Cute, cuddly, wholesome and well-intentioned — all this you’d expect from a movie starring Winnie the Pooh and Co.
Walking into “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie,” though, you’ll also get a parable about prejudice that could easily apply to today’s heightened fears about homeland security.
Little kids won’t notice. They’ll be too enraptured by the bouncy, slapstick adventures of Pooh and his animated buddies in the Hundred Acre Wood. But oh yes, it’s right there in front of you, as plain as Pooh Bear’s beloved hunny pots.
The source of their fear comes one morning when Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) and the other A.A. Milne creatures hear a noise that rattles their usual idyll. The crotchety Rabbit (Ken Samson) tells his crew the sound could only have been made by a Heffalump, an evildoer with “fiery eyes and a tail with a spike” which is “wide as a river and tall as a tree,” as the “The Horribly Hazardous Heffalumps” song goes.
Little Roo (Nikita Hopkins) isn’t scared. He thinks it sounds “neat,” and wants to tag along with the big kids on their Heffalump hunting expedition, which the Rumsfeldian Rabbit has orchestrated, complete with elaborate traps that make the best use of his troops’ natural ground game.
“I’d like to see a Heffalump try to breach these defenses,” Rabbit huffs confidently.
Tigger (also Cummings), Piglet (John Fiedler) and the guys have told Roo he’s too young to join them in battle. But Roo sneaks off on his own, runs into one of these Heffalumps and quickly realizes there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a goofy kid like him, named Lumpy (Kyle Stanger), who looks like a lavender baby elephant and speaks with a British accent. (If Bridget Jones were a cartoon character, this is what she’d look like.)
“A spiky tail? I wish I had one,” Lumpy jokes, shaking the hot-pink plume of feathers that adorn his backside.
As the mismatched new friends run around the woods together, Lumpy divulges that he has seen Roo’s pals, and he thinks they’re terrifying, too.
Xenophobia is bad, we learn from director Frank Nissen’s movie, which was written by Brian Hohlfeld (who also wrote 2003’s “Piglet’s Big Movie”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Singing Carly Simon songs in the forest and returning home when your mommy calls is good. (Kath Soucie provides the voice of Roo’s mom, Kanga, and Brenda Blethyn voices the formidable Mama Heffalump. Who wouldn’t answer her call?)
It may sound innocent and overly simplistic — and it is — but its brief running time and feel-good message make it ideally suited for the littlest Roos out there, and their patient parents. During a time in which wall-to-wall pop culture references have become the standard in animated family fare, it’s refreshing to find not a single drop of irony here.