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Purists might see “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie” as yet another Disney desecration of the cherished Winnie-the-Pooh books created by A.A. Milne in the 1920s, but let’s face it: Parents aren’t purists. They are interested only in What Works — in this case what movie, when it comes out on video, will buy them that precious hour to return phone calls, pay bills or clean the kitchen unmolested and — more important — unencumbered by guilt over resorting to the electronic nanny.
Is “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie” a suitable homage to Milne’s vision? Is the Heffalump — shown for the first time here — conceived and drafted with the same delicacy and subtle whimsy as Ernest H. Shepard’s original illustrations? Should Pooh’s name really be in the title when Roo steals the movie like a tiny big-eared bandit? Who cares? All this reviewer knows is that the 3-year-old who accompanied her to a recent screening didn’t squirm, wriggle, sigh or betray any other signs of distraction or restlessness in the course of the movie’s 68-minute running time.
Tigger, Rabbit, Pooh and Piglet are startled by the sight of a Heffalump in Hundred Acre Wood. (Disney Enterprises)
In other words: It Works.
And it’s not half bad, either. “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie” begins as the Hundred Acre Wood is being shaken by the clomping footsteps of the notorious Heffalump, long the unseen bete noire of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, Kanga and little Roo. When the Wood’s creatures gather to discuss the recent un-sighting, it’s decided to form a posse to capture the dreaded monster once and for all. When Roo is told that he’s too young to join, he sets off on his own, a journey that results in his meeting and befriending an actual Heffalump.
It’s a letdown that the Disney animators have apparently decided to construct that mythical creature from outtakes of “Barney & Friends” and the “Dumbo” sequence “Pink Elephants on Parade.” Although it’s true that any addition to the Hundred Acre Wood is destined to look out of place, the lavender elephant — whose only fanciful feature is a bunny tail — seems particularly crudely realized compared with the others. Still, “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie” is often lovely to look at and listen to, thanks mostly to a design and musical score that hark back to animation at its most classical. (The film’s musical set piece, a song by Carly Simon, can safely be entered on the list of Songs That We Can Hear From Another Room Without Wanting to Shoot the TV.) And it’s a nice touch that the Heffalumps are voiced by British actors, whose lilting accents add to the movie’s overall soothing tone.
Of course, no kids’ movie can claim its bona fides without an underlying message; in this case, Roo’s fear of and eventual friendship with the Heffalump serves as a surprisingly timely allegory about nationalism, xenophobia and embracing cultural differences. As Pooh wisely observes, “It seems that both sides of the fence are about the same.” Go ahead, Mom and Dad — plop Junior in front of “Heffalump” with a clear conscience. You can explain the nuances of moral relativism later, when he’s 10.