DISCLAIMER: This blog is not for profit. All images used below are property of their respective companies unless stated otherwise. I do not claim ownership of this material.
Under normal circumstances, I don’t get self-conscious about the fact that the movies I review are intended for children. These are not normal circumstances. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of shame you get opening your DVD case of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and seeing your complimentary stickers of Pooh and Eeyore hugging. Shit, if I was feeling any less macho right now I’d spontaneously sprout pigtails.
Like a lot of people who grew up loving A.A. Milne’s classic stories of Winnie the Pooh, I think I always had a little bit of resentment in the back of my mind for the Disney version and the way it just swallowed Milne whole. There’s really no two ways about it, when people think of Winnie the Pooh it’s the Disney version they picture. Hell, I’d bet a decent chunk of the population thinks that they’re original Disney characters. And that’s not even getting into the fact that Disney has merchandised the ever loving shit out of these characters.
I did a little experiment where I went into my daughter’s bedroom and counted all the things that have Pooh’s face on them. I found eight, and my wife and I have never even made a conscious effort to buy Winnie the Pooh merchandise. This stuff just appeared in our house. So yeah, a big multinational corporation bought the simple, cherished tales I loved as a child and they packaged it and, uh, patented it, and uh, now they’re selling it! They’re selling it!
This is the movie that started it all, and I gotta say, I went into this one looking for blood. This was going to make the Aristocats review look like crumpets with Aunt Sally. But…that’s not how it turned out.
Okay first of all there’s a few things you need to know about The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We’ve already covered movies made after Walt’s death and the departure of the Sherman brothers from the Disney studio. But this movie was personally supervised by Walt and has songs by the Sherman brothers. So what gives? Are we talking zombies or time travellers? Or even…zombie time travellers?
Okay, bear with me because this gets kinda complicated. Walt originally decided he wanted to do a movie version of Winnie the Pooh back in the sixties after he overheard the stories being read to his daughters. But there was a problem. Do you know what almost all the previous Disney movies have in common? They are, with rare exceptions, based on stories that are already known by pretty much every human being on the planet. Hell, chimpanzees have heard of Snow White, and have probably read Alice in Wonderland.
My point is, Disney wasn’t going to put his ham in the slicer for anything that didn’t have across-the-board four-quadrant brand recognition.
And incredible, unfathomable and downright unimaginable as it might seem today, there was a time when no one on the western side of the Atlantic knew who Winnie the Pooh was.
So what Walt decided to do was this: Release three twenty minute featurettes before other Disney movies to introduce the characters to the public and then release all three together as a feature length film. First was Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree in 1966, then after Walt’s death came Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day in 1968 and then Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too in 1974. Finally all three were released together as The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1977 and that’s the movie we’re looking at now. Now this was a very unusual model, and the Sherman Brothers and the various animators were skeptical that it would work. How did it pan out? Two Academy Award nominations, one win, buffo box office, near unanimous critical acclaim, permanent establishment of these characters in the collective American consciousness and over a billion dollars in merchandising revenue. Annually.
Artistically, as well, Walt’s model paid off. Because they were released as short films, they were able to keep the short, episodic nature of the stories without the need to stretch them out to fill a feature length running time. Because that works roughly never. And it is really satisfying that the last movie of the Scratchy Era I’ll be reviewing for you is one that Walt and the Shermans both worked on, and one that by all accounts they had a lot of love for. This movie has Walt’s single favorite piece of animation, a sequence he thought up the first time he read the book where Rabbit decorates Pooh’s massive behind when he gets stuck in his front door.
This film is in many ways a bittersweet farewell to an entire era of Disney movies. Pooh is voiced by Sterling Holloway…
…and was his favorite role. It was also the last role he played for Disney, which means that we have at last come to the end of the Sterling Holloway drinking game. Thanks for playing!
Oh, and we don’t just have to say goodbye to Sterling. This was the last movie work of Sebastian Cabot (Bagheera), Junius Matthews (Archimedes) and oh God say it ain’t so! Barbara Luddy (Lady, Merryweather and many, many others.)
Yeah. In many ways, this is goodbye. This is the movie where we finally let go of the people, songs and voices that defined so much of our childhoods.
Alright, enough mushy stuff. On with the film.
