In my “Robin Hood” review, I proposed the idea that Disney compensated for their lower budgets and rougher animation quality during their dark age period of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s by making the humor as sharp and the characters as likable and memorable as they could in their films. Something that supports that theory is the fact that Disney’s Winnie the Pooh franchise was born during that era. I think most people should be familiar with said franchise about the eccentric stuffed bear, his quirky friends and his human playmate – Disney saturated the public with it during the late 20th century and early 21st century – and it remains a strong boyhood memory of mine. Winnie the Pooh made his debut to film in 1977, in a package film comprised of several shorts from the previous decade.
Something that makes Pooh’s first film notable is that it’s one of those Disney movies where there’s not much in the way of conflict. The closest thing to an antagonist this movie has is the citizens of the Hundred Acre Woods themselves being inconsiderate to each other, and it’s largely comprised of Pooh and his friends having zany misadventures in their community. It’s pretty much seventy-five minutes of pure, precocious fluff. Disney has done films that are low on stakes before and they sometimes wind up being very, very boring, but something that makes “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” clever (and a good head and shoulders above other package films the studio had produced in the past) is the fact that it gleefully breaks the fourth wall. Its cast knows they’re characters in a child’s storybook – whenever they feel like it they take shortcuts by jumping from page to page, Gopher glibly admits ‘he’s not in the book’, letters and paragraphs on the pages are sometimes ravaged by the elements, and in one segment Tiger has a nice, terrified chat with the narrator to get himself out of trouble. It’s not often that you see Disney have fun playing with the medium of their films, there aren’t many movies that could get away with such a thing (though “The Emperor’s New Groove” comes to mind), but it definitely contributes to this film being as lovable as it is.
While revisiting this film, I came to realize there are a lot of characters in this franchise; we’re introduced to eight people in the first segment, and we’re still not introduced to Piglet and Tigger until the second act. Despite being adults, Christopher Robin’s make-believe animal playmates all possess a child’s innocence, a child’s quirky nature and a child’s grasp of the English language as well. I’d say a large part of the appeal of “Winnie The Pooh’s” ensemble cast is that there is a wide variety of personalities and temperaments present for every audience member to latch on to. The head bear, Sterling Holloway, voiced a lot of characters in the Disney canon, but he will always be Winnie the Pooh to me (and the fact that I always think of Winnie the Pooh when I hear Holloway’s voice meant “The Jungle Book” was quite an interesting experience). Pooh is a very likable protagonist. You don’t have to love Pooh Bear but there’s very little to dislike about him as well. He’s an obtuse, happy-go lucky, roly poly stuffed bear who enjoys eating honey and spending time with his best friend, Christopher Robin. Pooh is outgoing and goofy, but nonetheless determined in what he sets out to do. I also love the occasional glimpses of ego we see from the character (“Now, is the next chapter all about me?” “No, it’s mostly about Tigger” “Oh”).
I think Pooh’s best quality is how much he values his friends; in particular, there’s a lovely moment of friendship involving Pooh and Piglet at the end of the second act. Pooh, who had been declared a hero by his friends despite not really doing anything to earn it, notices Piglet is now homeless after letting Owl have his house, so he lets Piglet stay with him for as long as he’d like – and in addition, asks Christopher Robin to celebrate Piglet as a hero for his selflessness deed. This scene never ceases to warm my heart. Despite being the creator of this universe, the Pooh god if you will, Christopher Robin isn’t a character in this film so much as he is a handy helper. A relatively grounded minor character who crops up every now and then to help out his whimsical friends. You can tell that while Christopher Robin is much more mild-mannered than his stuffed bear, Pooh got a lot of his quirky, thoughtful and plainspoken personality from him. Christopher Robin’s character gains substance in the film’s last scene, when the movie mines a surprising amount of pathos out of Christopher Robin’s childhood beginning to come to an end and his friendship with his stuffed bear, Pooh, being called into question when he has to go off to school – meaning he’ll be seeing his companion a lot less. The ending reassures us that even when he grows up, Christopher Robin’s old imaginary friend will always have a place in his heart.
Short, shy, and a bit of a doormat at times, little Piglet is definitely not a leader but a follower (which is probably why the subsequent TV series kept putting Piglet in positions where he had to step up and be a leader). Piglet has a large heart for a very small animal though and a lot of trust in his good buddy Pooh, who Piglet often accompanies for the second half of the film. Piglet has a pretty fretful nature and a constant struggle for him is trying to overcome that so he can be brave and considerate for his friends (I also sometimes wonder about Piglet’s age. He’s clearly supposed to be an adult like the others, but he’s also a piglet. No wonder he’s always so down about his size). By contrast, Rabbit is something of a prideful perfectionist; he’s haughty and tends to obsess over things being neat and orderly. The bossy, long-eared gardener is also the most long-suffering member of the group. Despite wanting to be left in peace for the most part, misfortune constantly befalls Rabbit, to the point where you actually start to worry about Rabbit’s stress level (for example, after having Pooh’s big behind stuck in his door for weeks, Rabbit makes this face when he can finally get rid of him). Depending on the day, Rabbit can either be the only sane man in the room, or the team grouch. Eventually, Rabbit starts to develop quite the vindictive streak, especially towards the shamelessly irresponsible Tigger, in the last act after being the movie’s punching bag a few times too many.
