`Heffalump' means more hunny for Disney

Nice, but lacks spark of originality


February 11, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

There's nothing about Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Disney's latest tale of all the merry goings-on in the fabled Hundred Acre Wood, that should bother little kids. But their parents may feel a twinge of regret over what has become of A.A. Milne's beloved characters.

Winnie the Pooh films used to be charming and inventive, intricate little childhood fables that appealed to every age, thanks to their innocent, but never simplistic, constructs. Heffalump is plenty charming - they even have the new creature speak with a British accent, courtesy of a 5-year-old boy (Kyle Stanger) who studio press materials say is not fond of "homework, bedtime, brussel sprouts or his sister" - but not a smidgen inventive.

For that matter, it's not all that true to Milne's spirit. In the original Pooh books, the important thing about a heffalump was that no such creature existed.

Following in the footsteps of the last two Pooh films, The Tigger Movie and Piglet's Big Movie, Heffalump consigns the silly silly silly old bear to a supporting role; this go-round, the spotlight falls on young Roo, the adolescent kangaroo and youngest resident of the forest. Told that he's too young to go off on a heffalump-hunting expedition with Pooh (Jim Cummings) and the rest of the gang, who've been frightened one too many times by that trumpeting sound coming from Heffalump Hollow, Roo sets off on his own anyway.

Soon, he encounters one of the "fearsome" creatures, a purple, fuzzy-tailed beast named Lumpy, and learns there's nothing to be scared of at all. In fact, the two become fast friends, especially when Lumpy confides that he's just as scared of Roo's friends - whom he's never seen, either - as they are of him.

The rest of the gang, meanwhile, led by that obtuse know-it-all Rabbit (Ken Sansom) and including perennial crowd favorite piglet (John Fiedler), continue on their mission, determined to rid the wood of that foul beast none of them has ever seen.

While the real purpose of Heffalump is to pour lots of money into Disney's coffers by giving parents yet another plush toy to buy their kids - adorable mini-Lumpys should soon be everywhere - let's give the movie credit for some good intentions.

Creating a movie where kids can learn it's silly to fear someone you've never met, just because they might be different from you, is fine and dandy. And there's a purity to the film, an insistence on keeping things simple and a refusal to even try and be hip that's almost refreshing. Kids will enjoy the film, and parents needn't feel in any way threatened.

Still, it's hard not to long for the Pooh stories of old, those endearingly anarchic little tales that captured the wonder of a child's world without ever once condescending to it. The Pooh of the new millennium has little use for Christopher Robin and his unfettered imagination; in fact, the boy, once the source of all wisdom and the center of all things in the Hundred Acre Wood, doesn't even appear in Heffalump until the closing credits. Even Carly Simon's songs, heartfelt but pedestrian, fail to lift the imagination.

Nowadays, being cute is everything. That's not bad, but it is lamentable.

Pooh's Heffalump Movie

Starring the voices of Jim Cummings, John Fiedler

Directed by Frank Nissen

Released by Walt Disney Pictures

Rated G

Time 68 minutes

Sun Score **

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