We begin in a boy’s bedroom and Sebastian Cabot’s narrator tells us that it belongs to Christopher Robin and his toy animals and we get our first song, Winnie the Pooh. I’m not going to go into detail on every song because there’s quite a few of them but one thing I will say is that this movie is very obviously aimed at an even younger audience than is usual for Disney movies and the songs reflect this. In fact, they’re almost nursery rhymes. Now that’s not a diss, not at all. A lot of these songs are catchy as hell, but they’re a lot less intricate than is usual for the Sherman’s. The song introduces all the principal players including a weird, off model Piglet (he wasn’t properly introduced as a character until the second featurette when they changed the design) while the camera pans over a truly gorgeous animated rendition of EH Shepherd’s map of the Hundred Acre Wood. You know what? I have no idea why I ever thought this movie was unfaithful to the books. So much effort has gone into recreating the look of Shepherd’s drawings, even to the point of jettisoning the Disney House style. And I’d say a good seventy to eighty per cent of the dialogue is lifted directly from the book. Hell, the only way this movie could be more faithful to the book is if they actually set it in the book with the original text visible in the margins OH WAIT…
Another thing I really like is that each character is represented by their own musical instrument, like in Peter in the Wolf. So Pooh is introduced to the sound of a tuba, Kanga is a clarinet, Roo is a piccolo and so on.
The story begins with Pooh realising that he should be doing something, but can’t remember on account of being a bear of very little brain. As he often does, he asks his reflection in the mirror for advice.
He finally remembers that it’s time to do his “stoutness exercises”, which keep him in the peak physical condition he needs to be in to guzzle a metric shit-ton of honey every day. While he sings the charming Up, Down, Touch the Ground he stretches, squats, does a fucking creepy as hell 360 degree head turn..
…and finally finishes. He goes to have breakfast and discovers that he’s out of honey and then hears a buzzing sound.
Pooh deduces the following:
1) The only reason to make a buzzing sound is because you’re a bee.
2) The only reason to be a bee is to make honey.
3) The only reason to make honey is so that Pooh can eat it.
Which is rather a ruthless worldview when you think about it.
Pooh climbs the tree where the bees have made their hive. He gets to the very top but at the last moment the branch he’s climbing on snaps and he falls a good thirty feet, hitting every branch on the way down and landing in a gorse bush. Amazingly, he survives.
But Pooh is nothing if not persistent, and “bear of very little brain” is really just a nice way of saying “too dumb to quit”, so he goes to see Christopher Robin and get a loan of his balloon. Pooh’s plan is to cover himself with mud and fly up to the honey tree so that the bees will think he’s a rain cloud.
Yeah, I don’t get it either, but Christopher Robin no doubt realises that this will be friggin’ hilarious so he goes along with it. Caked in mood, Pooh flies up to clean the bees out of everything they’ve got.
Anyway, the plan fails, the bees attack, the balloon bursts and Pooh crashes to earth and grumpily decides that they were “the wrong sort of bees”. So Pooh instead decides to hit up his good friend Rabbit.
As soon as Rabbit hears Pooh outside he desperately starts hiding all his honey because if Pooh finds out he’s been holding out on him things could get very ugly. Pooh inveigles his way in and soon enough he’s eaten all of Rabbit’s honey but when he tries to leave through the rabbit hole he gets stuck. Rabbit is understandably distraught that Pooh is trapped in his back passage, unable to get out.
So Rabbit runs off to get Christopher Robin, because he’s basically the Superman of this place, and leaves Pooh in the hole. Owl flies by (and I never realised it before, but it’s kind of weird to see an owl flying around in broad daylight) and basically does what Owl always does; be no damn help whatsoever of any kind. He does however suss that Pooh is stuck and says that the situation calls for an expert when suddenly WHAT THE CLOSE UP MOUTH WHORE FUCK IS THIS????!!!!
Okay, so the character of Gopher was basically shoe-horned into the movie because Walt felt that it needed some more comedy to jazz it up. You may like the character but you’re wrong and also morally diseased and I hate you, I hate you so much!
You may like the character and…that’s…fine. But for me he’s just incredibly jarring. I will read the charges against Gopher in order.
1) That the defendant is a blatant copy and pasting of the character of the Beaver from Lady and the Tramp complete with nearly identical character design and the same voice actor and that damn whistling speech impediment.
2) That his brash tone and manner is completely at odds with the gentle atmosphere and aesthetic of the movie.
3) That he contributes exactly nothing to the plot or story and that his scenes could be completely excised with no detriment to the film.
4) That the fact that he constantly makes reference to the fact that he’s “not in the book” just brings home how out of place he is here.
5) That he is a stupid head.
And yeah, I’ve heard the story that A.A. Milne apparently wanted to include an American Gopher character in the books and his publisher nixed the idea. I don’t know who that publisher was, but I would like to meet him and shake his hand. Buy him a drink. Go dancing. See where things go.
I’m not fond of Gopher. Is what I’m trying to get across. Ahem.
