Thursday, November 4, 2010


I was taken way back to the days of my childhood again recently, when my wife and I watched The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh. I loved Pooh as a kid. I loved his simple nature, his direct way of seeing things, his naivete, and his good hearted love of honey. I love the amiable way Pooh goes around wishing everyone a "happy winds-day" during the tempestuous weather. And his innocence in trying to trick the bees into thinking he's a harmless rain cloud so that he can steal their honey. He's really just one of the most heartwarming characters I've ever seen. And his compatriots in the Hundred Acre Wood are only slightly less charming. Piglet is all nervous, tuttering energy. Rabbit, fastiduous and annoyingly whiny. Owl, long-winded and pompous, but also blessed with a good heart. Kanga and Roo the sweet mother/son team. And, of course, my two favorites as a child: depressive Eeyore, and bombastically energetic Tigger.

The movie is really just three short films put together into one movie, a process they used to refer to as "package films". Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree from 1966, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day from 1968, and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too! from 1974, all put together and released as a full length movie in 1977. One of my favorite parts about the movie is that Disney translated the stories to the screen as though they were actually stories being told to us by the movie's narrator (perfectly voiced by Sebastian Cabot). Occasionally the characters themselves even interact with the narrator reading the stories that play out their lives.

Well, "lives" may be stretching it, considering that the whole concept of Pooh is that the characters are stuffed animals brought to life through the imagination of their owner, the young Christopher Robin. That's actually another great little detail of the animation, the way that the animators gave the characters the weight and feeling of stuffed animals brought to life and not like real animals. They took much inspiration from the terrific book illustrations by EH Shepard, but gave the characters movement and really brought them to life for all of us to enjoy. In combination with the animators, there's the tremendous voice work, most especially Sterling Holloway's work as Pooh, and Paul Winchell's famous voicing of Tigger. All the actors really help the characters jump off screen, but those two are special.

There is apparently a new Pooh movie Disney has scheduled to come out next summer, just called Winnie the Pooh. It's supposed to take the same inspiration from Shepard's original illustrations, and has great voice work lined up from Jim Cummings (who's done so much amazing voice work I wouldn't even know where to start listing it from), John Cleese as the narrator, and a theme song sung by Zooey Deschanel. But I'm leery of anything that might infringe on my affections for Pooh bear and the gang, one of the many reasons I've stayed away from the innumerable direct-to-video stuff that's been released over the last decade or so. But hopefully it can capture some of the magic that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh did all those years ago. Watching it made me feel like a kid again, in the best possible way.

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