|When Christopher Robin leaves for college, his abandoned animal hybrid friends in the Hundred Acre Woods mentally suffer, slowly turning to murder.
|1 hour, 24 minutes
|February 15, 2023
|Not yet rated for USA. For comparative purposes, rated R18+ in Australia, R16 in New Zealand.
|ITN Distribution, ITN Studios, Fathom Events (theatrical)
|Andrew Scott Bell
|Nikolai Leon, Maria Taylor, Amber Doig-Thorne
Under US copyright law, an author’s work enters the public domain and can therefore be used legally either seventy years after the creator’s death, or ninety-five years after their publication. On January 1st, 2022, A. A. Milne’s 1926 classic story featuring Winne-the-Pooh reached its ninety-five-year copyright limit, finally ending Disney’s exclusive ownership, leaving the work a free-for-all without legal repercussion (provided creatives only utilized elements introduced in the 1926 book).
It used to be a shorter time period, but Disney famously took the issue to court and extended exclusive ownership rights for intellectual properties by two decades. Yet no one can hog a piece of art forever. The act merely delayed the inevitable: Disney’s original incarnation of Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain in 2024. What are they really scared about?
We’re close to entering the era where mega characters will become available in the public domain. Mickey Mouse. Batman. Superman. Disney’s Snow White, to name a few. You can tell Disney’s freaking out because they’ve suddenly added Steamboat Mickey as an opening film logo, while they’re conveniently timing their Snow White live action remake as a way to circumnavigate copyright law via protections over trademarks. Things are going to get messy in the legal realm, and it’s all because human nature sadly dictates that someone out there will grab onto these iconic characters and drag them into depravity, leaving mega corporations fearful they will mistakenly still be associated with such atrocious acts.
Sure enough, as though to fulfil that proof of concept, as soon as A. A. Milne’s first publication hit the public domain, director Rhys Frake-Waterfield latched onto the chance to turn characters like Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet into sadistic serial killers. Yet are Disney’s fears regarding the actions of independent filmmakers warranted? Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is a limited theatrical release, though I was surprised to find it screening overseas in my home country of Australia. With enough loyalty points built up with my local cinema to earn myself a free ticket, I decided to venture forth and witness for myself the darkest adventure in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Violence/Scary Images: This is a horror film, therefore it intends to scare its audience. Several people are murdered in a sadistic fashion usually through some variation of blunt force trauma. Characters are brutally hit in the head, mauled across the face, eaten, stabbed, decapitated, run over/hit by a car. Some gun violence. The main antagonists are half human, half animal hybrids, whose faces are unsettling. Cannibalism is present, and an eaten corpse is shown. Suffice to say, despite the names of children’s book characters in the film’s title, this is an R rated film, mostly due to its high level of gore. The camera will linger on the aftermath of the murders, not shying away from blood or from displaying crushed in skulls, etc.
Language/Crude Humor: F-bombs and s-words are dropped repeatedly, though not necessarily abundantly. The film contains its fair share of other swears, along with derogatory language like “freak”.
Drug/Alcohol References: One character holds a bottle of alcohol but uses it as a weapon. Chloroform is used to subdue a victim.
Sexual Content: In true schlocky horror fashion, a female victim is rendered topless for absolutely no discernible reason other than for exploitative nudity. Another woman wears a skimpy bikini and is later tied in a vulnerable position, which also feels exploitative. There is a lesbian couple, or at least that’s hinted—it’s not like this film properly establishes anything deeply.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: None, aside from the entire premise where beloved childhood characters are degraded and adapted beyond recognition.
Positive Content: …I’m really struggling to find something positive here. I guess some characters see the value of life and go out of their way to save others?
I keep asking myself the question, “What did I expect?”
I expected to see Winne the Pooh and Piglet kill a bunch of people. That’s what was advertised. That’s the entire gimmick to this film. In that way, yes, the film delivers. But I quickly realized there was so much more to that expectation. Winne the Pooh: Blood and Honey surprises and disappoints in ways that were not expected.
Let’s talk about the good things first, because it’ll be brief.
Cinematography. Vince Knight knows how to frame a shot. Some of the compositions in this film are surprisingly gorgeous to look at, and beautifully lit as well. Occasionally there’s a creative and daring angle which shows promise. The production design and locations used are also punching above their weight, although sometimes things look too clean and unlived in given the story. Essentially these production elements have no business being this good in a film that exists as a blatant gimmicky, exploitative cash grab.
