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It feels like the 1950s-1960s again as we find Disney adapting yet another British classic story. A.A. Milne wrote a collection of stories in the 1920s inspired by his son’s toys, in particular a beloved teddy bear called Winnie the Pooh.
Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories were not very well known in the USA, which is what both attracted Walt to the project and simultaneously unnerved him. Like his discovery of the Mary Poppins books, Walt discovered Milne’s stories through his daughters. Because it was not well known in the USA, Walt had the idea that they would ‘test the product’ by easing the US audiences in with shorts, and finally compiling them together into a film if the shorts were successful. They were successful, and this did take place, but not until eleven years after Walt’s death.
A film of this nature was a smart move for the studio during this era, as it made effective use of the studio’s limited resources. Rather than being a singular narrative, the film is comprised of three shorts. This makes the film something of a throwback to the “Package-film Era”
(Special Note from Melissa: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!)
(Special Note from David: Arrgh! Noooo! I won’t go back!)
The three shorts are Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974). Additional material was added to join the shorts together, and also an epilogue was created to conclude the film (inspired by elements of The House on Pooh Corner).
(Special Note from Both: The film does wreak havoc with the overall continuity of our Odyssey as the three shorts were made at different times, which means that we see the return of the Sherman Brothers, even though they had left the studio by the time this film was released … Also WALT COMES BACK FROM THE DEAD!)
For two thirds of the film
Anyway onto the review – and Original Trailer Time!
- ‘For the first time in a feature length cartoon’ … sounds like Original Trailer Voice Man has to be as meticulous with his phrasing as we do when pointing out historical significance accurately in relation to a Disney film – punctuated by Pooh’s blinking ‘oh please’ face
- ‘Enchanting adventures’ – including getting shot like a cannonball out of a tree
- Then Pooh lands at Owl’s house … somehow. Haha take that continuity!
- It’s everyone’s favourite bedtime story … YES THAT INCLUDES YOU! Don’t try and argue with Original Trailer Voice Man.
- A shot of Pooh, TERRIFIED, floating up into the sky screaming ‘Christopher Rooooooooooobin!’, which cuts to Christopher Robin, sitting nonchalantly, laughing it off with ‘Silly old bear’. We have to admit, that was funny!
- ‘It’s grrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!’ We know Thurl Ravenscroft was part of this film, but still, copyright?!
- And er that’s it, because the rest of the ‘trailer’ shows an unedited scene from the film … was that supposed to be on there?
We have deviated from our usual format because although Winnie the Pooh is in the title, the film does not specifically have a protagonist or antagonist; it is an ensemble cast. All of the characters are very clearly defined in their personalities and traits, and they are all given moments for these to really shine through. Owl is a stuffy old-fashioned type, who has a tendency to tell long-winded stories.
‘Owl talked from page 41 to page 62’
(Special Note from David: This subversive touch reminds me of William Goldman’s interjections in The Princess Bride novel)
Rabbit is constantly flustered, and hard-pressed upon – the most sympathetic character in the film as he is most frequently in a state of distress.
Eeyore is permanently dour and pessimistic, with a very deep voice to match. Piglet is diminutive, shy and a nervous wreck whose catchphrase is ‘Oh d-d-dear’. In contrast to the introverted Piglet, Tigger is the ultimate extrovert – overconfident, bursting with energy, and very exuberant. Kanga is kind, warm and motherly, while Roo is playful and giddy. And of course Winnie the Pooh himself! He is without doubt a ‘bear of little brain’, but he is still a cheerful and thoughtful character, with a weakness for honey.
Christopher Robin is the only human character, and because this is his world, he has a tendency to be the problem-solver and practical figure – a little wiser than his co-stars, but very loving. The characters are so familiar that you can likely see elements of yourself and your friends in these characters.
