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Friendship and loyalty are themes of 'Piglet's' flick

PIGLET'S BIG MOVIE — ** 1/2 — Animated film based on characters created by A.A. Milne; featuring the voice talents of John Fiedler, Jim Cummings, Ken Sansom, Kath Soucie and others; rated G (animated violence); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for complete listing of local theaters.

More than the film itself, it's the none-too-subtle message that makes "Piglet's Big Movie" worthwhile.

The flat, static quality of the animation in this lightweight adventure — the latest of Disney's animated features based on A.A. Milne's beloved "Winnie the Pooh" characters — practically shrieks direct-to-video. And the story, even at 75 minutes, seems ridiculously padded. (Some of it rehashes other "Pooh" films.)

But there's something about a film that espouses the virtues of loyalty, compassion and hard work that is pretty appealing — especially when you consider how much those things need to be expressed in this time of turmoil and uncertainty. And that's just enough to earn this one a recommendation.

This time around, Piglet (voiced once more by veteran character actor John Fiedler) is wondering about his place in the Hundred Acre Wood. What's really gotten his goat is that he helped his pals pull off a successful "Hunny Harvest" and received no credit for it. So Piglet heads off into the woods to do some thinking.

What he doesn't know is that Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) and the others have come to the same conclusion — that they've undervalued Piglet's contribution. The trouble is, he's gone missing. So they try to locate him, using his "Book of Memories" as a map.

Though it pretends to be something more, the plot is little more than an excuse to tell a series of shorter tales — including an adaptation of Milne's "The House at Pooh Corner." A few of the stories aren't really up to snuff, and at least one of them is a bit distasteful (in which the characters attempt to kidnap a child).

And the animation's really not up to usual high Disney standards; the characters look expressionless at times, and the watercolor-style backgrounds don't seem to have been fully rendered.

However, it is great to hear Fiedler return as the voice of Piglet, and Cummings and Utahn Ken Sansom (who voices Rabbit) fill in nicely for the actors who originated those roles.

As for the five new songs on the soundtrack by Carly Simon, they're not exactly her most memorable work, but they're OK.

"Piglet's Big Movie" is rated G, though it does contain a couple of scenes of slapstick violence and mild peril. Running time: 75 minutes.