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Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Winnie-the-Pooh

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: Winnie-the-Pooh

Year: 2011

Source materials : Characters created by A,A. Milne

Budget: $30 million

Box office: $50.1 million

Plot: Winnie-the-Pooh wakes up one day to find that he is out of honey. While out searching for more, Pooh discovers that Eeyore has lost his tail. Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga, and Roo come to the rescue while Tigger has his bouncing fun, and Christopher Robin decides to hold a contest to see who can find a replacement for Eeyore’s tail. The prize for the winner is a fresh pot of honey. After many failed attempts for what would replace Eeyore’s tail, Kanga suggests that they use a scarf, which unravels.

The next day, Pooh goes to visit Christopher Robin and he finds a note that says “Gon Out Bizy Back Soon” (a misspelling of “Gone Out Busy Back Soon”). Pooh is unable to read the note, so he asks for Owl’s help. Owl’s poor reading comprehension skills lead Pooh and his friends to believe that Christopher Robin has been abducted by a ruthless and mischievous monster they call the “Backson”. Rabbit plans to trap the Backson in a pit, which they think he will fall into after following a trail of items leading to it. Meanwhile, Tigger, who wants a sidekick to help him defeat the Backson, recruits a reluctant Eeyore to be a second Tigger. He dresses up like the Backson and tries to teach Eeyore how to fight. Eeyore manages to escape from Tigger and hides underwater where he discovers an anchor.

After a failed attempt to get honey from a bee hive, Pooh’s imagination combined with his hunger get the better of him which has ended up eating some mud and later, accidentally falls into the pit meant for the Backson. Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl, Piglet, and Eeyore (using the anchor he found as a replacement tail) try to get him out, but fall in themselves. Piglet, who did not fall in, attempts to get Pooh and friends out of the trap (though continuously irritating Rabbit with over-interpretations of his instructions), but he runs into Tigger, who is still in his Backson outfit, and mistakes him for the actual monster.

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Piglet escapes from Tigger on a red balloon, which knocks some of the storybook’s letters into the pit. After the chase, Tigger and Piglet fall into the trap as well, where Eeyore reminds Tigger that he, being “the only one,” is “the most wonderful thing about Tiggers”. Eventually, Pooh figures out how to use the fallen letters to form a ladder, and his friends are able to escape the pit. They soon find Christopher Robin, and tell him about the Backson, but he clarifies, saying that he meant to be “back soon”. The honey pot prize is given to the red balloon from earlier, much to Pooh’s dismay.

Later, Pooh visits Owl only to find that Owl is the one that has taken Eeyore’s tail, not realizing that it belongs to Eeyore. Owl has been using Eeyore’s tail as a bell-pull for his door. Pooh chooses to leave and return the tail to Eeyore instead of sharing a pot of honey with Owl. Christopher Robin is proud of Pooh’s selflessness and rewards him with a large pot of honey.

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In a post-credits scene, the Backson is revealed to be real, but actually gentle. He notices a trail of things that Pooh and the others had left for him and decides to pick them up so they do not get broken. But he does not realize the trail leads to the pit, and falls in. He decides to wait for someone to help him out. He says: I sure hopes that fella will be “back soon”.

Background: In 2009, John Lasseter, Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall viewed the classic Winnie the Pooh feature shorts and films to figure out how to make the title character culturally relevant. Following a trip to Ashdown Forest in Sussex, South East England to explore the location of A. A. Milne’s original stories, the filmmakers enlisted Burny Mattinson, a Disney veteran who worked as the key animator on Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, to serve as lead storyboard artist for the film, with Anderson and Hall directing.

Animation: Director Don Hall also has veteran status at Walt Disney Animation Studios, significantly contributing to The Princess and the Frog, Meet the Robinsons, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, The Emperor’s New Groove and Tarzan. Similar to The Princess and the Frog, the film also uses Toon Boom Animation’s Harmony software.