A point was brought up from another reviewer that all the characters in Winnie the Pooh are really nice … we see where they are coming from, and yes there is some truth in that. There are no villains in this film at all, but that does not mean that the characters are angelic. On several occasions we see characters exhibit selfish behaviour: Pooh snoozes through a big chunk of a story when he finds out that the story isn’t about him. Also he turns up at Rabbit’s House for the sole purpose of getting honey, indirectly demands it and then proceeds to eat all of Rabbit’s pots of honey, which puts him right up there with Famous Freeloaders:
The Tiger Who Came to Tea
And now …
Winnie the Pooh
Pooh is also more than happy to accept the credit for saving Piglet. False modesty is not a requirement:
Pooh is not the only character that is guilty of selfishness. Tigger ruins Rabbit’s garden and doesn’t even apologise, he eats other people’s food and then rudely declares that he hates it, and he gets on everyone’s nerves to the extent that Rabbit calls a council meeting and comes up with a devious plan to purposefully get him lost and thus break his spirit.
(Special Note from Melissa: Wow … bleak)
However because there is no villain in the film, it is usually selfishness or recklessness (or just plain old bad weather) that leads to conflict in Winnie the Pooh. Without this, it is unlikely that there would be conflict, and it means that the characters are more realistic, showing that even the nicest of people can be selfish or greedy or devious or careless. Although they exhibit selfish tendencies, they never cross a line that prevents them from being likeable. This can’t be an easy balance to get right, but in a story of this nature – where selfish acts don’t cause any serious harm to others – it works very well. In fact, strangely, their selfishness often contributes to their appeal as characters, and the charm of the film itself. They are loveable characters, and that’s what’s important.
Additionally we are able to feel sympathy for other characters – particularly Rabbit and Piglet – but this doesn’t have a negative effect on how we view the characters who cause problems.
(Special Note from Both: The only real exception we have is a strong feeling of indignation about Eeyore giving Piglet’s house away … and Rabbit trying to ‘break’ Tigger … but more on those details in ‘Story’)
The Gopher character (who is a ‘copy and paste’ of the beaver from Lady and the Tramp, complete with the same voice actor with the trademark whistle through the teeth while talking) was inserted into the film as a means of offering a character for American audiences.
(Special Note from Melissa: Yeah because you don’t get bears or rabbits or donkeys or pigs or human boys in America …)
This could have gone very wrong, so we appreciate that the writers openly acknowledge that the Gopher character shouldn’t be in the film, and the “he’s not in the book” running joke is a refreshing and clever way of integrating this. It’s a pity the writers at Disney weren’t always quite so self-aware. He is not that necessary and could have easily been taken out, but for what it is, it’s a bit of fun.
The voice acting really contributes to the film. Sterling Holloway had finally been cast in a lead role after years of playing supporting or minor roles – it’s lovely to see that after all of his years of work at Disney, he concludes it with such an iconic character. Junius Matthews, who we previously saw as curmudgeon Archimedes in The Sword in the Stone plays a similar role here as Rabbit. Paul Winchell offers a vocal performance that instantly creates an iconic character, full of energy and glee. Ralph Wright was an animator and story man at Disney who had been there since the 1940s and was known for his bass voice and sullen personality; he was consequently cast as Eeyore. Hal Smith voices Owl; initially we thought it must have been the same voice actor as the one who voiced Merlin, but alas no – their voices just sound similar. Veteran Disney voice actress, Barbara Luddy, features in her final role at Disney as Kanga, and John Fiedler appears for the first time in a Disney feature film as Piglet.
Artwork and Imagery
First of all, the film has a fantastic foundation with the E.H. Shepard illustrations from A.A. Milne’s books to work from. In fact, all of the backgrounds for the film were outlined in ink to emulate the sketchy style of the original Shepard illustrations.
Which are beautiful
The animators originally wanted to make the film look a lot closer to Shepard’s illustrations because they loved them so much, but there was conflict with the need to create the world of the Hundred Acre Wood with more of a ‘Disney stamp’ – apparently Walt insisted on it. However the artists’ love for the source material allow for the film to contain a couple of iconic images, in particular the sight of Christopher Robin and Pooh playing Pooh-sticks together on the bridge.
The film features some beautiful shots:
The scratchy, pencil-sketch artwork of this era is really well suited to the story of ‘Winnie the Pooh’. The recycled animation is once again very obvious, but this time around it works, as repetition is a factor within the film’s storytelling style. It is particularly noticeable with the character of Tigger, who repeats the exact same actions again and again: an animator’s dream during the age of recycled animation!
