The Great Disney Blogathon: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
|March 23, 2015||Posted by Jess under Cartoons, Disney, Movies, Musicals, The Great Disney Blogathon|
It seems strange to think of Winnie the Pooh as one movie, especially nowadays. After all, it’s one of Disney’s juggernaut franchises: quieter than the Princesses and Tink and Cars, but consisting of five theatrical films, nine direct-to-videos, five TV shows (including the currently-running Tales of Friendship), video games, shorts, specials, a ride in four Disney theme parks around the world, and countless merchandise. But The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is officially considered the 22nd Disney animated feature, despite the fact that it’s a Frankenstein of three featurettes released between 1966 and 1974 with some new material stitching it together, and so it gets a spot in the Blogathon.
That said…I don’t really like the Winnie the Pooh franchise. Oh, I don’t dislike it – I’m not a monster – but it’s never particularly clicked with me. Even though I had it growing up, I almost never watched it, and I couldn’t get into the books. I suspect the lack of female characters besides Kanga had something to do with this, and also the persistent gentleness of all the characters. Put frankly: Pooh’s a snooze.
Anyway, because I’m so “meh” on this willy nilly silly old bear, I’m going to arguably cheat a little on this Blogathon, and not cover the other Pooh movies, at least not now. (There may be a roundup of the theatrical ones later when I cover various Disney miscellany.) I just don’t think anyone wants me to spend 13 more posts on Pooh, least of all me. Sorry, Tigger Movie fans.
As mentioned above, The Many Adventures consists of three previously released shorts: “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” (1966), “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (1968), and “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” (1974),1 stitched together with some new animation. It’s technically the last Disney feature to bear Walt’s personal touch, since he was still alive in the 60s when the first two featurettes were being produced, and in fact he contributed the idea of Rabbit decorating Pooh’s bottom when Pooh is stuck in Rabbit’s front door, one of the movie’s funniest sequences.
There’s some inconsistency in animation between the shorts – Pooh’s character model changes slightly, and the linework is smoother in “Tigger Too” – but overall, since we’re still in the 60s and 70s, we’ve got that trademark sketchy Xerox look throughout. (Also, Christopher Robin suddenly becomes British when they changed voice actors from Clint Howard to Bruce Reitherman, last heard as one of the Warts in Sword and the Stone.) It actually works really well for Pooh, though, since it evokes E. H. Shepard’s illustrations in the original A. A. Milne books. There’s a conceit running through the shorts that these characters exist in a storybook and know it, which gives us a lot of clever gimmicks – water washing away the letters during the flood, Tigger sliding down the lines of text to get out of the tree, Gopher’s repeated “I’m not in the book!” gag – but it can also be quite lovely, especially in “Honey Tree,” where the backgrounds are just suggestions of ink and watercolor and match the sketchy figures perfectly.
The cast is great, with many of our old Disney friends returning, including Barbara Luddy, Sebastian Cabot, and, of course, Sterling Holloway in what’s probably his most iconic and arguably his finest role.2 However, Paul Winchell steals every scene he’s in as Tigger, which is a credit to his performance as well as the writing. (I must admit to being a shameless Tigger partisan here. Back in 1996 when everyone was wearing giant T-shirts with cartoon characters on them, he was my choice. It did not make me cool, alas.)
The music is also very cute. There are no major standout numbers, but Disney stalwarts the Sherman Brothers contributed a generous supply of charming little ditties, of which the catchiest is probably the title song. Whatever version of this I had as a kid wasn’t The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh proper, I don’t think, because I’ve never seen the “Heffalumps and Woozles” song before, and I have to say, I was sideeyeing it pretty hard. It’s pretty blatantly a spiritual copy of “Pink Elephants on Parade” from Dumbo, and at times lifts the animation directly. Come on, Disney.
And speaking of things I had never seen…the last five minutes of the movie were also not in my version, and honestly, I think if they had been, my feelings about the Pooh franchise would be very different. Christopher Robin, you see, has to go to school, and so he must leave behind his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. In a quiet and very natural and childlike and sweet conversation, he asks Pooh to always remember him, and Pooh promises that he will…and Sebastian Cabot assures us that somewhere, Pooh will always be waiting for Christopher Robin. AND THEN I SOBBED FOR HALF AN HOUR. Heck, I’m tearing up now. I’m a sucker for stories about the friendship between immortal things and children – do not come near me with “Puff the Magic Dragon,” and just wait until we get into the Toy Story franchise – and this movie does it beautifully in very little time. Hats off, for sure.
When the original shorts that make up this film were released, they got a certain amount of flack, as all Disney adaptations of classic literature always have, and always will. (Brits in particular were not fans of these adaptations or the mostly American cast.) But the response was by and large positive – “Blustery Day” won an Oscar, awarded posthumously to Walt, and “Tigger Too” was also nominated. And obviously this little bear has done very well for the studio over the years – it is in fact the third best-selling franchise in the world, worth over $5 billion annually. More importantly to my way of thinking, it is deeply, deeply beloved with adults and children alike. So if ol’ Pooh Bear doesn’t do much for me personally, really, who cares? You just keep doing what you’re doing, Pooh.
(But seriously, add some damn girls already.)
- They were respectively released with the following astonishingly obscure films: The Ugly Dachshund, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, and The Island at the Top of the World. ↩
- A lot of people would probably give it to Kaa or the Cheshire Cat, because Holloway does “sinister” brilliantly. Me, I love the stork from Dumbo a whole heck of a lot. ↩