Monday, October 05, 2009

Revenge of the Woozles

Among the pleasures of relocating one's family to a foreign country is the respite it gives from the media flood.  In the internet age this is, to be sure, a very modest respite.  The same device which lets Father Anonymous write this blog also lets Mother A. use Facebook to stay in touch with Back Home, and Baby A. make Skype videocalls to Gammer and My Old Pa. 

But still, the waters do recede a bit.  Sure, the cable TV still has plenty of channels, but they're all in Romanian or Hungarian (except the steamy Mexican telenovelas, which are in undubbed Spanish).  Baby A. forced us flip channels the other day, and finally settled on what was, apparently, the most toddler-friendly thing showing:  Orthodox Mass from the Patriarchal Basilica. 

So we fall back on Old Media,  the handful of books shoved into our bags as we boarded the tramp steamer.   You know, the ones we couldn't live without:  Nestle-Aland, Concordia Triglotta, and the Aeneid.  That's for the kid, of course.  For the tired clergy couple, there are other classics:  H.A. Rey, Beatrix Potter and -- to be sure! -- A.A. Milne.  Because, after all, who doesn't love Pooh?

Besides Disney, we mean.  By our reasoning, they must hate the Silly Old Bear with some special, and deathless, passion.  

Now, mind you, we like Disney.  Mickey and, especially, Donald actually bring us more delight now than they ever did in childhood.  Among the happiest vacation memories of recent years was a trip to Disneyland, when -- after we were forced to board a mechanical boat for a ride we especially dreaded -- the lights went out and the robots began to malfunction in comically terrifying ways.  (We emerged from the tunnel lustily singing "It's a Westworld after all.")

It's the adaptations that bother us.  After doing fair work on the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, Disney got mixed results from their next phase, the reduction to celluloid of various modern works.  The Jungle Book is probably the best of the bunch -- King Louis indeed!  Their version of Alice adds nothing and loses the math.  Peter Pan will break the heart of anybody who has ever enjoyed the book, and as for Uncle Remus, well, nobody under 40 will ever know, because it ain't for sale in the US.

But Pooh?  Oh, the movie is watchable enough, although markedly inferior to -- say -- sitting on a parent's lap with your eyes closed, listening to the original chapter-by-chapter. Saccharine, sure, but consider the source.  The problems set in afterward, with the sequels and merchandising, all of which became progressively worse.  The Milne estate tried to reclaim the rights, and failed.  (Well, sort of failed).  Which brought us, in due time, to the monstrous infamy called My Friends Tigger and Pooh.

This piece of carelessly animated mouse excreta, shown on Disney's junior channel, has replaced Christopher Robin with a girl named Darby, who romps through the woods with her puppy dog.  Pooh and Tigger are turned into "detectives" wearing purple uniforms -- in other words, rent-a-cops, no doubt a cynical comment on the highest professional aspirations Disney can imagine for children raised on a show like this.

This is the sort of thing -- okay, this is the very thing -- which makes you throw up your hands in despair and say, "Hang it all, I'm moving to another continent, and praying that this drivel doesn't follow me."

So you can imagine our concern, dear reader, to hear that an "authorized" sequel to the Milne books is forthcoming.  It is called Return to the Hundred-Acre Wood, and written by an elderly gent named David Benedictus -- whose name, we should observe, makes us want to rise at dawn with a song on our lips.  Now, mind you, it was authorized by the Milne estate, not by Disney.  (That's where the "sort of" comes in -- technically, Disney only owns merchandising rights.  How the Darby show qualifies as "merchandising" is a matter best left to the lawyers, or to Satan.)  This may offer some hope.  Benedictus is an accomplished author.  An illustration by Mark Burgess, reproduced in the Times, is more Garth Williams than E.H. Shepard, but there's nothing wrong with that.

We are apprehensive, because Pooh has been treated so badly.  We would rather that he dropped out of sight for a generation or two, forgotten except by a modest cult -- pretty much what is happening to Wind in the Willows, and that despite Mr Toad's Wild Ride.  But if Pooh stories must be told, by somebody besides the parents of small children, we suppose it is best that they be told by anybody -- anybody -- except the Walt Disney Studios.

PS:  Midway through this post, Mother A. sweetly informed us that Baby A. has already found My Friend etc. on local TV, broadcast in Hungarian.  There is no hope for the human race.

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