The animators were really able to showcase their creativity in this film, particularly through the story-book motif. Every now and then an element of the story being told will have an impact on the book itself, such as the blustery winds sending several words flying out of the book, the rainwater washing away all of the writing underneath the picture, as well as the fact that Pooh wants to stay in the honey tree at the end of one chapter, even though the page is already being turned. It really gives the film an identity of its own that separates it from any of the other films in the canon.
Of course, there is also a chance for the animators to drink some of Dumbo’s booze and go a little wacky …
(Special Note from Melissa: I need to lie down)
Something that is terrific about the artwork and imagery in this film is that because it is comprised of shorts, it means that the animators have a lot more scope for creativity, because less is riding on the success of the shorts – consequently there is more opportunity for risk-tasking with the post-modern approach to the use of the book, and the trippy sequence.
Apparently this was one of Walt’s favourite scenes in the canon
This image out of context is like something straight out of a bad art house film:
‘Am I floating through the trees, or are the trees floating through me?’
And the bear hid his face from the world, and floated on and on, and all sank underwater, and the trees withered and died – Winnie the Pooh and the Existential Malaise
Buddy Baker does the score for the film – he would only do two scores in the canon – the next being The Fox and the Hound. It is not a ‘showy’ score, but it really suits the tone of the film – overall it is really pleasant, complementing the Sherman Brothers’ songs. Yes the Sherman Brothers – THEY HAVE RETURNED!
Well … not really. They were there for the 1960s shorts … but they are not back.
B-b-b-but we had a ‘Hip Hip Hooray for the Sherman Brothers and the Pooh’ party all prepared
The ‘Winnie the Pooh Theme’ is a light-hearted pleasant number that serves to introduce all of the characters (minus Tigger but he’ll get his own song later). It has an element of sophistication that really elevates it above a typical simple opening number; Buddy Baker used the same technique as ‘Peter and the Wolf’, in which every character has an instrument allocated to them, which match their moods and personalites.
Pooh’s Exercise number has an oom-pah-pah feel to it (how Sherman Brothers of you … err Sherman Brothers … damn this messed up timeline!), and is a funny little character driven song as Pooh declares that he is ‘short, fat and proud of that’. It’s lovely to hear Sterling Holloway get such a cute number. At the end of the song the Disney Chorus suddenly appears out of nowhere, and the song takes on the sound of a 1950s jingle.
(Special Note from David: The Thurl Ravenscroft bit at the end would probably be used in an advert for constipation relief)
‘A Little Black Raincloud’ is another gentle song with quirky lyrics, akin to a nursery rhyme, with a few nice little flourishes. It provides another chance for Sterling Holloway to showcase his affinity with this character. Pooh’s plan which accompanies the song seems rather familiar …
‘It’s a foolproof plan Christopher Robin. It worked in 101 Dalmatians’
Unsurprisingly the plan doesn’t work
(Special Note from Both: And the moral of the story is, just because something worked before, doesn’t mean it will work again. Ironically even though this short was made in the 1960s, this particular lesson would elude the folks at Disney …)
‘Bears is always painting themselves black’
‘Merry Thinking’ and ‘Hip Hip Pooh Ray’ are similar numbers as they celebrate the resolutions to their respective shorts. They both have marching themes, which is familiar style for the Sherman Brothers, as we’ve previously seen in Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book. We adore how grand and overblown the celebrations are for rather minor events.
‘Blustery Day’ is a transitional song full of typical Sherman Brothers-isms, capturing the charming Englishness that we are used to hearing from them.
‘The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers’ is a very brief and fun character number that perfectly establishes the character of Tigger, summing up his uber lively and energetic personality.
This film has a LOT of nostalgia for the 1940s and you cannot deny the similarities between ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’ and ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’. It is essentially a sequel song – somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo, with Thurl Ravenscroft thrown into the mix – always a positive! This nostalgia continues into ‘When the Rain Rain Rain Came Down’, as we hear a chipper little ditty that is reminiscent of ‘April Showers’ in Bambi and just about any package film.
Unlike the Package Films there is a lot more coherence in this film, all three stories involve the same characters, and take place in the same location. The transitions are also wonderfully integrated as well, and Sebastian Cabot provides wonderful narration. Now this is how you make a ‘package film’.
(Special Note from David: That’s not an invitation to return to this format though!)
