Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Title: The Many Adventures of Winnie-The Pooh
Source materials : Winnie-The Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
Plot: The story opens with Winnie the Pooh going through his morning exercises. He goes to his pantry for some breakfast, only to discover he is out of honey. He hears a bee fly by and decides to climb a nearby honey tree, but as he reaches the beehive, a branch he is sitting on breaks. Needing help, Pooh decides to go to Christopher Robin’s house to get a balloon from him. His plan is to cover himself in mud to disguise himself as a rain cloud and use the balloon to float up to the hive. As Pooh gets at the honey, and as his muddy disguise is compromised, the bees fight back against him, and the scuffle ends with the balloon losing its string, sending Pooh flying through the air until it runs out of air.
Pooh heads to Rabbit’s house in hopes of getting some. The reluctant Rabbit invites Pooh in, and Pooh proceeds to eat him out of all his honey. Pooh ends up becoming very rotund, and as he tries to exit Rabbit’s house, he finds himself stuck and unable to fit through his front door. Owl flies by and examines Pooh’s predicament. The two are met by Gopher, who suggests that he blast Pooh out with dynamite for pay. Rabbit returns with Christopher Robin, and they unsuccessfully try to pull Pooh out. Christopher Robin decides that Pooh will just have to wait until he gets thin again.
Some time later, Rabbit wakes up and discovers that Pooh’s fat bottom has slightly shrunken, meaning it is now possible to get him out. He gets Christopher Robin, who gathers Kanga, Eeyore, Owl, Roo, and Gopher, and they all pull on Pooh from outside the house while Rabbit pushes him from inside. Finally, Rabbit charges into Pooh, which sends him flying out of the front door, through the sky, and into the honey tree, which scares away the bees inside. The gang arrives at the scene, and Christopher Robin promises Pooh that they will help him get out again. However, Pooh tells them to take their time, for now he has an ample supply of honey to eat.
Later, as Pooh sits thinking, Gopher pops out of the ground and advises Pooh to leave the spot because of it being “Winds-day”. Piglet is nearly blown away by the strong wind, but Pooh quickly hangs on to him by his scarf, like a kite on a string. The blustery wind finally blows Pooh and Piglet over to Owl’s treehouse, where he invites them in. While Owl begins telling Pooh and Piglet stories of adventures his relatives had, the strong wind rocks his house back and forth causing it to sway and eventually the tree and house both collapse.
The wind is still blowing and Pooh is kept awake by growling and scratching noise and he opens his door for the visitor outside. An orange bouncing tiger named Tigger emerges from outside, rolling over Pooh and sitting on him. He then decides to try some of Pooh’s honey but after some tastes he gets disgusted and decides that “Tiggers don’t like honey”. Before leaving Pooh’s house, Tigger tells him that there are Heffalumps and Woozles in the forest that steal honey. Pooh, frightened by Tigger’s tale, stays up to guard his honey, but eventually falls fast asleep.
As he is sleeping, he has a nightmare about Heffalumps and Woozles stealing his honey and chasing him around until he wakes up during a flood-inducing rainfall.
Later, Piglet is washed away from his home. He writes a bottle-note for help just before the waters carry him off, sitting on a chair. Pooh manages to reach higher ground with only ten honey pots. However, as he is eating some of the honey the rising waters carry him away. Pooh switches places with Piglet as they take the plunge, and luckily for them the waterfall washes them right into Christopher Robin’s yard. Thinking that Pooh had rescued Piglet, Christopher Robin decides to throw a party celebrating Pooh’s heroic deed. During the party, Eeyore announces that he has found a new home for Owl. He leads everyone over to his discovery, which, known to everyone except for Owl and Eeyore, is Piglet’s beech tree. Owl is very impressed with the house, but before anyone can tell him who the home belongs to, Piglet decides that Owl should have the house.
Tigger has been bouncing on anyone he comes across for fun, especially Rabbit when he is gardening, which angers Rabbit, so he formulates a plan to prevent Tigger from bouncing: abandon Tigger in the woods, and find him the next day so hopefully Tigger will stop bouncing on his friends unexpectedly. Initially the plan seems to work, but when Rabbit, Pooh, and Piglet cannot find their way home, Pooh makes a suggestion about following a sandpit in order to find their way out of the forest. In an attempt to prove Pooh wrong, Rabbit wanders away. Pooh and Piglet find their way out of the forest, but are immediately bounced by Tigger. Piglet, realizing that the plan failed, mentions Rabbit’s plan, and Tigger goes into the forest to find him. Rabbit tries to run away in a panic, only to be tackled by Tigger. Rabbit is humiliated that his plan to lose Tigger had failed. Tigger explains to him that “Tiggers never get lost”, and takes Rabbit home.
In the next chapter, wintertime comes and Roo wants to go play. Kanga cannot be with him so she calls on Tigger to look after Roo as long as he comes back in time for Roo’s nap. Tigger gladly accepts. Along the way through the woods, Tigger and Roo see Rabbit skating on the ice. Tigger tries to teach Roo how to ice skate by doing it himself, but unfortunately, he loses his balance and collides with Rabbit while trying to regain it. Tigger then decides that he does not like ice skating. Later on, while bouncing around the woods with Roo on his back, Tigger accidentally jumps to the top of a very tall tree and is afraid to climb back down. Meanwhile, Pooh and Piglet are investigating strange animal tracks that are actually Tigger and Roo’s. After seeing that it is actually Tigger and Roo in the tree, he and Piglet come to the rescue. Shortly afterward, Christopher Robin, Rabbit, and Kanga arrive and the gang uses Christopher’s coat as a net and Roo successfully jumps down, but Tigger, who is still too frightened to move, makes up several excuses to not come down. Tigger promises never to bounce again if he ever is released from his predicament.