Music: Hoping to find the right songwriters for their film, Winnie the Pooh directors Anderson and Hall sent visuals to five songwriting teams. The duo instantly fell in love with the demos returned by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Robert had written the scores for Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. After meeting Kristen, the duo worked on Wonder Pets. They would go on to write the songs for Frozen and Coco. Robert has an EGOT. He has two Emmys, 1 three Grammys, 2 two Oscars, 3 and two Tonys. 4 He was the youngest and the quickest (10 years) to win all four, and, as of 2018, is the only person to have won all four awards more than once. Kristen shares the Oscars and two of the Grammys.

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Zooey Deschanel performed three songs for the film, including a take on the Winnie the Pooh theme song, “A Very Important Thing to Do” and an original end-credit song “So Long”, which was written by Deschanel and performed with She & Him bandmate M. Ward. The film was scored by Henry Jackman, with additional music by Christopher Willis.

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Songs:

  • “Winnie the Pooh”-written by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman. Sung by Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward.
  • “The Tummy Song”-written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Sung by Jim Cummings and Robert Lopez.
  • “A Very Important Thing to Do”-written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Sung by Zooey Deschanel.
  • “The Backson Song” -written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
  • “It’s Gonna Be Great”-written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Sung by Bud Luckey and Jim Cummings.
  • “The Winner Song”-wtitten by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
  • “Everything Is Honey”-written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Sung by Jim Cummings, Zooey Deschanel, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.
  • “Pooh’s Finale” -written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Sung by Robert Lopez, Zooey Deschanel, and Cast.
  • “So Long” -written by Zooey Deschanel. Sung by Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward.

Voice Cast:

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Jim Cummings returns as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. 5Cummings has been playing Pooh since 1988 and Tigger since 1989. Jack Boulter as Christopher Robin. 6 He also played in a number of Pooh shorts.

Travis Oates as Piglet. 7 He has been playing the character since 2005 and will also voice him in Ralph Breaks the Internet. Bud Luckey makes his final appearance as Eeyore. 8 He passed away earlier this year

Kristen Anderson-Lopez as Kanga. 9 As mentioned above, she is the lyricist for this fim and many other and continued to voice Kanga after this film. Wyatt Hall as Roo. 10

Tom Kenny returns as Rabbit. 11 Craig Ferguson as Owl. 12 He is best known as the host of the CBS late-night talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He became known to American audience from The Drew Carey Show. Other acting credits in films include Niagara Motel, Lenny the Wonder Dog, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Chain of Fools, Born Romantic, The Ugly Truth, Kick-Ass, and as a voice-over actor, How to Train Your Dragon, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Brave.

Huell Howser 13 as Backson. He was best known for hosting, producing, and writing California’s Gold. John Cleese as The Narrator. He is best known as one of the members of the Monty Python comedy troupe, appearing in their various films and television series. He followed that in the role of Basil Faulty in the series Faulty Towers. He appeared in The Great Muppet Caper, Time Bandits, Silverado, A Fish Called Wanda as well as the Harry Potter, James Bond, and Shrek series among numerous film and television appearances.

Critical Reception: Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times says the film “proves a fitting tribute to one of the last century’s most enduring children’s tales.” The film has been praised for not only being able to charm the children audience but the parents as well. Roger Ebert, giving it 3 stars out of 4, said in his review “In a time of shock-value 3-D animation and special effects, the look of the film is gentle and pleasing. It was hand-animated, I’m told, and the backgrounds use a subtle and reassuring watercolor style. It’s a nightmare-proof experience for even the youngest viewers.”

My take: This was funnier than I thought it was going to be. Deschanel is a little twee for my taste, but the other numbers, particularly the Backson song are rather clever. I mean, Pooh sings a duet with his own tummy. Knowing that the Lopezes would go on to write some really great stuff later on, you can see the potential.

One of the things I have always loved about the Pooh films is the interaction between the characters and the novel. Rabbit was particularly funny in this film. The hand signals

I have always loved Winnie-the-Pooh. Ever since I was an itty-bitty

Next Week: We try to change our fate