Where the movie displays little to no talent is in the art of narrative storytelling. I don’t think anyone was expecting great things in this department, but surely one was hoping for more than a string of events lined up in chronological fashion. I don’t think I’ve ever had this criticism before, but the film lacks… establishing shots. Oh how quickly you realize how such shots are taken for granted! Characters enter a new space, and without a beat to properly react, they comment how things look different and wrong, instead of, you know, just turning the camera around to show the audience without the running commentary. It’s bizarre—actors are frequently tasked with what should be the camera’s job, constantly noting things in the environment and describing what they see, which can easily be remedied by showing and not telling. Film is a visual medium!
As a result, everything is over scripted. Half the dialogue is superfluous and could be scrapped immediately. The film was shot in under two weeks, and YouTube’s Spookyastronauts suggested that scenes may have been improvised. I think that’s a good assumption to make, because it feels like there’s missing visual data to really flesh out sequences properly, as though pre-production never included a storyboarding process.
This is most notable during the kills. There’s a certain lack of creativity or instinct when it comes to the deaths. It’s as though the characters are standing around waiting to be killed, because that’s the two-sentence brief the actors were given in their underdeveloped script. There’s no chase, hunt, or cat and mouse style sequences. There’s no tension or close calls. It’s all very simplistic and anti-climatic; it’s all too easy for Winnie and Piglet. It’s painful when characters do get the opportunity to flee—in one such scene, a character finds themselves in a pool with the killer. They flounder in the water because for whatever reason they just haven’t grasped the concept of simply swimming away.
Instead, all of the focus is on the gore, and while other technical elements of this production are done well, it does feel like most of the film’s budget and discussion revolved around how to make the creative practical effects look as icky as possible. Gore is an interesting factor in a film. Not everyone is a fan. I’m not keen, but I have seen gore work well in films before and can understand and appreciate its role in storytelling. Sometimes in movies it’s so over the top that it will illicit a fun squeal and shift the tone into dark comedic territory. Other times it’s needed to impact the audience, for the weight of a death to be felt. The Final Destination franchise developed a whole reputation around its signature elaborate death sequences and gory ends to great effect, whilst the Saw films took things too far and uncomfortably replicated torture on screen which offered little in thematic contribution. In Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, from a storytelling perspective, the gore does nothing to enhance the narrative. It feels like it’s there because someone told the director that gore is needed to make a successful horror film (untrue). It’s purely exploitative, much like the film’s usage of nudity as well. The gore is occasionally so ridiculous that it’s on the fun side, but in another gobsmackingly daft decision, sometimes the practical effects (which are pretty good) are overlaid with really bad CGI blood, as though they ran out of money for some extra tomato sauce. The combination of practical effects and CGI is not a good look.
With the eye-roll worthy escape attempts (or lack thereof) and obsession with gore, along with the ridiculous concept itself that Winnie the Pooh is the perpetrator—stalking people, staring at them through windows, creepily eating honey, etc—it’s easy to ponder how seriously we should be taking this film. Yet the movie isn’t competent enough to pull off the comedic timing necessary to provide the audience with the nudge and the wink to signal that it intends to be darkly humorous. It also keeps changing its mind as to which character should be the lead, introducing several characters but mastering none. It never develops its characters beyond what could be learnt in a one-sentence synopsis, and therefore never explores any themes, meaning the film can’t be taken as a serious piece of work either. The movie is tonally dead. Soulless. It’s neither scary, thought-provoking or funny. It’s a bad film, and not necessarily the good kind.
And that’s only half of the film’s problems. The acting—the cast are doing their best in less-than-ideal circumstances, but the lack of competent direction means they never reach the highs and lows of what their performance requires.
It’s all the little things. The film contains a series of minutely bad creative choices which ebb away at its own enjoyment. For instance, the characters never seem to whisper even when the killer is in their midst. It’s baffling considering there doesn’t appear to be any problems regarding the competence of the film’s live sound recordings. However, the movie’s score kicks in more during the second half, and the film’s sound mix feels unbalanced, where dialogue is set to the same level and prominence as the music, not above.