The story in all three shorts is secondary to the characters, but they each have a charming feel like individual chapters in a book. In ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’, Pooh’s goal is to get honey by any means possible, including raiding a bee hive. A lot of the focus is placed on the characters of Pooh and Rabbit. The two share an enjoyable ‘give and take’ dynamic: Rabbit unwillingly gives, and Pooh keeps on taking! Then after eating all of Rabbit’s honey, Pooh attempts to leave but gets stuck in the rabbit-hole, having put on a lot of weight. This only heightens Rabbit’s suffering, and he has no choice but to put up with Pooh’s backside being a permanent feature of his home.
(Special Note from David: The lesson to be learned here is: “Never invite anyone round to your house, because they’ll never leave”)
In ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ more attention is placed on Piglet as well as Owl, and Tigger also makes his first appearance. The Hundred Acre Wood is struck with bad weather, there are blustery winds and the rain rain rain comes down down down. Owl’s house is destroyed in the wind storm, and Eeyore vows to find him a new house. During the flood, the characters have to abandon their homes and move to safety, although Piglet finds himself in a spot of bother as his house floods and he floats away. There is a little bit of foreshadowing in this story, as Piglet seeks rescue through the use of a message in a bottle, which prompts a rescue mission.
‘A message in a bottle? A rescue mission? What a premise. We could make a whole movie out of that!’
(Special Note from Both: Watch this space …)
However once everyone is all safe and sound again, Eeyore claims that he has found a new house for Owl … he demurely claims that the house which belongs to Piglet actually belongs to Owl.
… and everyone just goes along with it … it’s Piglet’s house! Why should he be made homeless? Why should he have to be Pooh’s housemate when he had his own independent house?! Eeyore is hardly the oracle. You can argue with his statement! Notice that Owl stays completely silent throughout all this? Find your own flipping house Owl!
(Special Note from Melissa: I wandered into the living room after we watched this and said to David, ‘You have to go. This is Owl’s flat now’ … really acknowledging how bonkers this is)
This is a plot issue that falls on its backside in the adaptation process, because we are not made aware in the film that Owl spells his name as ‘Wol’, and even then, it makes no sense because in the book it says, ‘Trespassers W’, thus the beginning of Owl’s ‘name’, but in the film it says this:
The ‘joke’ … is lost. Eeyore doesn’t even get the ‘wrong’ name right
Hilariously enough the rest of them awkwardly mumble and don’t state the facts in order to avoid confrontation, which is very English, while Piglet passive-aggressively refuses to speak up that it’s his house.
‘Piglet, grow a pair’
(Special Note from David: The lesson to be learned here is: “Never leave your home unattended, because someone else will take it”)
(Special Note from Melissa: But all’s ok because they have a HERO PARTY. HOORAY!!!!!!!)
As the title would indicate ‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too’ places the focus on Tigger, and Sebastian Cabot’s narrator even states this to Pooh, who seems a little put out at not being the main character in one of his stories. Rabbit decides that Tigger’s bouncing is getting out of hand, and so he concocts a plan to lead Tigger out into the woods, and get him lost, and thus take the bounce out of him. While this plan doesn’t work, Tigger later gets stuck in a tree, with Rabbit giving him an ultimatum that if they help him he must promise to never bounce again. But even he misses the ‘bouncy’ Tigger, as Tigger descends into misery at the thought of never being able to bounce again. So everybody bounces and everyone’s happy!
(Special Note from David: The lesson to be learned here is: “Learn to put up with your friend’s annoying habits”)
The epilogue is a really charming, and rather poignant scene, in which Christopher Robin has to go off to school, essentially leaving his childhood – and all of his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood – behind. It is an understated, short scene, that doesn’t feel the need to lay the pathos on too thick, and this is actually works in its favour, as it’s not a story that requires a huge finale but instead a quiet resolution.
Then this happens:
But we’d rather not talk about that …
The third is likely the weakest of the three shorts because it meanders much more – the other two shorts are more focused, particularly the first one.
(Special Note from Both: Could this have something to do with the fact that Walt worked on the first two?)
Overall, the stories are simple, and it is the characters that really bring them to life.
This was another film that I had never seen before, which is surprising considering my familiarity with many films of this era during my childhood. I really enjoyed the film, particularly its creativity in its use of the storybook motif; so many of the animated classics begin with the image of a story-book being opened, but this film takes that idea much further, and it leads to some of my favourite moments in the film. This element, coupled with the narration from Sebastian Cabot makes for a really winning formula, and consequently the film is a pleasant, relaxing experience – very easy to watch.