Speaking of Tigger, Paul Winchell’s Tigger is one of the more iconic characters from the Winnie the Pooh franchise, and for good reason. Tigger is the prankster of the group. Very hyper, very loving, somewhat macho, a bit talkative and definitely the most blokish of Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals. He’d probably be seen as something of a jerk if he wasn’t so well-meaning. Really he’s a big kid and the unofficial big brother of the gang – since, for all his faults, Tigger is very reliable in a pinch. He’s introduced halfway through the movie before having the entire last segment devoted to fleshing out his character (including a certain fear of heights he’s much too proud to admit to having). Tigger’s strained relationship with the far more high-strung Rabbit is in some ways similar to Baloo and Bagheera’s relationship in “The Jungle Book”, except Tigger is far more oblivious about how much Rabbit dislikes him, but also tends to have softer intentions. If there’s anything Tigger learns in this movie, it’s that all good things could do with some moderation, and it’s a lesson he learns the hard way. Eeyore is the snarky, pessimistic one of the group – bordering on apathetic – who feels somewhat underused by the movie until his moment in the sun comes in “The Blustery Day”, when he tries to find a new home for Owl. Eeyore kind of exists on the outer edge of the Hundred Acre Woods’ friend circle, not as closely knit as the others, and while he may seem gloomy, Eeyore does things his own way and it’s just the way he likes it.
Mother and son marsupials, Kanga and Roo are nice. So nice in fact that they’re kind of bland and boring, or at the very least, not characterized as strongly as the others. Kanga’s sole personality trait is being a pleasant mother, and while Roo is cute and playful, there’s not much else to him besides looking up to Tigger and wanting to be like Tigger. The two of them never got much screen-time in the franchise until the early 2000’s, when Roo’s character got overhauled. Gopher, meanwhile, is quite the scene-stealer. The chatty, dynamite-loving worker with a speech impediment was Disney’s own addition to the franchise (with his temperament and vocal tics borrowed from the beaver in “Lady And The Tramp“) and he was originally intended as a replacement for Piglet in “Winnie The Pooh and the Honey Tree” before popular demand led to Piglet’s debut in “The Blustery Day” (thank goodness for that. I like Gopher, but I can’t imagine “Winnie The Pooh” without Piglet in it). We’d be seeing much more of Gopher and his short temper in “The New Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” series. Owl is the oldest of the animals, who tries to keep track of what goes on in the forest and help out when he can. Owl is also the most British of a British ensemble cast, filled with bluster and grandfatherly tales, and a delight every time he gets a scene – primarily because he can gab like nobody’s business. There’s even one scene where he talks all the way through Pooh and Piglet dropping off a waterfall.
Despite the citizens of the hundred acre woods generally being some of the friendlier critters you’ll encounter in the Disney canon, they can also be hilariously, marvelously dickish at times, more so than I remembered and mostly due to obliviousness and insensitivity. Pooh greedily devours all of Rabbit’s honey and gets himself stuck in his door for weeks; Eeyore actually tries to give away Piglet’s house to Owl while Piglet is still living in it; Tigger constantly bounces his friends and shows zero remorse for destroying their property; Rabbit comes up with a surprisingly cruel plan to ditch Tigger in the woods for days so he’ll lose his bouncing spirit; Pooh and Piglet, despite agreeing to help Rabbit with this plan, ditch him in the woods as soon as Pooh gets hungry. They’re generally nice guys but they’re neither saints nor boring (except Kanga). Lastly, the narrator (voiced by Sebastian Cabot, who lends him warmer and more genial intonations than he did the big cat, Bagheera) adds a lot to the proceedings as a framing device and an amused voice of reason, and it’s always a pleasure to see him break the fourth wall and get to interact with the stuffed characters.
Like all the films from this period, the budget “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” was produced on is clear, with thick, roughly drawn pencil lines and recycled animation in places (that shot of Christopher Robin climbing over a fence starts to overstay it’s welcome). The animation is a large, noticeable improvement over previous films though. By the 1970’s Disney had grown into it’s xerox era, with the animation style and direction for “Robin Hood” and “The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh” feeling significantly less awkward than “101 Dalmatians” and “The Jungle Book” had been. As mentioned before, there are a lot of clever tricks done with the storybook Winnie the Pooh and his friends reside in, and a rustic, minimalist approach is taken to many of the film’s backgrounds that works well for the movie’s down-to-earth aesthetic.
