Review in a Hurry: It's trickier than it looks to make a movie that offends absolutely nobody, but Winnie the Pooh is as close as it gets. Neither age-inappropriate nor insultingly childish, this classic-feeling throwback (in glorious 2-D hand-drawn animation!) stays true to the beloved characters and the books by A.A. Milne--though in doing so, it's also unavoidably scattershot and short.
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The Bigger Picture: Not including the animated short that precedes it--in which Billy Connolly narrates the Loch Ness monster's origin story--and the animated end titles (complete with post-credits gag), Winnie the Pooh has a running time of about an hour. To be true to Pooh, one really only can tell short stories, though directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall jazz things up visually by literally making the book's text come alive, and aurally by casting John Cleese as the omniscient narrator who occasionally addresses the characters directly.
If you're reading this, we can probably safely assume you know the basics of the Hundred Acre Wood. Pooh and friends are the stuffed playthings of a young English boy named Christopher Robin, and the "silly old bear" is constantly on the hunt for "hunny." He's alternately assisted and hindered by smarty-pants Owl, scaredy-cat Piglet, obsessive Rabbit, rambunctious Tigger, depressive Eeyore and the lovingly familial mother-son team of Kanga and Roo. In the unlikely event that you somehow escaped childhood not knowing any of that, find a nearby kid and have them explain.
The movie mostly deals with the search for Eeyore's lost tail, as well as a missing Christopher Robin who is presumed to have been abducted by a mythical beast called the Backson (a misreading of a note that says "back soon"). It's a plot familiar to Milne readers and thin material for a feature, but you can't just go writing a new story willy-nilly without alienating a massive chunk of the audience: young'uns who'll nitpick every deviation from the source. Yet the story is so episodic that it feels like it was designed to be started and stopped on the DVD player at any point, to be easily resumed without any confusion. That's not necessarily a criticism, but nor is it a wholehearted endorsement of a full-price admission purchase to the big-screen presentation.
New songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Richard Lopez and sometimes Zooey Deschanel are charming and fit the whimsical tone, though Deschanel's rendition of the classic theme song may be an acquired taste. The new voice actors are universally good, with Jim Cummings a near-dead ringer for the late Sterling Holloway and Craig Ferguson channeling his old Drew Carey Show persona for Owl.
Whether this movie serves as an introduction to Pooh or a refresher, kids should love it and you won't feel bad about them loving it. But you can easily wait for DVD--if you have children of your own, you'll end up buying it anyway.
The 180--a Second Opinion: Unlike the feature, that Nessie short really is only for the very young, and with its moral that crying for days on end solves your problem it perhaps is not one you want tantrum-prone tots to take to heart.