Anyway, Christopher Robin arrives and tries to pull him out but Pooh wedged in tight. Christopher Robin announces that the only thing to do is for Pooh to stay in the tunnel until he gets thin again. Well, that’s why they pay him the big bucks. Rabbit is obviously not happy about having to live with Pooh’s fat ass taking up half his living room.
But Rabbit is an enterprising lagomorph, and also completely mad, so he starts decorating Pooh’s posterior to make it more of a piece with his non-ass decor.
Well, days pass. Nights pass. And Pooh is left with nothing to do but pine for honey and dream of getting that role in Les Mis.
Until finally he’s thin enough to budge and Christopher Robin and the other animals pull and pull until he pops out of the rabbit hole and goes flying through the air…only to land smack bang in the honey tree. Where he was trying to get all along. Because far from being a bear of very little brain, Pooh is a goddamn chessmaster and he had this all planned from the get go.
The next segment is Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day which finally introduces Piglet. I say “finally” because Piglet is a central character in the books, probably the most important after Christopher Robin and Pooh himself. Here he’s played by helium-voiced character actor John Fiedler who you know from…well, you know him from something. He appeared in more films than the MGM lion, trust me, you’ve seen him in something. Pooh visits Piglet in the middle of the blustery day to wish him a “Happy Windsday” only to find that Piglet is high as a kite.
They get blown into Owl’s house and we get a very funny scene where Owl rambles on while his house gets blown forwards and back with his furniture shifting until finally the wind blows the tree down. Christopher Robin is called (of course) but he says that Owl’s house is a write off and Eeyore suggests that they find Owl a new house instead. Eeyore is voiced by Ralph Wright in his only acting role. Wright was actually an animator and story writer, but was cast as the donkey because he had a voice that sounded like it came from the very belly of despair itself. Eeyore is one character who’s quite markedly different from his book counterpart. In the book Eeyore is, well, kind of an ass. He’s constantly depressed, but he’s also sarcastic and condescending to the other characters, and not above a bit of emotional manipulation. Here, he’s just kind of gloomy. Anyway, Eeyore vows to find Owl a new house (it’s never really explained why he cares so much) and the action shifts to later that night with Pooh huddled in bed, anxiously listening to the strange noises outside. He opens the door and in bounces Tigger, voiced by Paul Winchell. Now this is one place where I think the movie actually improves on the books. Tigger doesn’t even appear in the first book (he debuts in the sequel, The House at Pooh Corner) and he’s a fairly minor character. Disney, and Winchell, pretty much redefined the character and he’s fantastic. Everything just works. The character design is both interesting and incredibly appealing, and Winchell’s jolly delivery compliments it perfectly. There’s a reason why Tigger is such a huge breakout character, appearing on almost as much merchandise as Pooh himself. Pooh asks him what a “tigger” is and Tigger sings my daughter’s new favorite song “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” which is basically happiness in song form. It’s a great bouncy little ditty where Tigger explains that one of the reasons he’s so awesome is that he’s the only tigger there is.
Tigger helps himself to some of Pooh’s honey, which is a dangerous move…
…but decides he doesn’t like honey because “that icky sticky stuff is only fit for heffalumps and woozels” and vanishes into the night like a bouncy phantom. Pooh, worried that there might be other creatures out there looking to get their paws on his stash, realises that the only solution to this problem is a good guy with a gun.
He patrols for a while but finally he falls asleep with Tigger’s warning about heffalumps and woozels ringing in his mind. What follows is…
Pooh wakes up discover that his house has been flooded and tries to get his honey to higher ground. We see that the Hundred Acre Wood is experiencing the kind of rainfall that normally indicates that God has called “do-over” and Piglet’s house has been flooded too. Piglet writes a message and sticks it in a bottle and I have to say, I love that the film manages to get tiny little details right from the book, right down to the wording of Piglet’s note (“Help. Piglet. (Me)”.) Piglet manages to get the message off before he’s swept away on a chair by the current. Meanwhile. Pooh has gotten his head stuck in a honey jar and fallen into the water himself. The rest of the animals gather at Christopher Robin’s house, except for Eeyore, who’s still house hunting for Owl. ‘Cos it may be the apocalypse, but the time to get on the property ladder is now, dammit. Roo finds Piglet’s message in a bottle and Christopher Robin sends Owl out to find Piglet. Owl finds Piglet and Pooh floating on the floodwater but doesn’t help because he’s Owl and that’s not how he rolls. Unfortunately, Piglet and Pooh fall prey to rule No. 32 of cartoon universes; “If there’s a river, there’s a waterfall.”
