Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005)


Director: Jamie Mitchell, Alan Zaslove
Cast: Jodi Benson, Jennifer Hale, Linda Larkin, Bebe Neuwirth, Dan Castellaneta
(Disney DVD, 2005) Rated: Not rated
DVD release date: 6 September 2005

by Roger Holland

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Collect Them All?

In 1997, 700 children in Japan suffered a kind of epileptic fit while watching a cartoon film on television. One-fifth of them were admitted to the hospital, and pundits took the opportunity to proclaim yet again that children should not be allowed to watch television. Approximately none of these experts had children of their own.

Now, fair’s fair. It is possible that in a town called Perfect or, perhaps, Unfeasible, there are parents with jobs and bills to pay who do not allow their young children to watch at least some TV. But I’ve never met any of them, and I don’t aspire to such sainthood myself. Frankly, most of the parents I know are quite happy to rely on Noggin (it’s a TV channel) or the occasional DVD as the opiate for their children while they try to balance their checkbooks or scrape applesauce out of the carpet for the third time that week. This is the market Disney continues to target with staggering commercial success.

The “Disney Princess” brand is probably the single most cynical ploy (and that’s saying something) in Disney’s never-ending campaign to separate adults from their wages by way of their children. With one eye on Hello Kitty and the other on Barbie, Disney has gathered together just about every personable female character in its portfolio (and a host of old ’90s TV show footage) to build a franchise designed to sell “happy endings” and the worst kind of stereotypes imaginable.

Beauty Shines From Within is the third volume in the Disney Princess Stories series. Add to this, the two volumes of Disney Princess Sing Along Songs, a further two volumes of Disney Princess Party DVDs, a couple of music CDs, the Disney Princess Party Cake (“Every little girl deserves a princess cake. Ask your local retailer.”), the Disney Princess Live Experience (the musicals Snow White and Beauty And The Beast, plus the all new Disney Princesses On Ice), the costumes and accessories, the dolls, toys and games, the furniture, electronics and stationery and you have an industry worth more than the gross national products of two thirds of the nations of the world. In fact, I think it’s now illegal to use the word “princess” unless you precede it with the Disney brand name or logo.

Anyway, against all expert advice, I watched Disney’s three latest releases with a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy of my acquaintance to get the word from the… um… nursery, and the headline news is that Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie took all the plaudits.

Parents be advised. The pintsized critics I shared my sofa and popcorn with were utterly unimpressed with Disney Princess Sing Along Songs: Enchanted Tea Party (Volume 2). Apparently Volume One had used up all the best songs. And while the pinky purpleness of the whole Disney Princess extravaganza certainly caught the eye and imagination of the four-year-old girl, she and her brother both demanded a second viewing of Pooh over either of the Disney Princess offerings.

Disney’s Winnie the Pooh franchise annoys me almost as much its Princesses. I dislike what this Evil Empire has done to A. A. Milne’s books. I grit my teeth at the never-ending cycle of new stories — what’s next, I wonder, Eeyore’s Valentine’s Day Massacre? (Actually no, it’s the soon to be released Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin and, for good measure, Disney Princess: A Christmas of Enchantment) And I loathe the way they have reduced the characters to the thinness of paper. Above all else, I utterly despise that apocryphal Disney-invented Gopher, seen here in “archive” footage recycled as a play within a play.

All this said, Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie tells a simple story well and teaches a nice little moral. After Pooh, who has been utterly sidelined by his previously supporting characters, spoils Halloween by eating all the candy in the Hundred Acre Wood, Roo and his new friend Lumpy (introduced in the earlier cinema release Pooh’s Heffalump Movie [2005]) set off to save Halloween with all the usual hilarious and educational consequences, learning that friendship and loyalty can help you overcome your fears, and that Kanga always has a little extra candy put aside for a rainy day.

Beauty Shines From Within also offers wholesome messages. Cinderella tells the story of how she got to go to the ball and offers a slightly dubious message of hope: always have faith in your dreams. Jasmine (Aladdin [1992]) and Ariel (The Little Mermaid [1989]) each encounter a little magical adversity and discover not only that laughter is great medicine but that beauty is more than skin deep. This is the trade-off that Disney offers: simplistic life lessons and precious peace and quiet, in return for your hard-earned dollars. You might want to teach your children these lessons yourself, but then, you’re not as cute as Ariel or Lumpy. And where would you find the time to earn the money to keep Disney’s profits on track?

Once you’ve accepted Disney’s Deal-With-The-Devil, you only have two problems. The first is that your children may develop a Disney jones. There are far too many trailers and commercials on all these DVDs, and a Disney Princess catalog the size of the Manhattan telephone directory fell out of Beauty Shines From Within, much to a certain four-year-old’s delight. Collect them all, indeed.

And the second is that none of these DVDs have any of the Shrek-like wit or invention that speaks to those parents who must live with saturation repeat showings. While Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie proved to be just a little scary for a two-year-old and not at all scary for a four-year-old (“It’s a really nice movie”), the prospect of living with even one of Disney’s Princesses for any length of time fills me with dread.