Directed by: Frank Nissen
Starring: Jim Cummings (voice), John Fiedler (voice), Nikita Hopkins (voice), Kyle Sanger (voice)
Sure, it's a bit much for the Disney folks to expect people to shake loose $7.75 for a scant 63 minutes of movie, and there's nothing in Pooh's Heffalump Movie you haven't seen in Pooh's previous screen outings. Still, there's nothing really wrong with his new one.
The movie has a good message about tolerance (let's hope this escapes the notice of certain "family values" groups), tackling the timely topic of xenophobia. The story finds the denizens of the Hundred Acre Woods living in mortal fear of the much-dreaded Heffalump, a strange and supposedly horrifying creature that lives across the border. The Woods crowd doesn't actually know anything about the creature, but is content to hate and fear it anyway. (Think The Village, but with stuffed animals.) The only one who is immune to this approach is young Roo (voiced by Nikita Hopkins), who has yet to be taught to fear everything that's different from him.
I have no quibble with the plot, and I'm vastly amused at the prospect of this message subversively sinking into the little noggins of kids who've recently been warned by the Christian Right of the "evils" of SpongeBob SquarePants. But really, the proper place for this barely feature-length rehash of Poohism is home video (which was the producers' original plan), not the big screen.
Granted, the watercolor-looking backgrounds are pleasantly appealing, and Joel McNeely's musical score isn't half bad when it's heightening the mysterious nature of the Heffalump-infested woods. On the other hand, the score's more than half bad when it tries to be jaunty, and the soundtrack isn't helped by undistinguished pop songs from Carly Simon (who seems a long, long way from her No Secrets album of 30-odd years ago).
As for the animation, it's rarely more than adequate, and the best of it is a cut-rate reworking of the "Pink Elephants on Parade" section of Dumbo, which raises the specter of recycled material.
Worse, the movie features some of the most indifferent scripting imaginable. Writers Brian Hohlfeld and Evan Spiliotopoulis seem unable to cook up a story that actually incorporates all the characters we've come to expect to be included. As a result, Eeyore is virtually on the sidelines for the entire movie, to such a degree that he seems all but forgotten by end.
Indeed, all the characters are subordinate to Roo and Lumpy the Heffalump (Kyle Sanger). That wouldn't be so bad if they were given anything amusing to do, but they weren't. Worse, as the voices of prejudice and xenophobia, they spend most of the film looking absurd or even downright unpleasant.
None of this will matter much to the 2-to-7-year-old set, at which the movie is squarely aimed, who will doubtless love the film at the theater and later drive their parents 'round the bend with it when it hits video.
So if you have young children, boost this review a star and take heart that it doesn't last very long. Otherwise, Pooh's Hufffalump is strictly for folks who never miss an animated film bearing the Disney name.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke