Pooh's Heffalump Movie isn't a brilliant animated feature, but it's a good one. The film, directed by Frank Nissen (who also worked on Disney's Treasure Planet) and based on beloved characters by author A.A. Milne, just can't compete with the jaw-dropping look of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Shrek, and other computer-generated animated features. But Heffalump isn't really trying to run with the big dogs. Instead, this shorter feature (68 minutes) takes traditional animation and reunites it with family-friendly plotlines for what may be one of hand-drawn animation's last theatrical releases.
According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Heffalump was originally slated as a direct-to-video release, but later "upgraded" to theatrical release. The decision to upgrade may prove profitable as Piglet's Big Movie (2003) brought in over $60 million worldwide and The Tigger Movie (2001) brought in $96 million worldwide. Then again, audiences in general can be fickle … and cartoon audiences in particular like the new wave of CGI animation.
Heffalump opens with the familiar scene of 100-Acre Wood (a.k.a. the 100-Aker Wood for Milne enthusiasts) and with the familiar strains of Pooh's theme song: Deep in the 100 Acre Wood / Where Christopher Robin plays. This time, as was the case in Piglet's Big Movie, Carly Simon lends her voice to the songs of the film, which are almost too catchy—you'll be humming them long after the film is over.
Even though the first character we see is Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings), the movie is less about Pooh ("Oh, bother!") and more about little Roo (Nikita Hopkins), a kangaroo kid. One morning, the residents of 100-Acre Wood wake to a disturbing trumpet noise, a sound that Rabbit promptly identifies as the call of the heffalump, a "dreadful" monster that looks similar to an elephant (but my lips are sealed) that lives in Heffalump Hollow, a neighboring forest. Just as Rabbit, Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore would like to make like Y2K fanatics and head for the hills, Roo suggests that the crew organize an "expotition" (expedition) to catch a heffalump. Well, a little kangaroo can't show up the gang, so Rabbit reluctantly agrees to lead the expedition and managerially tells Roo he's just too young to go on such an expedition, an adventure "fraught" with danger. When Roo disagrees and suggests that he's old enough, Tigger puts an end to the conversation: "You just can't argue with a word like 'fraught.'"
Roo moans and groans that night, but early in the morning, he packs his bag, grabs his rope, and heads toward Heffalump Hollow. He's going on the expotition, one way or another. From that point on, the movie follows the joint expeditions as the characters undertake the challenge to capture a heffalump, a task that leads them to understand a lot more about friendship, trust, and unfounded prejudices.
In an effort to stay true to Pooh's character, writers Brian Hohlfeld and Evan Spiliotopoulos threw in some gems of wisdom and humor that could only come from an insecure Pooh-bear. Some of Pooh's sayings include, "This [Heffalump] is one of my favorite 'Once Upon a Times,'" "There you go, Piglet. It seems like both sides of the fence are the same so far," and "If we didn't stick together, we would be very lost indeed." In fact, the writers took great pains to stay true to all of the well-known characters and to properly indoctrinate some of the newer characters such as Lumpy (voiced by English-born Kyle Stanger) and Mama Heffalump (voiced by Brenda Blethyn, a 20-plus-years veteran of stage and screen).
Heffalump is a safe, family-friendly movie that uses animation to disguise some pretty powerful life lessons. Among others, Heffalump's themes include how we treat those different from ourselves, growing up too fast, enjoying childhood, and learning Roosevelt's age-old maxim, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
For childhood's sake, take your little guys and gals to see this movie—you won't be disappointed.Discussion starters
- When the residents of 100-Acre Wood hear the heffalumps' calls, they're immediately afraid. Why do they fear the noise?
- What do you fear? How can you overcome that fear? First John 4:18 says that "perfect love drives out fear." What does that mean to you? How does that verse "work" in everyday life?
- Consider the friendship that blossoms between Roo and Lumpy. Even though they are extremely different, they quickly become good friends. Do you have friends that are quite different from you? How do you get along?
- At the end of the film, Rabbit, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore must apologize for their attitudes toward heffalumps. Can forgiveness make these new friendships stronger? Why or why not?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Pooh's Heffalump Movie, rated G, is one of the safest and cleanest movies around. No worries here.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney Pictures
In the original stories of Winnie the Pooh, by author A. A. Milne, Heffalumps were the manifestations of Pooh Bear's fears. He had nightmares that they would tromp right in and threaten Pooh's honey pots. But in Pooh's Heffalump Movie, the third feature-length film based on the beloved Milne characters, the lovable little Roo discovers that Heffalumps can be our friends.
Many Milne fans have been disgruntled with Disney's exploitation of the Winnie the Pooh legacy. This film is not likely to change things—like The Tigger Movie, the storyline was invented for the film, not drawn from the book. Christian film reviewers disagree on whether the movie is worthwhile entertainment for children. (The Internet Movie Database informs us that it was originally slated for a direct-to-video release. Perhaps they should have stuck to that plan.)
Mary Lasse (Christianity Today Movies) says it "isn't a brilliant animated feature, but it's a good one … a safe, family-friendly movie. Among others, Heffalump's themes include how we treat those different from ourselves, growing up too fast, enjoying childhood, and learning Roosevelt's age-old maxim, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' For childhood's sake, take your little guys and gals to see this movie—you won't be disappointed."
But Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) objects. "I really hate to say anything bad at all about a Winnie-the-Pooh movie—even if he is a bear of little brain. The only problem is, so is this film. Be sure to wait for the video … because few adults will want to sit through this film with their children. And frankly, some kids might not want to, either. I can't help but feel … as if the entire film was created simply to market yet another stuffed animal."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) defends it. "Pooh's Heffalump Movie will leave you feeling, to borrow a phrase from its cuddly cartoon star, 'as happy as a tummy full of honey.' [It's] a heartwarming parable about friendship and acceptance, which celebrates family and childhood innocence. In our age-inappropriate society, that is nothing to pooh-pooh."
Pooh seems to have scored with mainstream critics, who give it generally favorable marks.
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