Winnie the Pooh has been a family favorite as far back as I can remember–from my Winnie the Pooh books and my brother’s toys to calling my sister Eeyore when she was in a particularly pessimistic mood. We also grew up watching the various spinoff shows that aired in the late 80s and 90s (to this day, I still know all the words to the theme for The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh) and the original film as it was shown on the Disney Channel.
So you can imagine my surprise to find out on a recent viewing of the DVD of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that the version I grew up with was not the ACTUAL feature version released in 1977. The version I remember contained three featurettes: “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree,” “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day,” and “Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore.” But while the original does include the first two plus “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too,” “A Day for Eeyore” was not released until 1983 and has a slightly different animation style and voice cast.
Disney acquired the film rights in the early 60s, but at the time, most American children had not read the books. Walt decided to release parts of the story early so that when the feature-length film came out, kids would already be familiar with the characters. All four of the featurettes were released in theaters in conjunction with other Disney animated releases (and actually, I’m not sure why “A Day for Eeyore” was released this way after the fact). Another thing Disney did to help American children relate to the films was to add an “American” character, Gopher, who frequently points out that he’s “not in the book,” which subtly reminds the audience that Gopher was not part of A.A. Milne’s original Hundred Acre Wood. This film would ultimately mark the final project with which Walt Disney had any involvement.
While using a book as a way to open a Disney classic had been done since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this one was unique in that the book was a part of the story itself. There are several places in the film where the Narrator comments on something, starting on one page and ending on another page, or where you see the characters coming out of the book, like when Pooh is flying toward the honey tree and Gopher shouts to turn the page so Pooh doesn’t completely leave the book. There is also quite a bit of interaction between the Narrator and the other characters–particularly Winnie the Pooh–between chapters in the original story. My favorite such moment is in “A Day for Eeyore” when the Narrator clears up the dispute over whether Tigger “coughed” or bounced Eeyore into the river:
Narrator: “Excuse me. Perhaps I can help.”
Rabbit: “Who said that?”
Tigger: “It’s the Narr-A-Tor.”
True to Disney form, the original film featured a fabulous voice cast made up of both Disney regulars and a few new faces:
- Of all the roles that Sterling Holloway played during his 30-plus years at the Disney studios, he is perhaps best known (to me, anyway) as the voice of Winnie the Pooh. His filmography is long and varied (and we’ve covered it quite a bit here on True Classics), but for me this is probably my favorite of his many roles (followed very closely by Roquefort from The Aristocats). And while two other actors have since provided the voice for Winnie the Pooh, Holloway is still my favorite.
- This film would be the last performance for Barbara Luddy, who rounded out her career in the role of Kanga.
- Sebastian Cabot, who narrated the film, was best known at the time of the release as Mr. French on the television series Family Affair.
- Paul Winchell, who provided the voice of Tigger until Jim Cummings took over in the late 80s, was popular as a ventriloquist before taking on the role and actually ad-libbed Tigger’s famed “TTFN” line.
- John Fielder provided the voice of Piglet from the original featurettes all the way through the TV show and the direct-to-video movies until Pooh’s Heffalump Movie in 2005, when he passed away. He was also a character actor in Hollywood for many years and appeared in such classic films as 12 Angry Men (1957), That Touch of Mink (1962), and True Grit (1969) as well as an untold number of television series (including perhaps his most notable role as the neurotic Mr. Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s).
- The voice of Roo was done by several different child actors including Clint Howard, Ron Howard’s little brother.
I think what I love most about these stories is the wonderful songs and quotes sprinkled throughout. I love a good Sherman Brothers soundtrack, and this one is no exception, with great classics like “I’m Just a Little Black Rain Cloud,” “Heffalumps and Woozles,” and, of course, the title song, “Winnie the Pooh.”
I recently found out that Disney is releasing a brand new, feature-length, traditionally animated film this summer called Winnie the Pooh.
This feature is expected to include stories from the books that were not included in the original film and will ultimately be more in line with the original film than the many spinoff shows and movies. It will feature the voice of Jim Cummings, who has been speaking for Pooh and Tigger since the 80s, and will have John Cleese taking over as the Narrator.
That’s it for this week’s edition of Saturday Morning Cartoons. Until next time, as Tigger says, “T-T-F-N!”