One creative decision that’s good is the inclusion of animation. The backstory of how Pooh and friends descended into madness is shown through a lightly sketched animated sequence, reminiscent of the franchise’s earliest drawings, while the style also maintains that sense of childlike innocence. It’s a good introduction and appetizer for things to come, but it soon becomes clear that it’s the only attempt of an explanation the story is going to offer. There’s no further character development, and the person who has the deepest relationship and the highest stakes around them—Christopher Robin—is painfully underutilized. Are Pooh and his friends killing people for food? Or have they gone mad and become sadists? The film is sadly unclear on their motivations, and a generic “their minds have snapped” explanation doesn’t cut it. Are they mute, or can they talk? Pick a lane!
Things are so underdeveloped that the core premise of the film falls into question. Are we really seeing Pooh and Piglet become murderous entities? They are so far removed from the original source material that their role could easily be changed into one of a deranged fan that likes to wear the masks of characters from the franchise. Seeing Pooh, an adult half human, half bear hybrid utilize his animal strength is somewhat intriguing, but the film has no justification behind any of his actions, so nothing we’re watching feels like it is actually these characters that we know from before.
As an actor, I’m not a fan of the phrase “out of character”, simply because if you develop and change the right given circumstances, then you can justify almost any behaviour from a character. For instance, the Joker’s propensity for murder is going to be much higher than Batman’s; you don’t have to work so hard to justify the Joker killing someone. But for Batman where that is an established boundary, there have been entire character arcs and explorations into finding where that boundary begins and ends, and it’s so interesting to see that character pushed and his actions justified. For a film like Winne the Pooh: Blood and Honey, how much better would it have been to stay closer to the source material? What if through innocent means, Piglet murders someone, runs around gasping “Oh d-d-d-dear!”* and then involves Pooh in a cover up, except they’re both too innocent and bumbling for such a task and only make things worse? Pooh and Piglet as murderers could be done, and done well. Or change the tone and go for a dystopian Animal Farm feel. If the script was more developed and clever with its justifications towards character motivations, this premise could have gone in better directions.
*(I’m unsure whether this speech pattern was established by Disney and therefore couldn’t be used without a breach in copyright law. I wasn’t a huge fan of Winnie the Pooh growing up, so I can’t say this film destroyed my childhood, unlike what others are saying. Pooh and Piglet in Blood and Honey are so unrecognizable that it’s hard to see how it will challenge anyone’s beloved memories of the books or show).
I’m really struggling to latch onto anything about this film that would warrant a recommendation for watching it. Even the gory exploitative styled horrors by Eli Roth still explored core fears (foreign environments, isolation, disease, etc) which could be discussed and unpacked with others after the film. Winne the Pooh: Blood and Honey has nothing of substance. If anything, it’s just everyone’s fears regarding the release of popular properties into the public domain coming true—which isn’t scary but rather annoying, as though society just has to sit back and wait for the cashgrabbers to get this silly, gutter drivel out of their system until we can get some more creatively inspired independent art. What’s the saying? Directors like Rhys Frake-Waterfield are “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”. Thanks Ian Malcolm; the wisdom of great films like Jurassic Park still ring true today (which will also no doubt be butchered once it hits the public domain).
Fellow Aussie film critic, Spookyastronauts, experienced a full cinema at her late night session, which set a better fun-loving mood than the twenty-people-strong that were in my theatre, where there were no giggles, only the shuffling in seats from boredom. Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is really the type of cult film you watch with friends, having it play out in the background while you catch up and joke around, only to occasionally glance at the screen to admire its ridiculousness. That’s it. That’s the only scenario I can imagine it could be worth the “watch”, and even then there are better movies that fit that role. When it comes to my system of scoring, a 7/10 is your average competent film. A 6/10 is flawed but good. 5/10 is when boredom starts to settle in, where the film has lost most points for story, and every point lower is a subtraction of technical elements. Winne the Pooh: Blood and Honey is boring at times, but it still contains some decent technical elements, and the story isn’t completely non-sensical; it’s just poorly developed. That’s as generous as I can be towards this film.
+ Cinematography (framing)
+ Production design
- Cinematography (lack of necessary shots for story composition)
- Sound mix
- Over scripted dialogue
- Unsatisfying justification for character motivations
- No tension for a horror film
- Unnecessary bad CGI
- No character development
- Unforgivably bad decisions by characters
- Exploitative in gore and nudity
- No real connection to source material
- The fact this list is so long yet still doesn't cover everything bad about this film
The Bottom Line
Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey technically delivers what it’s selling, though it leaves much to be desired in many unexpected ways.