Thoroughly Muddled Milne

Disney's Tigger Movie fails to earn its stripes

A late addition to the repertory company headed by A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood, Tigger has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years. That is, the Disney incarnation of Tigger has -- the hyperactive, striped feline with the spring-loaded tail in Disney's Winnie the Pooh cartoons has become a merchandising star, adorning a seemingly endless variety of tee shirts, denim jackets, watch faces, key chains and so forth.

The inevitable result is his own feature movie vehicle. The whole gang is present in The Tigger Movie -- the sweet, foggy-brained Pooh, the anxious Piglet, the pessimistic Eeyore, the maternal Kanga and her baby Roo, the harrumphing Owl and that waspish, middle-class clerk Rabbit, not to mention the big cheese himself, Christopher Robin. But the focus is on Tigger's long, dark night of the soul, his struggle with existential alienation. Really.

Specifically, the movie takes off from the lyric of the title character's signature anthem: ". . . but the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I'm the only one." When the chilly implications of that line occur to him one day, he lapses into a depression and begins to search for his family tree, which, he presumes, must be a big tree somewhere in the Hundred Acre Wood full of Tigger relations. It must be admitted that the sight of our hero stumbling grimly off into a blizzard in search of his roots is a pretty irresistible image -- Tigger à la Tolstoy.

Dorothy Parker loathed Milne's deliberate English quaintness; it was in her 1928 "Constant Reader" review of The House at Pooh Corner that she famously quipped, "Tonstant Weader Fwowed up" (considering her own tireless archness, she didn't have much room to talk). But plenty of us are sufficiently unsophisticated to love the sly verbal wit that counters the comforting, mild-mannered narrative tone in the Pooh books. They may be the most perfect of all bedtime stories.

Because they were read to me as a child, I've never really been able to warm to Disney's glitzed-up cartoon versions. This movie seems pretty cheesy, however, even for the Disney Pooh. In the old cartoons, Tigger and Pooh were voiced by Paul Winchell and Sterling Holloway, respectively; in the new film, Jim Cummings approximates both voices, charmlessly (good old John Fiedler still lends his fretful tones to Piglet, however, which is nice). The songs are vapid, and even the voice of the Narrator rings false. Sebastian Cabot narrated the old shows with a tone of velvety, uncondescending authority, but in The Tigger Movie, John Hurt pours on a regrettable syrup.

The underlying message -- that your real family members, whether blood relatives or not, are the ones who go out looking for you when you're lost in a blizzard -- is a good one, of course, and kids will probably be modestly diverted by the picture. But was it really necessary, in the name of 11th-hour plot complication, to resort to having the characters imperiled by an avalanche?

After devices like this, it may have been a small tactical error that alongside the closing credit roll, we see drawings (by Susan Bradley) in the style of Milne's illustrator E.H. Sheperd. These quietly enchanting doodles make the Disney versions of the characters seem in the same league as the Power Rangers and the Ninja Turtles.

 
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