|The Premise: Awakening to hear the trumpeting of a Heffalump in the distance, Pooh (Jim Cummings), Piglet (John Fielder), Rabbit (Ken Sansom), Tigger (Cummings) and Eeyore (Peter Cullen) decide they should venture into Heffalump Hollow to investigate and capture one of the beasts. When Roo (Nikita Hopkins) learns he can't come along--even though he was the only one who thought of bringing something practical on the "expoohdition"--a rope, he leaves on his own, and begins a grand adventure.
Originally slated as a direct-to-video release, Pooh's Heffalump Movie provides rewarding theatrical fare for children and adults alike. Although the animation isn't quite as intricately stylized as some Pooh tales, it is still quality work, and the story is very entertaining, with a slightly surprising and thinly veiled message.
Any Pooh fan will know that Heffalumps originally arose as dream material in Pooh's head--Heffalumps and Woozles were nightmare creatures (inspired by a mispronunciation of "elephants" and "weasels"), insanely wacky and out to steal Pooh's Hunny. In Pooh's Heffalump Movie (which is really more of a Roo tale, ala the Tigger tale of The Tigger Movie (2000) or Piglet's turn in Piglet's Big Movie (2003)), we get real Heffalumps, living in an area adjacent to the 100-Acre Wood called Heffalump Hollow. They're the Pooh gang's Other--imagined as having all of the negative qualities absent in the Pooh gang's image of Self.
The journey to seek out and capture a Heffalump involves crossing borders (a fence), passing over abyss-like ravines, crossing water barriers (rivers) and so on. It's a symbolic trip to a foreign, alien world, where unpleasant strangers live. Roo, the most innocent of Pooh's gang, is the first to encounter a Heffalump, and he learns that the Heffalump has a similarly negative depiction of the Other--an equally negative view of Pooh and our friends from the 100-Acre Wood. Both gradually come to terms with their misleading conceptions. The message of the film is to not "dehumanize" or "demonize" the Other--that the Other is probably someone not that different from you and I. Perhaps it's a surprisingly political message for a Pooh story, but it's valuable nonetheless, and easily meshes stylistically with the Pooh universe. It's interesting that director Frank Nissen chose to voice the principal Heffalumpian Other seen in the film, Lumpy (Kyle Sanger), with a British accent. It could have easily worked with an American accent like the other Pooh characters. The British accent is both more daring than we might expect (making the political distancing of the Other more obvious) and less controversial than we might expect (British culture being the closest one can come to American culture yet retain a distinct, recognizable accent).
Of course, kids aren't going to analyze the film in that way. For them, this is a fun adventure story, with moments of slight suspense and even slight scares (nothing that toddlers couldn't handle, though), where two like-minded creatures meet and become great friends. There are a lot of funny bits in the film, and the new characters are just as cute and likable as anyone else in the Pooh universe; I hope we see more of them in the future. There is a wonderful series of gags over the end credits featuring Lumpy in some of the better-known Pooh adventures. The songs by Carly Simon in the film are good, particular when Carly sings them.
- Brandt Sponseller