Thursday, August 30, 2012

1977 - The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Sorry for the recent lack of updates. I was working on a new project. I'll link to it when it's complete. Until then, lets get back on track with this.

We now come to our final final film Walt ever worked on. Reeling a bit from their financial status and the underperformance of their last two films, Disney needed something cheap and likeable to bring folks back to them. They had, of course, still been producing shorts all this time, and the idea struck them to do another compilation film. It had already proven a way of saving money and getting audiences, and if they used mostly stuff they’d already made, it would save even more. As luck would have it, the company had released three shorts based on A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, and with just ten minutes or so of linking animation, they were ready to go. But would audiences go for them in the 70s the way they did in the 40s? Would a compilation film with one set of characters work, or would it seem stilted and awkward? Rumbly in your tumbly? So am I. So get a pot of hunny, and let’s talk about The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.


The general trend in these movies is to open with a live-action shot of an ornate book being opened, usually with some narration to kick us off. In Robin Hood, they stepped that up a notch by having Alan a’Dale (Or The Rooster, whatever) as an illustration that comes to life and walks around on the opening paragraph. In this movie, that whole trend reaches its apotheosis, as we open with a whole sweeping shot of Christopher Robin’s bedroom with all of his stuffed toys who will be our characters. We then go into our book (a less ornate, more humble model), where for the rest of the movie, characters will reference what chapter they’re in, talk to the narrator, and occasionally climb all over the letters. The famous theme song is performed as the camera pans all over a very faithful depiction of the map found in most editions of the original book.

(Albeit with a very off-model Piglet)

The songs, speaking of which, are great. They’re all by the Sherman Brothers, who did so well in The Jungle Book. In fact, given the long and unconnected production time, the fact that they had one songwriting team is even more impressive. Hardly any of these are award-winners, but all of them are eminently hummable. Kind of get tired of that Tigger song the third time you hear it, though.

Actually, that is one of the issues this movie runs into. These are short films produced several years apart. They weren’t originally intended to be watched all in a row; there wasn’t even home media at the time. So there are some weird things that come from putting them all together like this. It’s weird that Piglet’s not in the first segment, given how ubiquitous he is in the other two. Tigger’s song getting two reprises seems weird if you don’t remember that originally it was one reprise in a short released four years after the last time it was sung. And the changes in voice for young Roo and Christopher Robin wouldn’t be noticeable at all.

And yet in the real world, chewing on your friend's butt while moving something is considered rude.

But the shorts themselves are very enjoyable, and there’s not a notable decline in animation quality. Recycling is mostly not an issue, due to the very specific proportions and movement styles of the characters. (In the new linking animation, pretty much everything Christopher Robin does is swiped from Mowgli, but other than that.) I'll also say this. I LOVE the Winnie-the-Pooh books, and I don't have a single complaint about the adaptation.


The first short, which was first released with a movie called “The Ugly Dachshund”, is a bit light on plot, but a lot of fun. It’s go lots of iconic moments; the little black rain cloud, Pooh getting stuck in Rabbit’s door, stoutness exercises, etc. The characters are very well-realized, despite the regrettable lack of Piglet, and the even more regrettable addition of Gopher, who wasn’t in the book and who is not terribly necessary. Although, I do like that this is joked about, with Gopher giving them his phone number and telling them not to forget it because “I’m not in the book, you know.” But even that’s tempered by the fact that the base joke doesn’t really work, because none of them have phones. The far better gag is Rabbit trying to figure out what to do with Pooh’s butt stuck halfway in his house, attempting to make it into a moose head, a shelf, and a chair.

As someone who's gone through four big floods, Pooh is doing it right. Save the hunny first. It's a FEMA guideline.

This one is the best of the bunch, released along the improbably-titled “The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit“. The plot has a much stronger line, involving a storm that floods the Hundred Acre Wood, and the characters are at their strongest. Piglet is here, and Tigger makes his debut as well, while Gopher is unseen save a small cameo at the end, so this really is the traditional Winnie-the-Pooh cast. Speaking of cast, shout out to the actors. This is really a Disney all-star list, including Sterling Holloway as Pooh, John Fiedler as Piglet, Paul Winchell as Tigger, Hal Smith as Owl, Ralph Wright as Eeyore, Bruce Reitherman as Christopher Robin, and Clint Howard as Roo. Not really household names, my fondness for Sterling Holloway notwithstanding, but these guys have been playing supporting cast in these movies for some time, so it’s natural that Disney would go to them for the shorts, and it’s great to hear them taking lead roles. The songs are also the best in the movie, particularly “Heffalumps and Woozles“, which is the trippiest thing Disney‘s made since the Pink Elephants in Dumbo.

I have had a Hero Party thrown for me. It's actually pretty awkward.

Mehhhh. Who knows what it is, but this one’s just not as good. I do. I know what it is. For one thing, Pooh takes a backseat in this one, which the narrator even brings attention to. The main characters are Rabbit, who’s a bit tedious and has an annoying voice, and Tigger and Roo, who work best in small doses. Pooh and Piglet are only in a short bit, and Eeyore and Owl aren’t in it at all. The plot, where Rabbit tries to traumatize Tigger into no longer bouncing, is mean-spirited and dull. There’s no new songs in this one, just the Tigger song repeated twice. Rabbit’s house, so crucial to the first one, is now a tree that opens directly onto a lake which is just whaaaat. Also Roo and Christopher Robin have changed voices.

That said, Pooh’s bit, where he follows his own footprints around a tree, convinced at every new lap that the crowd he’s surely following is growing larger, is hilarious. The problem, I think, is one of timing. The first two came out within two years of each other, this one was six years later. The first two came out on the two years surrounding The Jungle Book, this one at the end of a real rough patch.

A look at my writing process.
There is also a new bit of animation which is quite nice, where Christopher Robin and Pooh have a talk about how even though CR is growing up, they’ll always be friends. It’s really touching and more than a little foreshadowy. Later that same year, a far more mature sort of Disney film debuted, and before long, their first PG rated movie, all made by a lot of talented new animators taking over from the old guard. Walt was dead and gone, and everything was going to change…

 "Pooh, promise you won't forget  about  me,  ever.  Not
even when I'm a hundred."

Pooh thought for a little.
"How old shall I be then?"


Pooh nodded. “I promise," he said.

Still  with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw.

"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I--if I'm not quite" he stopped  and  tried  again  --".  Pooh,  whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"

"Understand what?"

"Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come on!"

"Where?" said Pooh.

"Anywhere," said Christopher Robin.

So  they  went  off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always  be playing.


* I cry almost every time I read that bit. Manly, manly tears.

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