The bear’s necessities
DARKER, MOODIER, tortured; the new Winnie the Pooh was never going to make any concessions to such grown-up things. AA Milne’s bear is simply too soft and round to be edgy. And don’t expect a Venom-style alter ego – Disney’s 51st animated feature studiously avoids the attributes we’ve come to associate with franchise reboots.
Longtime Pooh watchers may, nonetheless, note small changes around Hundred Acre Wood – sorry, 100 Aker Wood. Narrator John Cleese now squabbles with the titular ursine when the perennially hungry Pooh insists on messing up the words on the animated storybook page.
There are other new voices too. Tom Kenny, the pipes behind SpongeBob SquarePants, does the honours as Rabbit; Craig Ferguson’s Owl is appositely grandiloquent; Zooey Deschanel sings the old theme song; Bud Lackey’s Eeyore is endearingly Old West even if he can’t quite replicate the gloom of Ralph Wright’s original.
The film-makers have done commendable work in insulating their fluffy hero from the mean old modern world. Their Pooh, despite his crisp, digitised colouring, might have emerged from the Disney imprint at any time in the studio’s history.
Adapted from a trilogy of Milne tales that includes In Which Eeyore Loses a Tail, In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole and In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day, the new Winnie is indistinguishable from the old one. A simple creature, he craves honey and duets with his rumbling tummy. Elsewhere, his friends fret over Eeyore’s missing appendage and Christopher Robin’s possible apprehension by something called a Backson.
Technically, this is only Winnie the Pooh’s second film (outings such as The Piglet Movie and The Tigger Movie were actually pieced together from shorts), but at least two of the new subplots have featured elsewhere. Oddly, we feel comforted rather than gypped by the familiarity. After all, not changing is what a teddy bear does best. RETURNING HOME from a club in the wee hours, coked-up party animal Ludo (Jean Dujardin) is blindsided by a truck and confined to critical care. Perhaps horrified by his accident make-up, Ludo’s friends all decide to go on holiday regardless.
Tensions soon surface. Restaurateur Max (François Cluzet) and chiropractor Vincent (Benoî Magimel) are having an awkward time of it. Both have travelled with wives and families but neither can forget about Vincent’s recent declaration of love for his older friend and host. He’s not gay, he says. He doesn’t want to sleep with Max. He’s just really, really into him.
Appalled and distressed by this outbreak of bromance, Max retreats and spends the entire vacation shouting and chasing weasels. No. Not cocktail cabinet metaphorical weasels. Actual weasels.
Elsewhere, star-crossed swain Antoine, ageing Lothario Eric and pot-smoking free spirit Marie (played by the director’s real-life partner, Marion Cotillard) bump into each other with no discernable purpose beyond swelling the ranks of a large, inexplicably diverse travelling party.
We have many questions. How did Guillaume Canet, whose deft direction made Tell No One a breakout global hit, came to preside over this dreary, nonsensical dramedy? An orgy of clichés and implausibility, Little White Lies is an unwelcome, inferior Gallic riposte of Couples Retreat.
Actually, that’s not fair. Even that Vince Vaughn movie thought to include vaguely people-shaped objects like “Kirsten Davies as Wife” throughout. Canet’s script can barely muster such onedimensional squiggles. We have no idea how this ill-defined mob of petite bourgeoisie ended up being petites vacances buddies. Their few dimly outlined attributes indicate little by way of common ground and plenty by way of irritants.
With no particular place to go and an awfully long time to make the trek (two-and-a-half hoursplus!) Little White Lies is reduced to ramping up the score around minor reveals and tangential developments. The effect runs counter to Joanna Hogg’s similarly themed and infinitely superior Joanna Hogg Unrelated and Archipelago. But where those recent films strived to understand and underline the dramatic importance of small things, Canet’s film is trivial and entirely dependent on non-diegetic clues.
It’s all the swing of a sledgehammer and none of the impact. Reader, we didn’t buy it for but one of its 154 minutes. Wes Craven’s belated fourth entry to the Scream franchise also opens this week, but
(as the 16-cert film is annoyingly titled) did not receive a press screening in Ireland. Apparently the postmodern jokes are, this time, at the expense of horror movie remakes. David Arquette, Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox all return. Who knows, it could be gre4t.
Seven’s a crowd: Winnie the Pooh and crew