Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe takes an HD trip to the Hundred Acre Wood with his animal friends...
Every time Disney gets its hands on an outside property, be it Pixar, Marvel, or Lucasfilm, everyone freaks out, convinced that they’re going to ruin it with a middling, safe movie/TV shows made to sell toys. These fears usually end up unfounded, not because Disney doesn’t try to squeeze every dime they can from merchandise, but because they also understand that people are more likely to spend money on franchises they like. The prime example of the studio creating a marketing machine without sullying the quality of an outside property is their long-standing Winnie the Pooh series. The series began with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and went on to include a handful of television series (including a man-in-suit version called Welcome to Pooh Corner), several shorts, eight STV movies, and four post-millennial theatrical films, all of which maintained a shocking level of quality and understanding of author A.A. Milne’s original stories. Frankly, I’ll be happy if Disney treats Star Wars with half of the respect they treated Pooh with over the last three-plus decades (this is hyperbole).
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was released during a pretty dark period for Disney animation. Walt had died and the people left in charge weren’t particularly interested in his level of quality standards. The ‘70s kicked off with two of the studio’s worst films, The Aristocats and Robin Hood, neither of which were all that successful at the box office. However, 1977 marked a reprieve from the downturn when The Rescuers and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh were both released to strong reviews and good audience reception. The Rescuers was the bigger hit, but also the bigger financial undertaking, while Winnie the Pooh was almost pure profit, because it was made up of previously-released featurettes and one new ‘episode.’ The older episodes, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974), were tied to a final short where Christopher Robin explains to Pooh that he is going away to school. These shorts remain just as charming, sweet, and soothing as they ever were, but what one tends to forget is that they’re also quite wry, thoughtful, and perfectly British.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is presented in 1080p and its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (the shorts were apparently framed at 1.37:1 for their original releases). It may not be Disney’s most sought-after or prestigious animated releases, but they’ve certainly not spared any expense preparing the film for its first HD home video release. The studio has cleansed the frame of any print damage-related artefacts without entirely depleting the film of its texture, though there’s almost nothing here in terms of grain. The detail increase over the DVD version is considerable, especially in the watercolor (or gouache) and ink backgrounds, which are complex without sharpening effects over the black lines or macroblocking in the more delicate, painted blends. None of these shorts had particularly big budgets and the limitations do show a bit in the foreground cell animation, which was produced via the Xerox method Disney started using with 101 Dalmatians. Because the animators could skip parts of the inking process the Xerox method created particularly sketchy black edges where pencil marks were not fully erased. The effect of this ‘handmade’ look is multiplied considerably in HD as are minor inconsistencies between the shorts ( Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too looks considerably cheaper than the other shorts), which were produced several years apart. Again, there are no problems with edge haloes. The colour qualities are much more vibrant than the SD release, especially the warmer hues, and the hue qualities are relatively uniform throughout the shorts. Contrast levels are harsher than they were on the DVD as well, but not to the point of damaging finer details in the blackest and whitest elements.
The film’s original mono sound has been remixed into 5.1 and is presented here in uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio sound. This isn’t a very aggressive track, but the lossless qualities make for some impressively clear sound even at high volume levels. The dialogue, including both on-screen characters and Sebastian Cabot’s narration, is situated directly in the center channel without any notable bleeding or major issues with erratic clarity levels. Directional effects and multi-channel immersion is pretty rare, due both to the film’s age and the fact that the filmmakers were making a mellow dialogue and music-run soundtrack. There are some standout moments, including Pooh’s battle with the angry bees, whose honey he is trying to steal, and the blustery blow of the Windsday winds, but the majority of the effects stay centered with the dialogue. The big star here, though, is the film’s music, written by songwriters Richard & Robert Sherman and composer Buddy Baker. The element separation is intricate and the instrumentations are warm and rich without any real high-end distortion or hiss.
The extras begin with another small collection of Pooh shorts/songs – If I Wasn’t So Small (2:20, HD), Piglet’s Drawings (2:00, HD), The Expedition (2:30, HD), Geniuses (2:30, HD), and The Honey Song (2:30, HD). These are much newer, taken from the newer feature films with a few different voice casts (John Cleese as narrator) and digitally painted backgrounds. The other Blu-ray exclusive extras are the Pooh Play-Along (2:00, HD), where kids can exercise with Pooh, and a ‘Disney Intermission’ option, where seek and find games pop up when the film is paused. Under the ‘classic DVD bonus features’ menu is an additional classic short, A Day for Eeyore (25:20, 1.33:1 HD), The Story Behind the Masterpiece retrospective featurette (25:00, SD), and the Winnie the Pooh theme song performed by Carly Simon (2:30, SD). The collection also comes with a kite for viewers to take out on a blustery day.
I imagine that a lot of the collectors who buy these Disney animation Blu-rays are intending to own the films for the sake of sharing them with their children, but I think that even childless adults would be surprised by how well the shorts in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh have aged. Disney has done a fantastic job with the image and sound quality on this Blu-ray release (some viewers will be upset that the image has been almost entirely scrubbed of grain, but I think it’s acceptable in this case) and included a fair number of HD shorts alongside the original DVD’s extras.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
All ages admitted
Release Date: 27th August 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Disney Intermission, Pooh Play-Along, Five Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Shorts, A Day for Eeyore, The Story Behind the Masterpiece, Music Video, Disney Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy, Kite
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman
Cast: Sterling Holloway, John Fiedler, Junius Matthews, Paul Winchell, Howard Morris, Bruce Reitherman, Jon Walmsley, Timothy Turner
Genre: Animation and Family
Length: 74 minutes
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