Film Reviews

Swine Trek

He's charming, yes. Humble and loyal. But who is Piglet, really? As the modern world violently shifts beneath our feet, it's time to reexamine this diminutive representative of "the other white meat" and all the archetypal denizens of classic children's author A.A. Milne's Hundred-Acre Wood. The release of Piglet's BIG Movie provides the ideal opportunity.

Let's not pussy-foot around. While Piglet (neurotically whimpered by John Fiedler) demonstrates naive virtue, his dubious friend Pooh (hoarsely drawled by Jim Cummings) is pure bourgeois scum. This is illustrated here in the opening sequence, wherein the "lovable" glutton-bear cons his gang into yet another despicable ploy to rob an innocent hive of bees (symbolizing the proletariat) of the fruit of their labor (i.e. "hunny"). Pooh is partnered in this ghastly crime by a shockingly intolerant Republican named Rabbit (ratcheted by Ken Sansom) with whom he has ideologically enslaved a derelict donkey called Eeyore (groaned by Peter Cullen) and a sub-Jar Jar racial caricature called Tigger (also voiced by Cummings, perhaps in a conspiracy of cultural identity theft). Ultra-sophisticated Owl (Andre Stojka) and smartly modulated Christopher Robin (Tom Wheatley) show up later to remind unwashed kids that, by comparison, they're not well-educated and don't speak English very good. The heist goes horribly awry, of course, and it's Piglet who saves the day, enabling his so-called "friends" to be symbiotically splooged with the sticky sweetness of efforts not their own. His reward? He is banished to hell, to a literal and existential loss of direction (made more painful by having had his nose screwed up long ago by Disney's tampering with E.H. Shepherd's classic Piglet design). While the little pink Nancy-boy's inherent altruism keeps him singing in service of confused woodland creatures, his increasingly evident abandonment and frightening disconnect from his comfortable home at "Trespassers W" (see Milne's books, preferably) paints the direst picture of sylvan upheaval since FernGully: The Last Rainforest. (Please, oh, please, put that phrase on the video box.)

Once our unlikely quartet of bear, rabbit, donkey and spring-tailed jungle cat overcomes its honeyed inebriation -- most swiftly achieved by Eeyore, soberingly stung on the nose in homage to Chinatown's Jake Gittes they pillage Piglet's pad. Stumbling upon the tiny domesticated hog's childlike collection of crayon-scrawled portraits of his presumed chums in what Tigger in his faux down-home parlance calls a "scrappity-book" the four decide to steal the pig's memories to find the pig, via flashbacks. This equals screenwriter Brian Hohlfeld (He Said, She Said) practicing what the Writer's Guild's book of standards calls "laziness," as most new material consists of trite interstitials shoved between prolonged scenes stolen wholesale from Milne's delightful books.

Or is this a blessing? Yes, I suppose it is.

Ostensibly, director Francis Glebas presents this entry in the Pooh franchise as a squeaky-clean gem in the grand tradition of G-rated Disney dollars, but look closer for unexpected adult horrors. Consider, for example, the urban-development metaphor in the tale about lower-class Eeyore's so-called "house." In the icy wintertime, not only do smugly vested home-owners Pooh and Piglet demolish Eeyore's pathetic attempt at shelter, they relocate his undesirable, tailless ass to a miserable new housing project that the shamelessly self-aggrandizing Pooh has the gall to name after himself!

In the flashback involving disoriented antipodal immigrants Kanga and Roo (voiced by Kath Soucie and Nikita Hopkins, respectively), ultra-conservative Rabbit actually spews the hateful comment, "We won't be safe until they're out!" Talk about a welcome wagon!

But this is only the beginning, for Kanga the Pooh stories' only female character clearly represents the dark, forbidding Feminine, object of fear and derision. She is the other, and her grotesquely flapping pouch and aggressive tactics she actually scrubs Piglet's pink, vulnerable flesh on a washboard! are only rendered acceptable when she's forced into the role of mother, not a sexually liberated woman and citizen in her own right, but merely a harmless purveyor of cookies.

To attend, briefly, to the general expectations of a movie review, let us note that Piglet's BIG Movie was created by an enormous army of animators in Japan, Australia and the U.S., and it looks quite nice. It's not as loopy as Jun Falkenstein's The Tigger Movie and neither does it feature Kenny Loggins singing at the end. Rather more troubling, we get a whole movie of songs sung by a peculiarly high-voiced man, only to discover at the end via a truly disturbing live music video that this "man" is Carly Simon. This could be more unsettling only if she had used those monstrous chompers to croon "You know what to do to me" directly to our protagonist.

Speaking of Piglet, we emerge with only a slightly enhanced insight into his psyche. There is a moment of fierce political satire when Rabbit assimilates the dewy Roo into his worldview, and Piglet literally offers them a distinct Nazi salute. But he uses his left hand, so one must assume that the wee porker is being darkly sarcastic toward Rabbit's Republican leanings. Dime-store psychologists may also find fascination in teeny Piglet exclaiming that even his shadow is small.

In general, though, amid the largely undeserving Hundred Acre louts, Piglet emerges simply as a true friend, a model of peace, diplomacy, kindness, honor and even bravery. As such, this mostly delightful kids' movie doesn't fail him, but he deserves further cinematic interpretation. And maybe next time they'll get his nose right.

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Gregory Weinkauf
Contact: Gregory Weinkauf