“The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” benefits from having a rich, playful and infectious score by Buddy Baker that incorporates many of the songs’ melodies and represents the movie’s easygoing nature (a score that sadly remains entirely unreleased to this day). Unlike some of their previous films, all of the songs written here by the Sherman brothers manage to be memorable years after the fact – including but not limited to, the establishing theme and the title character’s leitmotif “Winnie The Pooh”, the soft-spoken “Little Black Rain Cloud” as Pooh tries to trick the bees, the empowering “Mind Over Matter” as Pooh’s friends try to free him from Rabbit’s door, the delightfully frenzied “The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down” as the Hundred Acre Wood floods, and my personal favorite “Hip Hip Pooh Ray“, the march written in Pooh and Piglet’s honor. The only song I’m on the fence about is “Heffalumps and Woozles”, Pooh’s nightmare about honey thieves. As a boy, I was never sure whether it was supposed to be frightening or funny since it was really neither, it was just a strange detour from the story. Years later, I realized it was an homage to one of Disney’s original acid trip sequences, the pink elephants scene from “Dumbo” (and funnily enough, that scene is also my least favorite from “Dumbo“, because it’s five minutes of pure filler, but that’s a whole different review).
So all in all, “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” is a fun piece of whimsical fluff and a strong start to a franchise that would someday come to rival Mickey Mouse’s popularity. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend checking it out someday, and after you’ve done that maybe look up some episodes of Pooh’s 80’s series.
* “Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff! He’s Winnie the Pooh, Winnie the Pooh, willy nilly silly old bear!”
* “I am short, fat and proud of that!” Own that body, Pooh!
* “There now, isn’t this a clever disguise?” It really isn’t.
* Fun fact: ever since I was five and a bee stung me in my ear, I’ve avoided them like the plague. It’s quite the phobia, so I do not envy Pooh when he actually swallows a whole bunch of bees.
* “Well goodbye, if you won’t have any more” “Is there any more?” “No. There isn’t” “I thought not”.
* “What’s the cost? The charging money?!” “Nope, no charge account! I work strictly cash!”
* “Say, ain’t you that stuck-up bear?”
* “DON’T FEED THE BEAR!”
* “My house! Someone has- Pooh, did you do that?” “I don’t think so”.
* “The most wonderful thing about Tiggers is I’m the only one! I’m the only one!” “Then what’s that over there?” Pooh letting some of the wind out of that ego.
* Tigger insists on having some of Pooh’s honey and then when he actually tastes it he’s like “Bruh, that’s nasty!” Tigger being rude to Pooh in “The House At Pooh Corner” got a glorious homage in Matt Smith’s first episode of “Doctor Who”.
* “Is it raining in there? It’s raining out here too”.
* “H-help, P-p-piglet! (M-me!)”
* “Pooh too was caught and so he thought ‘I must rescue my supper!‘” Never let it be said Pooh isn’t a bear with his priorities in order.
* “You’re our hero Pooh!” “I am?” Pooh really didn’t do anything, but he’s not going to argue with free cake.
* “Your name’s on it and everything. W-O-L. That spells Owl” “Bless my soul, so it does!” It really doesn’t, but Owl’s not going to argue with a free house.
* “So we say, hip! Hip! Poohray! For the Piglet and the Pooh! Piglet and Pooh, we salute you! For deeds of bravery and generosity. Hip! Hip! Poohray! Hip! Hip! Poohray! Hip! Hip! Poohray for Winnie the Pooh! And Piglet too!”
* “I recognize you! You’re the one that’s stuffed with fluff!” “Yes. You’re sitting on it” “Yeah and it’s comfy too!”
* There are quite a few times when you’re glad the characters in this movie are made out of stuffing and not flesh and bone. Pooh takes a lot of punishment in chapter I, and Tigger bounces on Piglet in chapter III when he’s three times Piglet’s size.
* Tigger drags Rabbit through the mud all the way home. Getting payback is what Tiggers do best.
* “Don’t worry Mrs. Kanga, I’ll take care of the little nipper!” Pooh and his friends got significantly less British as this franchise went on didn’t they? That’s a shame.
* The comedic highlight of this movie is Roo swinging around on Tigger’s tail, giving zero fucks about how frightened Tigger is (“I was just getting seasick from seeing too much”).
* “Jagulars always shout ‘heeellllooo!’ and when you look up they drop on you” “I’m looking down, Pooh!”
* “I guess I like the old bouncy Tigger best too” Hooray for peer pressure.
* “It makes you feel ggrrrreeeaaattttt!” Tigger, that’s copyrighted! Tony will sue!
* I’d just like to say the “Winnie the Pooh” film from 2011 was quite disappointing, considering it was Pooh’s big return to the cinema and his first Disney canon film in over thirty years. Not only was it an hour long and somewhat dull, it was also a wholesale rethread of a movie Disney had already done fifteen years earlier and correctly guessed most people had forgotten. It was pretty uninspired. I tend to lump it in with other movies from that time that played things far too safe and formulaic, like “Bolt” and “Tangled”.
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