There isn’t really all that much to criticise about the film; you’d have to be really cynical to say that you don’t like it, as it is far too inoffensive to stir up such strong negative emotions. It is not a spectacular film, it doesn’t have a thrilling narrative, or any seriously challenging themes, but it doesn’t require them. It is a sweet-natured, innocent film, with fun, memorable characters, that relishes in the simple pleasures of childhood games and imagination.
I will say that it is a little strange that it is a part of the Animated Classics canon (but that same canon also includes The Three Caballeros, Fun and Fancy Free and Melody Time – so that’s not much of a criticism) yet it doesn’t exactly feel out of place; it contains many of the same tropes that a lot of the classics have, and had a lot of the same artists working on it. It also has a very clear connection to a bygone era in the studio’s past, as there are numerous allusions to moments from the 40s. There are plenty of iconic characters – who are all memorably voiced – some famous songs, and a very effective ending scene. With all that in mind, I can’t really think of anything else I’d expect from this film.
I definitely saw The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as a child but I never owned it on VHS (likely another case of borrowing from a friend), and I also had several of the songs on Sing-Along-Song videos. Plus I vividly remember buying a small Winnie the Pooh soft beanie toy when I was little, and from what I recall, I wasn’t feeling too well when I got it. My older sister also had a huge Winnie the Pooh cuddly toy that she got for her eleventh birthday when we were moving away (and she was rather miffed when orange juice accidently spilled on him on the flight).
Anyway back to the film itself! Based on the idea of a child’s world, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a sweet-natured, gentle experience, with a few scares thrown in, such as the nightmare sequence, and Rabbit’s hallucinations (and in my case, the bees! Argh! Even the sound of buzzing makes my skin crawl). The characters are simultaneously detailed and simple all at once, the voice acting is terrific, including Sebastian Cabot’s narration, and the storybook-like animation is absolutely lovely to watch. The film is playful and silly, yet can be very touching and heart-warming. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is an example of an ideal package film – it ties the shorts together in a very creative and intelligent way. The film features a lot of nostalgia for the 1940s – it is as if the animators who have been around since the beginning are aware that they are close to retirement age, and know that they want to pack in those little details again before it’s too late.
In a way, it is almost impossible to find fault with the film, and yet it would not necessarily be in my Top Ten. It does feel more like a collection of shorts than a film (which it is and you can’t fault that), setting it apart from most films in the canon, it is very simple and breezy (again that is what it is!) and of course there are questionable moments, such as Rabbit’s sinister plan and Eeyore giving away Piglet’s house. But for what it is, it does a beautiful job of presenting loveable characters in a childlike, innocent and safe setting, featuring some very sharp and witty writing, creative artwork and gags, and a genuinely touching, melancholic ending. Disney finally got the package film format right … albeit thirty years later. But better late than never!
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was released in March 1977. The film received mainly positive criticism and still does to this day – it is rare to hear a negative perspective, apart from in relation to the A.A. Milne books. The shorts are much more famous that the films that they originally opened with in the cinema – The Ugly Dachshund, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, and The Island at the Top of the World.
Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children in 1966. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day won an Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Cartoons in 1969. Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short, Animated in 1975. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Recording for Children in 1975.
More Winnie the Pooh shorts were released theatrically, Winnie the Pooh Discovers the Seasons, and Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore There are also eight direct-to-video sequels, four holiday specials, and four separate television series. Full length theatrical features were made too that are not part of the canon – The Tigger Movie, Piglet’s Big Movie and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. However this won’t be the last time in which we will see these characters in the Disney Odyssey – they will appear again in 2011 in Winnie the Pooh, the 51st animated classic.
We are not going to go into this in detail, but rather we will keep this brief, because well … you could write a whole dissertation on this. Winnie the Pooh has left a major marketing legacy:
And we live in a world in which this was a thing:
In 2006, Winnie the Pooh received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – he was the fourth Disney character to receive one after Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and Donald Duck.
Thanks for reading! Coming up next is The Rescuers, and the end of an era … We hope that you enjoyed, and let us know what you think in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.