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Breanna - a lifelong Disney fan - is a writer who lives on a cattle ranch in Alabama. She wants a t-shirt that says, "Where Were You When Mufasa Died?"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

“Silly Old Bear”

          I’ve said a couple of times that a few films stand out among what is considered the Disney norm, but The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a particular oddity.  For one thing, this film did not begin as a feature length film.  “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” was released as an animated short back in 1966, “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” was released in 1968, and finally “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” was released to the world in 1974.  They only decided to release the three shorts together as a full-length film because it was a cost effective option to capitalize on the popularity that the shorts had generated. So essentially, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a 1977 package film. 
            What’s more is that this film also marks the final time Walt had a hand in a Disney animated film, since “Honey Tree” was released when he was still alive, and he oversaw part of the production of “Blustery Day.”  The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh also stands out because it practically started its own franchise.  I know that there have been plenty of Disney brands to come out of the movies, namely the Disney Princess brand and the Disney Fairies brand.  But the Disney Princess brand is built upon an amalgamation of not one but several Disney films, and the Disney Fairies really only took off when they began writing the Never Land Fairies’ books.  The popularity of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was really all it took to begin the Winnie the Pooh franchise.
This is a Winnie the Pooh infant and toddler bathtub
            And what a franchise!  Winnie the Pooh is everywhere.  I can’t say how many a Target, Wal Mart, and Toys R’ Us I’ve been in and seen a Winnie the Pooh something, mostly on products geared towards really young children and babies.  There always seems to be a new Winnie the Pooh series on Playhouse Disney and Toon Disney has released a couple of movies with the Winnie the Pooh characters.  Don’t even get me started on Winnie the Pooh’s presence in the theme parks.
            Because it’s a tremendous presence.  Not only are the face characters of Pooh and Tigger incredibly popular, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh inspired a dark ride attraction of the same name (you might have heard me bemoaning the fact that Winnie the Pooh murdered Mr. Toad in an earlier post).  This dark ride is so widely popular that there is a version of it in Disneyland, Disney World, and Hong Kong Disneyland.  Though I love the Florida one personally, I’ve heard that the most superior Winnie the Pooh attraction is over in Tokyo Disneyland.  Called Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, it’s supposed to be more elaborate than even Disney World’s dark ride, but I’ve never experienced it for myself since I have yet to go to Japan.  So if anyone reading is willing to part ways with a few yen so that I can make my way over to Tokyo Disneyland, I would be happy to let my readers know about the experience of Pooh’s Hunny Hunt.
            Due to so much Pooh exposure, I had written off Winnie the Pooh as something strictly for the younger set to enjoy.  It actually wasn’t until about two years ago when I was working at Disney that I decided to purchase a copy of the Friendship Edition of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to aid towards completing my Disney film collection.  Color me taken aback because when I finally sat down to watch it I was pleasantly surprised at the experience.  It does indeed appeal to that precious childhood sensibility, and manages to help the cynical adults watching tap into that as well.
            Pooh Bear is a very simple sort of character.  We know everything we need to know about him in the first five minutes of his introduction: he is a bear of lots of fluff and very little brain and he likes honey.   Most of the characters are simple representations of the personalities we impart on our toys as children.  A lot of the charm in the animation is the limitations imparted on the characters for being toys.  In a way, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was a spiritual precursor to Pixar’s Toy Story
            Less is more is definitely the mantra of Winnie the Pooh.  The whole feel of the film is confined within the limitations of a children’s book and the effect is breathtaking.  There’s an illustrative quality to the backgrounds and they do quite a few tricks with the actual book text that adds another level to the film. This could be the writer coming out in me, but some of my favorite scenes from Winnie the Pooh are when the animation and the book come together to break the fourth wall.  The moment the narrator helps Tigger down from the tree always makes me smile.  For once, the third person narrator is the hero of the day.
            Sebastian Cabot narrated Winnie the Pooh (of Bagheera and Sir Ector fame), which would be his final film role.   This film would also mark the last film roles for Barbara Luddy (famously Lady and Merryweather) who supplied the voice for Kanga, and Junius Matthews (who had previously voiced Archimedes) as Rabbit.  These were just a few of the returning Disney voices in Winnie the Pooh.  Howard Morris played Gopher, who is the only character created specifically for the film and was not in the book; he’s essentially the same character as Beaver from Lady and the Tramp, but what are you going to do?  John Fiedler, who had appeared in Robin Hood as one of the church mice, voiced Piglet.  Clint Howard and Bruce Reitherman, who both had roles in The Jungle Book, supplied the voices for Roo and Christopher Robin in some of the shorts.
            But Winnie the Pooh is definitely a showcase of the talents for two voice actors in particular.  Pooh Bear is easily Sterling Holloway’s most famous role and for good reason.  For having such a distinct and recognizable voice, Holloway proved to be incredibly versatile for having such a diverse résumé of characters under his belt.  He imparts such a thoughtful brainlessness on Pooh that’s friendly and playful all at the same time.  I don’t think any other actor could have made the phrase “rumbly in my tumbly” sound so sweet.
            The other standout was Paul Winchell in the role that defined his career: Tigger.  Tigger became a hugely popular character after his debut in the second short and I place the majority of the blame on Winchell.  So many of the famous Tigger-isms were adlibbed by Winchell himself: his distinctive laugh and “TTFN – Ta Ta for now.”  The image of Tigger pouncing on Pooh is the icon of all things Pooh, but my favorite part of Tigger’s introductory scene was when he spots the “imposter” Tigger. 
            Of course, this scene leads into the most surreal, psychedelic animated scene since “Pink Elephants on Parade” in Dumbo.  I have to admit that “Heffalumps and Woozles” makes a bit more sense within the narrative than “Pink Elephants” ever did and it does not quite reach the same level of abstract art film aesthetic “Pink Elephants” possesses.  I love some of the imagery they manage to pull off with all of the honey and the honey pots.  The part where the Heffalump uses a combination of her trunk and strands of sticky honey to make a harp was awesome.

