Rick DeMott reviews Disney's latest, The Tigger Movie, and reveals a true classic.
The Tigger Movie isn't an eye-popping deep canvas spectacle like Tarzan, and it isn't going to win any Grammys for its soundtrack. In fact, it will be lucky if it even sells soundtracks -- and that's what makes it great. This film isn't for mom and pop, it's for little Jimmy and Suzie. By not catering to the big people with the wallets this new Disney film is a gentle reminder that sometimes kids' movies need to be made for kids. I'm not knocking Toy Story 2 or The Iron Giant, becausethey have their place. Heck, I even enjoyed them better than The Tigger Movie, but that's because I'm not four anymore. But I was four once, and I still remember my grandparents taking me to see for the nth time the re-release of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and all the other Disney classics. I looked forward to it just as much as the annual zoo animal assemblies at good old Harry S. Truman Elementary. The yearly Disney release was a family outing and attached to the event was great joy. Since both my mom and dad worked, after school I stayed with my daytime guardians, my grandparents. On weekends, I spent my time with my parents. So when my entire family -- mom, dad, grandma and grandpa -- all piled into the car and drove off to the movie theater, I was ecstatic. I had all the important and influential people in my world with me all at once and we were going to go see a movie together. At four, this is as exciting as life gets! We all sat in the darkened room and watched the movie flash on the wall. The movie was simple. There was a good guy and there was a bad guy. Something bad happened to the good guy by way of the bad guy. A few songs later some prince or king or hound is kissing the fox. Lights come up, smile on my face and sigh of relief from my father. The film probably only received thumbs up from one fifth of the people in the car ride home, but not a single person in that car would have said it was a waste of $2.
Who, What and Where The Tigger Movie, written and directed by Jun Falkenstein, has the same classic Disney feel that I remember from when I was knee high to Jiminy Cricket. A live-action opening begins the film as the narrator (John Hurt) opens a book to start the story. Segues between sequences freeze the characters on the storybook page. The trademark watercolor look that is synonymous with Winnie the Pooh is re-created by art director Toby Bluth, and the beautiful backgrounds were supervised by Hiroshi Ohno in Japan where 60% of the work on the project was completed at Disney's studio there. The Cheryl Abood produced film opens with a lively song from the Oscar-award winning fraternal team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, who reunited to write songs for the characters with which they were already familiar -- Pooh and Tigger (both voiced by Jim Cummings). Previously, the composer/lyricist duo wrote for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, among many other famous Disney credits such as Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Jungle Book. As he sings the peppy tune, Tigger bounces around Hundred Acre Wood conveniently introducing all the Pooh characters from A.A. Milne's children's books. With tasks to be done, Pooh Bear, Piglet (John Fiedler) and Ms. Kanga (Kath Soucie) are all too busy to bounce with friendly old Tigger. Disappointed, our orange hero sulks into the woods, but the energetic little kangaroo, Roo (Nikita Hopkins), hops Tigger's way wishing to bounce. Roo tries his hardest to bounce with the big boys, but can't quite curl his tail like Tigger. Again disappointed that he doesn't have a bouncing buddy of equivalent pounce, Tigger sighs. However, Roo suggests there must be other Tiggers because there are other kangaroos. This idea gets Tigger thinking that he needs to find a family of Tiggers with which to bounce. However, the caffeinated cat quickly gets disillusioned with his search when he can't locate his family tree. Thus into the woods his friends Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore (Peter Cullen) go looking for Tiggers. When Eeyore murmurs that he has found them, Pooh and Piglet follow him to a pond of striped frogs. After some time examining the bouncing amphibians, Pooh and pals come to the decision that these creatures are probably not from Tigger's gene pool. So the whole Hundred Acre Wood gang dresses up like Tiggers to make Tigger feel at home. However, the good-hearted deception goes wrong and sends Tigger out into a blizzard to search for his folks. Rounding-up his friends, Pooh launches a search party... The harrowing conclusion does include some effects that were seamlessly woven in by supervising effects animation director Madoka Yasuet and his team. The credits close with the song "Your Heart Will Lead You Home," which teamed the Shermans with Kenny Loggins, who performs the tune.
A True Classic
Even at the 9:30 pm showing that I attended, there were more families there than not. I was having flashbacks to animal assemblies and The Fox and the Hound the whole time I was watching the movie. From the outings to the theater with my family, I went away with two things. The first was how the film's lessons and adventures related to my little four-year-old world. Yes, The Fox and the Hound was just Romeo and Juliet, but it taught me about friendship. Yes, The Rescuers was part James Bond, part It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but when the villains took the little girl's toy away and said, "You'll never see teddy again!" it scared the Osh-be-Goshes off me and I sure related. A little bit adventure and a little bit morality tale -- that's what fairy tales are made of, and that's what The Tigger Movie is.
The film is full of classic family values. Oh no, I'm sounding like a Dumbo party member, but hold on Eeyore party fans don't go burning Pat Buchanan posters in my yard yet. Owl (Andre Stojka) is like a grandparent, Rabbit (Ken Sansom) is a worrying mom and Pooh is the dopey next door neighbor. The relationships between the characters form experiences to which any kid can relate. Tigger wants someone to bounce with him, but Pooh and the gang have more important things to do -- just like my mom and dad did after they came home from a long day at work. Roo runs after Tigger wanting to act big -- just like my little sister wanted when I was playing Atari. I read a review bashing the film for being old fashioned and out of date. Well, if a kids' movie about families caring about each other is old-fashioned then the world is pretty sad for all of us. Republican Dumbos and Democrat Eeyores all included. The characters make up a caring community. However, the flick isn't quite as old-fashioned as one may think. Heck, Ms. Kanga is a single mom! There's no Mr. Kanga hopping around to help with Roo. The whole Hundred Acre Wood crew make up a family of different feathers and furs. Pooh and Piglet didn't just assume the frogs couldn't be Tigger's family because they weren't bright orange. In this time of "it takes a village to raise a child" Tigger's "real" family looks like the model for a Democratic campaign poster. These are lessons for today's kids. Moreover, the lessons of family and caring are intrinsically the same today as they were yesteryear. This will never be out-of-date. Now for the second thing I took away from my outings to the movie theater when I was young. It was a family affair. I wasn't just raised by my parents. I had grandparents, uncles, aunts and family friends. It's just like Tigger having Ms. Kanga, Owl, Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit and Eeyore. Especially today, more kids have evolving family landscapes that include step-moms, step-dads and step-siblings. The Tigger Movie is much more than an old fashioned Disney flick. It's a modern fairy tale, with characters and adventures a modern kid can relate to very easily.
There's a place for inside jokes about Star Wars and the Cold War in animation, just as much as there is a place for a simple tale about family and friends. I've noticed that "kids" movies are making a lot of money lately. It puts a smile on my face, because it means kids with their families (whatever the configuration) are piling into the car and going to see films. For a film made just for the little ones The Tigger Movie is great. It's a warm, funny and subtly told story that doesn't fall into the trap of most "made for kids" films that sink to using dumb bodily fluid and adults-getting-hit-in-the-groin jokes. The most wonderful thing about The Tigger Movie is there are more lessons to be learned from the film then how to market a movie for a mass audience. With a stuffed Tigger proudly perched on his desk, Rick DeMott is the Associate Editor of Animation World Magazine. Previously, he served as Media Coordinator for Hollywood-based Acme Filmworks. He holds a BA in Film/Video from Penn State University with a Minor in Comparative Literature.