They get swept over, but are saved by rule No. 33; “Waterfalls are completely safe for non-villains.” and finally arrive at Christopher Robin’s house. Christopher Robin thinks that Pooh saved Piglet (and to be fair, Pooh is pretty much “Yeah, I totally did”) and announces that they’ll throw a special hero party for him.
Later (presumably forty days later because the waters have completely receded) and the party is in full swing until Eeyore arrives to tell them all that he’s found a house for Owl. Turns out Eeyore’s views on houses are pretty similar to Pooh’s views on honey, because he simply found Piglet’s house abandoned and decided that finders is roughly equivalent to keepers. Piglet of course is too much of a pussy to point out that it’s his house so Pooh instead offers to let him stay with him and everyone is happy (?).
We now move into Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. Rabbit calls a meeting with Pooh and Piglet after Tigger bounces on his vegetable patch. Rabbit says that Tigger’s gotten too bouncy and that they’ve got to figure out a way to “unbounce” him and I really hope that’s not a euphemism.
Well actually, not a million miles off. Rabbit decides that they will take Tigger exploring in the woods and then…leave him there. Rabbit assures Piglet and Pooh that they’ll come back for him eventually, once he’s been so traumatized by spending the night in the woods alone that he won’t be in any condition to bounce anyone. At first the plan seems to go fine. They ditch Tigger and head back for home, but Rabbit pretty soon loses his way and they start to go in circles. After reaching the same sandpit for the umpteenth time, Pooh suggests that they instead try to find the sandpit in the hopes that they’ll actually find the way home. Rabbit thinks that’s the stupidest idea he’s ever heard, saying that if he left and tried to find the sandpit he’d obviously be able to find it again. To prove this he walks into the mist…
…and never comes back. Satisfied, Pooh tells Piglet he’s pretty sure he knows the way back and they set off. You know, even in the book it’s kind of obvious that Pooh knew the way all the time and that he deliberately got Rabbit lost. Because, as I’ve already explained, Pooh is secretly an evil genius.
On the way back they run into Tigger, who’d already made his way out thanks to his uncanny Tigger-sense. When Tigger hears that Rabbit’s still lost in the mist he goes in to rescue him.
Meanwhile, Rabbit has found himself lost and alone in the woods. As he gets deeper and deeper into the forest, his mind starts to play tricks on him. He hears strange noises behind every tree, and quickly starts to lose his grip on reality as his fevered brain succumbs to the dread terror known only as…
Fortunately, Tigger arrives and rescues him before a Brazilian parrot warlock can offer to buy his soul and he returns home “a humiliated rabbit, a lost-and-found rabbit, and a “Why, oh why do these things happen to me?” rabbit“.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ends with a coda that was created specially for the final full length version and wasn’t featured in any of the featurettes. It’s a short, condensed version of the final story in The House at Pooh Corner, called In which Christopher Robin and Pooh come to an enchanted place, and we leave them there. If you’ve never read it, it’s one of the most beautiful, tender and quietly heartbreaking endings in children’s literature. Christopher Robin is growing up, and he has to say goodbye to his toys who he won’t be able to play with anymore. It’s about saying goodbye to the simple joys of make believe, and to old dear friends.
Christopher Robin: Pooh, when I’m not doing nothing any more, will you come up here sometimes?
Winnie the Pooh: On my own?
Christopher Robin: Yes. And Pooh? Promise you won’t forget me. Ever.
Winnie the Pooh: I won’t Christopher. I promise.
Christopher Robin: Not even when I’m a hundred?
Winnie the Pooh: How old will I be then?
Christopher Robin: Ninety nine. Silly old bear.
Wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place at the top of the forest a little bear will always be waiting.
Underneath the million tons of merchandising, DVD movies, cartoon series, spin-offs, T-Shirts and various other crap there is one of the sweetest, most good-hearted films you are ever likely to see. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a true classic and a perfect grace note to Walt’s career in animation. Pure magic.
It’s very simple, but also wonderfully fluid and utterly charming.
The Leads: 18/20
One of the most beloved characters in children’s literature for a reason, people.
The Villains: N/A
The books are famous for having no antagonist and the movie’s no different.
Supporting Characters: 15/20
Knocking a few points off for Gopher, I think he was a terrible choice. Other than that, very strong.
The Music: 16/20
Simple, hummable ditties from the Sherman brothers.
FINAL SCORE: 79%
NEXT TIME: The Scratchy Era is over, and now we enter possibly the most unloved period of Disney history, The Mourning Era. We may need rescuing.
NEXT REVIEW: February 21st 2013