            So if you were at all like me two years ago and were ready to write Winnie the Pooh off as mere kids’ fare, don’t be so quick.  Though a lot of what is released under the Pooh banner is sickly eye rolling sweet, the original film is beautifully animated and voiced. Though the film is very obviously made of segments, the framing format works so beautifully that the audience never questions whether or not they are watching a feature length film.  Its ending is so bittersweet and yet so honest that it stays with the audience long after the film is over.  The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh succeeds as the perfect package film.  The film has had such an impact, that Disney animation is returning to the 100-Acre Wood in the summer of 2011 for its 51st animated feature.  This time, though, they are returning to the original children’s book format of the original film.  And guys… it’s a hand drawn animated film.  Disney Animation Studios, that was a very grand thing to do.   


  1. It's hard to view this movie as a movie since it's 70% previously released material. In some places, the shorts have been altered. Christopher Robin from "Honey Tree" has been redubbed. I sort of miss the way "Little Black Rain Cloud" sounded the first time around. There are a few other issues with the stitching together of shorts. It mostly works, and I like most of the linking bits, but errors and confusions creep in. I try to keep a watch on the page numbers, which do seem to stay in sequence, but the chapter headings make no sense. the "Tigger Too" segment starts with Chapter III or so, which is bizarre considering how far into the book we are, and then the next chapter is Chapter X! In fact, I seem to recall it being Chapter X twice in this movie.

    Having said that, I love so much of the content of the film. Blustery Day is a wonderful short that was nominated for the Oscar for best animated short subject. I love Tigger and all the comedy in the movie. "Tiggers don't like honey!" Brilliant. "Heffalumps and Woozles" is so much fun. I've spent hours singing the song over and over. All the songs in this movie are great actually, capturing the tum ti tum quality of Milne's poetry as well as being catchy tunes. The Sherman Bros. did a great job which is why it was such a disappointment when they came back for the Tigger Movie and the songs were so blah.

    There are really so many wonderfully memorable moments in the film it's hard to pick one. So why watch this instead of the shorts individually? For the wonderful epilogue. It's a very touching moment between Pooh and Christopher Robin that is pretty much right out of the second book.

    I agree that the recent over-saturation of Pooh has gotten ridiculous and I hate that they've equated him with preschool. This has meant that the rash of Pooh-related films are not all that great. Piglet's Big Movie plays very young (but as a plus takes a lot of its story material from the book), Pooh's Grand Adventure is mostly bland, but has one great song. None have topped this. The best Pooh companion to this movie is the Emmy-winning "New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" TV series, preferably the early ones when Paul Winchell was still voicing Tigger.

    Another small note here: some years back, there were times when the Disney Channel ran this film with the "Day For Eeyore" short spliced in instead of "Tigger Too". This is not only annoying, but creates a continuity error since Owl loses his house in the film and moves into Piglet's house, but in all subsequent films and that short he has his house again. Also, some video releases of "Day For Eeyore" were slightly edited. No idea why. It shouldn't even really count since it wasn't animated by the Disney studio.

    I've rambled here. It's a great movie. Hip hip hooray for Winnie-the-Pooh (and Piglet too).

  2. Some characters in stories tend to become favorites because we wish we were like them or had some aspect of their life. However, there are others we love because we see bits of ourselves in them. And oh boy, did I ever relate myself to Piglet. Piglet was always scared of everything, just like I was. So I would feel highly attatched to him. I still do, in fact.

    I also remember as a child not realizing that Rabbit and Piglet were boys. Oops on my part.

    As for the movie, I always have loved the fact that they used the story book. I've always felt that it was a very creative approach. Which also has me even more excited for the new movie! I also am totally in love with the narrator. Sebastian Cabot's voice was very warm sounding.

    The music in this is very whimsical and fun. From "Heffalumps and Woozles" abd "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers" it seems that it would be impossible not to smile and bounce along.

    I must make note that so many fun quotes come from Tigger. "TTFN" and "Halooooo!!!" I also love the fact that Rabbit is so stubborn when he's trying to stop Tigger from bouncing and in the end, he just gets himself lost because of it.

    I'm also annoyed with how Pooh is associated with pre-school anymore. Yet, as jon said, I love "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." I remember watching it when I was a kid, and I still hope that they'll release the whole series on DVD (Disney is horrible at doing that so I shouldn't get my hopes up.) Plus, my favorite Pooh related song is it's theme song.

    So I'm pretty sure that's all I have to say. TTFN! Ta-ta for now!

  3. I never saw the entirety of this film; my mother taped a couple of Pooh shorts off the TV sometime in the late '80s on the same VHS cassettes she taped several full-length movies on ('Cinderella', 'Sleeping Beauty', 'Dumbo', etc.), so they formed a sort of double-feature-and-a-short type set-up. I vividly remember "Blustery Day" and "Tigger Too". Tigger's opening scene is great, but my all-time favorite characters are Kanga and Little Roo. I still wish we could've seen more of them! All of the songs are bouncy and catchy and lots of fun, and the "Heffalumps and Woozles" sequence is great. Sometimes I think life would be so much easier if we were all a little more like Pooh Bear.