One of my fondest childhood memories is of my Dad reading Winnie the Pooh stories to my sisters and me before bedtime. It wasn't a nightly occurence, but it was an event routine enough that we always looked forward to it.
As children, I don't know that we caught much of the profound wisdom in the simple stories of a boy and his imaginary animal friends, but we loved to hear those stories again and again.
We loved Tigger's exuberance and Pooh's constant befuddlement. We were comforted by Kanga's constant maternal presence, and could totally relate to Roo's equally constant desire to escape from the pouch.
We didn't have any idea of what these characters looked like beyond the sketches we saw in the book, or how they talked beyond the voices our father gave them.
My own children have not been so lucky. Growing up in an age where Disney threatens to invade every aspect of childhood, they haven't had the luxury of reading many books without first being exposed to the Disney versions on TV and film. And even when they do read books first, the movie versions still leave much to be desired.
Sure, it's my fault. I let them watch TV, and I take them to the movies. But is it too much to ask for Disney executives to produce films and shows that do justice to the original texts? The stories of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin might be the classic tales of childhood imagination and exploration, but there's a lot more to them than that.
When I considered attending college at Webster University, I remember being intrigued by an entire Freshman Seminar centered around A.A. Milne's tales. Maybe those discussions are a bit too deep for the preschool set, but that doesn't mean that they should be discarded entirely. Even Sesame Street is written on more than one level; it can be done.
So this morning, it was with trepidation that I headed to an advance screening of Disney's new Winnie the Pooh movie. My 7 year-old had already proclaimed Pooh to be "too boring and babyish" and decided not to attend, but I had foolishly optimistic expectations for my 3 year-old (and for myself.)
But Disney has owned the rights to author A.A. Milne's characters since 1961. What did I expect? The same company that reduced the incredibly intelligent Winnie the Pooh stories into a sweet, saccharine marketing franchise suitable for decorating gender-neutral nurseries worked its identical "magic" on the movie.
I've read reviews from other parents who find the film to be "sweet" in its simplicity, and think it is great for toddlers. Me? I found it mind-numbingly boring. Even my son kept telling me that there "aren't very many funny parts."
A children's book that doubles as a college text and all Disney could pull out of it was some overplayed theme about putting your friends before yourself? Yes, the film was true to the original characters and stories (which is more than you can say for the utterly bizarre Playhouse Disney's My Friends Tigger and Pooh), but it could have been so much more.
After leaving the theatre, all I could think was what a wonderful film I could have been watching, if only somebody besides Disney had gotten their hands on those rights so many years ago.