to black rain clouds, no matter how expertly they covered themselves in black mud.

But Pooh can't see this because, following his own logic, it's obvious he's camouflaging himself as a rain cloud. Which is why he seems surprised when Christopher Robin asks what he is supposed to be, prompting this response,

Of course.

Which is so adorably naive. He thinks he's a little black rain cloud! Oh, the preciousness. And then it doesn't work out but that's okay because he tried. And that's really a big part of the charm of this movie, all the characters are nice. Like really nice, pleasant characters who are a bit silly, but they're not cloyingly nice or overly saccharine that you feel like you just got diabetes just by watching them. They get upset and make mistakes and have personality flaws, but that makes them well-rounded characters.

Rabbit doesn't want Pooh to come over because he knows that that Silly Old Bear will eat all his food, but his politeness won't permit him to just kick him out. Similarly, Pooh definitely wants Rabbit's food but doesn't want to impose really, waiting for Rabbit to offer.

Owl is quite pompous and tends to get quite involved in the long-winded stories he loves to tell, but is most appreciative of his friends. Tigger might bounce on top of everyone and annoy Rabbit but that's because he just has so much energy and gets genuinely excited to see his friends he can't help but bounce on them.

"Excuse me, sir. Would you like to hear about the wonderful thing about Tiggers?" 

Kanga is perhaps overly maternal but that makes sense since she basically is a mother to everyone, and Roo is that annoying little kid that still is endearingly cute. Eeyore might be manically depressed and such a downer the Grand Canyon is like, "okay fella, that's deep enough", but he still searched extensively for a new house for Owl when Owl's house got blustered away.

And Piglet is so timid and scared of most everything but still he gives up his house (his most favourite thing in the whole forest) for Owl with little hesitation but a heavy heart, when Eeyore finds it thinking it is Owl's New Howse.

Which is actually a really tender moment since everyone else knows what Piglet is giving up, so when Pooh says Piglet will live with him, you believe in the sincerity of the scene and all is right in the 100 Acre Wood again.

Another big part of what makes this movie really work, aside from the lovely characters, is the humour. There are a lot of fourth wall jokes, and the film gets real meta on everyone's asses right from the get-go. The film starts in a live action shot of a boy bedroom before opening the book of the film which we about to watch, which is the film of the book because we weren't meta enough already.

And the characters are aware that they are in a book and they interact with the narrator quite often. Often Pooh interrupts the narrator saying he's not finished (devouring hunny) yet and asking him what's going to happen to them in the next chapter or to start the story from page one over again. The narrator also saves Tigger from being stuck in the tree by turning the book on its side so Tigger can get off safely onto the words of the book and slide down to the ground.

However, one of the best little meta jokes revolves around Gopher, who's not in the book, but at your service. Gopher and everyone continually states that he is not in the book and initially you assume they mean he is not in the phone book or that his services are not 'on the books'. But then you realise that they literally mean that he is not in the book, as in, not in the book Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. That's a pretty clever little joke that really plays with the fourth wall and the meta nature of the film.

"Not in the book, but I'm at your service... in the film of the book in the book of the film."

These layered meta jokes add a clever touch to a charming movie about nice characters who just get up to little adventures. Oh, speaking of adding things to a charming movie, did I mention the trippy as Leary dream sequence? Because if I didn't, I'm gonna mention it now since it's great.

Similar in feel to the Parade of the Pink Elephants scene from Dumbo, this sequence is a dream/nightmare/music piece that Pooh has after Tigger warns him to beware of Heffelumps and Woozles since they'll come in the night to steal hunny.

It is legitimately creepy and a total weird-out with heffelumps morphing into woozles and woozles morphing into heffelumps, with hunny pots singing in terrified tones to beware, beware. And the song is fantastic. Seriously, why doesn't this song feature on more lists of Best Ever Disney Songs?


It's creepy and eerily spooky but so bouncy and inventive, like the way the vocal descends with the increasingly deeper voices as they nearly shriek the repeated last syllable during the chorus ("sly! sly! sly!") and how the song seamlessly morphs into a waltz at one point during the extended instrumental section.

Furthermore, the vocal performance is terrific, hitting that sweet spot of terror and paranoia. Because that's what the song is about, paranoia and fear, not knowing what the enemy is or what they look like, but feeling terrified that they could look like anything or be at every corner.

I mean, just read these lyrics:

They're far, they're near
They're gone, they're here
They're quick and slick
They're insincere

Beware, beware
Be a very wary bear

Be a very wary bear for a heffelump or woozle is very confuzle.
Also, they'll totally steal your hunny.

It's a great trippy moment in a film that is mostly light and blustery with a lots of charm and warm characters just interacting.

All of this is basically to say that when Christopher Robin has to leave the 100 Acre Wood at the end of the film to go to Skool, it is a genuinely touching scene. And when Pooh says he'll be there waiting for him to come back, you know he will be. Because although he might be a Silly Old Bear, he's a Good Bear. The Best Bear. And of course he'll be waiting. He's too kind and too sweet not to.

This image of bittersweet adorableness is presented without comment.

So, when Pooh asks the narrator if they could just start the story from page one again, you know it's because he wants to spend as much time as he can with his friends. Because he's that sort of Bear.


References:

Winnie-the-Pooh Wikipedia page

Winnie the Pooh (Disney) Wikipedia page

List of Winnie-the-Pooh characters Wikipedia page

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Wikipedia page

Nostalgia Critic Review of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

The Many Great Moments from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, a package film done right Part 1 

Analytics According to Captain Kirk

8 Nastiest Star Trek Redshirt Deaths

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