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|
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.
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.
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.
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.