Friday, March 17, 2023

Green Phoenix - Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin Review


Growing up, I was a massive fan of the Winnie the Pooh franchise due to the indelible impact the entire franchise had on my early childhood. Not only the 1977 classic The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and The Tigger Movie (which I believe I have covered previously and if not, will definitely correct that), but also the wonderfully charming New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh TV show that aired on the Disney Channel originally from 1988 until 1991 (though it ran in syndication on various Disney channel properties until 2007). It all coalesced to form a strong nostalgic feeling whenever I watch anything associated with the lovable stuffed bear.

The Winnie the Pooh franchise was always notable in my book for its relaxed charm and surprisingly mature wit. While the franchise was undeniably accessible to children, as an adult I often found myself surprisingly engaged, especially with the original 1977 film.

With the recent release of a certain horror adaptation to this beloved franchise which has been universally panned and for which I will never willingly subject myself too, I felt it far better to focus my attention on another aspect of the franchise. One often underrated or rarely discussed, the direct to video sequels.

Now for most films, direct to video sequels have a not-undeserved reputation for low quality. But does the first direct to video Winnie the Pooh film, 1997's Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin fall into this same trap?

Let's find out.

  • Directed by Karl Geurs
  • Produced by Walt Disney Television Animation
  • Runtime: 76 Minutes
  • Rating: G


On the last day of summer, Christopher Robin is spending time with his best friend, the loveable stuffed bear Winnie-the-Pooh, though something seems to be on the young boy's mind that distracts him. The next day, Pooh attempts to spend more time with Christopher Robin, only to uncover a mysterious letter he cannot read and Christopher Robin seemingly missing.
Gathering the aid of the other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh learns from the letter that Christopher has seemingly been kidnapped and taken the mysterious "Skull Rock", far on the other side of the Wood. Now Pooh will have to team up with his friends and overcome a myriad of trials and challenges that test their courage, wit, and optimism to find their lost friend. Though there may be behind Christopher Robin's disappearance than first appears.



Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin was the first direct to video film released in the franchise and in my mind, it is the perfect example of the best kind of direct to video sequel. It is in no way better than the original 1977 film, but it does possess a little bit of its own charms. Due to the simple drawing style utilized by the Winnie the Pooh series, Pooh's Grand Adventure actually looks quite nice and looks very much like a cleaned up version of the original 1977 film, though perhaps I might say that it looks far more like the television series in its overall aesthetic and it doesn't employ as much of the meta-interactions with the narrator like we see in the first film.

That being said, the visuals are perfectly serviceable for what is, in essence, an extended episode of the television series. At least that's what the film feels like to me. The original movie always had a tone that, while obviously aimed to be accessible to children, possessed a sort of self-aware wit that made almost all adults chuckle. The interactions between the characters and the narrator provided a sense of fun self-awareness that helped an adult to be immersed in the more childish elements of the story. By contrast, Pooh's Grand Adventure is absolutely made for children, almost to the exclusion of adults.
Whilst I found myself enjoying myself at some points, those were largely due to nostalgia goggles being very thick when it comes to this silly old bear and his friends (also likely explaining my dislike of Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey). By and large, the film feels way too childish and, for lack of a better phrase, goofy. You can tell what happened to Christopher Robin almost from the outset and so it makes the whole adventure seem rather shallow, which when coupled with the lessons and moral are so heavy handed that its almost groan-worthy.
It's hokey but I will at least admit that its well-intentioned and earnest in its message, even if that message delivery is silly and obvious. A lot of that stems from the characters. The denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood are staples of modern culture and I'm willing to bet that most of us are at least passingly familiar with the personalities as interpreted by Disney. They are very well captured and perform all the standard expectations of their characters (Eeyore is depressed, Piglet is scared, Rabbits a control freak, etc.) but not always much more beyond that.
The film doesn't really have the time to give these character a great deal of emotional depth, but then again, maybe they aren't always meant for long-form ensemble storylines; as even The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was comprised of several self-contained vignettes rather than a single cohesive story, and The Tigger Movie focused firmly on the characters of Tigger and Roo, with the rest of the cast acting largely as support.

One element I will say works well in its favor is the music. The film is a musical, though its short length only gives it time for four or so musical segments. "Adventure is a Wonderful Thing" is a silly call-to-adventure song that I always remembered from my childhood and it still holds up great with a fun bit of self-awareness that the rest of the film doesn't always maintain. "Wherever You Are" is the emotional ballad of the film and its actually quite good and heartbreaking at points especially when you hear it sung by Pooh in that warm breathy voice that is so iconic to the character. The fact that they also chose that song to be the credits song also goes to show that the soft ballad was meant to be the general tone-setter for the rest of the film and in that regard it actually works quite well.
The rest of the soundtrack is largely average but serves its purposes well. The background music is actually quite good as well, allowing itself to rely on quiet to better  express the emotions of the film. Actually something I will say the film gets absolutely right about the Winnie the Pooh franchise is its calm and relaxed nature. The characters are soft-spoken and the film relishes in the quiet to sooth and comfort. Regardless of my opinions of the film in terms of cinematic qualities, I will applaud the film for fundamentally capturing the sense of comfort that is so indicative of this franchise; even in the midst of what is ostensibly an "adventure" film.

Ultimately, the film is wonderful for the nostalgia but a painfully above average outing. It's less a Winnie the Pooh adventure film and more an extended hour-long episode of the TV show. The decent music and good character performances can't elevate a laughably predictable children's story with morals and lessons so blatantly presented, they'd be cringy if they weren't so heartfelt. But I don't think the creators of this film were intended on making a great cinematic masterpiece. They just wanted to create a heart-warming Winnie the Pooh outing that parents could put on to distract the kids for 76 minutes while they cook dinner or clean the house.
And in that regard, the film performs amazingly. I think kids will love the hell out of this movie and my nostalgia brought me all the way back to the Hundred Acre Wood so I'm ultimately satisfied. Check it out, just check your expectations and watch it with small children.
  • 8/10
  • 7/10
  • 6/10
  • 5/10

 FINAL SCORE - 6.5/10

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