Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Tigger Movie

This film is a guilty pleasure. It ought to be terrible: made by DisneyToon long after Pooh’s glory days with Disney in the 60s, this 2000 release was the Australian studio’s first theatrical film not made as a tie-in with an ongoing Disney TV series (their previous releases had been for Ducktales, Goof Troof and Doug), and centred on Disney’s somewhat annoying interpretation of the Tigger character. The plot is that Tigger comes to feel extremely lonely when he realises he has no family, so the rest of the gang decide to dress up as Tiggers to make him feel loved. However, when the deception is revealed he only feels betrayed and sets off alone into a snowstorm. Of course, he soon needs to be rescued and realises the true value of friendship and that there is more than one way to think of a ‘family’. Simple but effective.

And the fact is that it just works, in a way that Piglet’s Big Movie decidedly did not. The simple plot allows for a fuller gamut of emotions than these characters often get to display: disappointment, resentment, anger, embarrassment, guilt, loneliness and even fear. Putting Roo at the emotional heart of the film works very well, as he is just the sort of character who can make a well-meaning mistake while still having the audience’s sympathies on his side, and surprisingly enough the cheesy action sequence that ends the film is triumphant rather than embarrassing.

Much as I love the Milne books and the very different impression they give from the Disney works, I am no Pooh purist who hates the ‘bastardised’ version. It is not as though the brilliant and hilarious books went anywhere when Disney got hold of the rights and began making their distorted, Americanised versions – versions which have their own charm and sweetness. Even if the English roots of the premise are mostly detectable only in Dickie Attenborough’s grandson showing up for a few lines as ever-adorable Christopher Robin, the American voices never grated: I can see them as universal, and these are after all talking toy animals. Disney’s Pooh is an alternative, a retelling, a riff on a theme, and I’m perfectly happy to watch in that capacity, and really enjoy both.

And the fact is, the production is a triumph. DisneyToon were getting better and better – I really don’t think Simba’s Pride ought to be derided – and along with Disney Animation Japan (formed when Disney, in association with a TMS producer, bought out Thundercats’ studio Pacific Animation Corp) created crisp, exciting animation suitable for the big screen. While only one of the original cast was in place – the then-75-year-old John Fielder as Piglet - those who replaced them are some of the cream of American voice acting talent, doing extremely good impressions of their forebears – Eeyore was now voiced by Peter Cullen, best-known as Optimus Prime (with Frank Welker – Megatron – doing additional voices); John Hurt provided narration, returning to Disney after his role in The Black Cauldron; and both Tigger and Pooh were played by the master of imitating deeper voices Jim Cummings, who not only made a full and memorable character just by laughing in The Lion King but also – according to Corey Feldman – provided all Scar’s ‘big notes’ in ‘Be Prepared’, a story much-altered by urban legend.

Plus love for the property is everywhere in evidence, most obviously when not only do the parts where the pages of the books are visible pay tribute to the 60s episodes’ title sequences but Milne's prose – probably the most remarkable part of this production is not only did the animators bother to draw key episodes from the story in the style of original illustrator EH Shepard for the credits but took the trouble to write imagined pages from a book version in Milne’s style to be seen only for moments at a time, rather than, say, using Lorem Ipsum. The Sherman Brothers, songwriters for The Jungle Book and The Aristocats, were also brought in, though a little more is made of this being their first theatrical feature for Disney in nearly 30 years than really ought to be: they’d written songs for direct-to-video Pooh films several times in the years prior to this.

All these elements come together with the magic ingredient – a strong, simple but emotional plot for the well-loved characters – to make a film that remarkably is far more than I had expected it to be.

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