At that moment, the narrator chimes in for help. Tigger begs him to “narrate” him down from the tree, and he tilts the book sideways, allowing Tigger to step onto the text of the page. Happy, Tigger attempts to bounce but Rabbit stops him reminding Tigger of the promise he made. Devastated, Tigger realizes he cannot bounce anymore and slowly walks away and Rabbit feels better that there will be peace, but everyone else does not and felt sad to see Tigger depressed and remind Rabbit of the joy Tigger brought when he was bouncing. Then Rabbit shows sympathy for Tigger and takes back the promise they had agreed on; he is then given a friendly tackle by an overly-excited Tigger. Tigger invites everyone to bounce with him and even teaches Rabbit how to do it.
Christopher Robin and Pooh discuss what they liked doing together and the boy asks his bear to promise to remember him and to keep some of the memories of their time together alive. Pooh agrees to do so.
Background: This is essentially a compilation film as it combines three shorts into a feature film. They 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). Blustery was the the last animated short on which Walt Disney himself was personally involved. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Walt Disney acquired the film rights to the Winnie-the-Pooh stories in 1961 and it was always Walt’s intention to create a feature film, but he decided to make shorts instead, after production had begun, to familiarize US audiences with the characters.
Changes from the Source Material: Gopher is not in the books, only appearing in the cartoons. Christopher Robin Milne’s autobiography, The Enchanted Places, reveals that A. A. Milne had planned to include an American Gopher in his Pooh books, but his publisher nixed it. Enchanted Places reprints a short poem from the lost Milne version of Gopher. Hence his phrase “I’m not in the book” (which doubles as a joke about him not being in the phone book).
Animation: Much of Tigger’s animation and poses in And Tigger, Too (especially whenever he pounces anybody) were reused from his original appearance in Blustery Day, where he was excellently animated by Milt Kahl. Don Bluth worked on the sequence with Rabbit lost in the woods.
Songs: Composer Buddy Baker took a cue from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf by having different instruments represent different characters: Baritone horn for Pooh, a sad bass clarinet for Eeyore, flute for Kanga, piccolo for Roo, ocarina and French horn for Owl, oboe for Piglet, a fussy clarinet playing various ascending and descending scales for Rabbit, and a staccato bass harmonica for Gopher’s walks. The film boasts classic songs by the Sherman Brothers including “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers”.
Long time Disney voice actor Sterling Holloway appears in his most well known role as Pooh, and we’ve talked about him several times in this column. Christopher Robin was first voiced by Bruce Reitherman and later Jon Walmsley and Timothy Turner.
Piglet was voiced by John Fiedler, known for roles in The Odd Couple and Twelve Angry Men. Eeyore was voiced by Ralph Wright, a longtime Disney animator who started with the studio in 1940, and worked on just about every animated film since Bambi. Roo was voiced by Clint Howard, later Dori Whitaker. Kanga was voiced by Barbara Luddy, who previously voiced Lady and Meriweather. Tigger was voiced by Paul Winchell, who voiced Dick Dastardly, Fleegle on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, and Gargamel on The Smurfs. Rabbit was voiced by Junius Matthews, who we met as Archimedes in The Sword in the Stone. Owl was voiced by Hal Smith, who we mentioned last week was Otis the drunk on The Andy Griffith Show.
Gopher was voiced by Howard Morris. He was a prolific actor and director. He was best known as Earnrst T. Bass from The Andy Griffith Show and the voice of Jughead Jones from the Archie series. The Narrator was Sebastian Cabot, Baghera in The Jungle Book.
Critical Reception: Film critic Leonard Maltin called the original Pooh featurettes “gems”; he also noted that the artwork resembles the book illustrations, and that the particular length of these featurettes meant that the filmmakers didn’t have to “compress or protract their script.” Ruth Hill Viguers, however, when writing in A Critical History of Children’s Literature during the 1960s, mentioned Disney’s Winnie the Pooh along with several other Disney adaptations as having “destroyed the integrity of the original books.”
Legacy: Disney probably sells more Pooh merchandise than any other property. I myself have a Pooh watch.
There is a dark ride based on the film in slightly different forms at the Magic Kingdom in the Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Shanghai Disneyland Park. Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, located in Tokyo Disneyland, is an entirely different “E-ticket class” attraction, featuring full audio animatronics and a trackless ride system. Because of legal and licensing issues, it was decided not to use the character of Christopher Robin either visually or to have his voice.
Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore often appear in the parks. On rare occasions you can catch Rabbit as well
My take: This was my first movie, ever, as an itty-bitty. I saw it at the old Warner Theatre. At this time Sears Department Store carried a lot of the Pooh merchandise. You can tell that they were created years apart, as the animation becomes cleaner (and Christopher Robin’s voice is different). I love how the characters are aware that they are in a book, break the fourth wall, and even involve the narrator in the plot.
Next Week: The Rescuers
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