Winnie the Pooh is one of the most beloved Walt Disney characters. The treasured stories that first appeared in books more than eight decades ago continue to live on in films, videos, TV shows, specials, and even video games. Join us as we go down memory lane into the Hundred Acre Wood and recall the brightest moments of this beloved bear and his friends.
Way back during World War I, the Fort Garry Horse Canadian Cavalry was traveling from Winnipeg to Eastern Canada; from there, it was scheduled to go overseas and fight in the war in Europe. When its train stopped in White River, Ontario, a young Lieutenant named Harry Colebourn bought a little black bear cub for twenty dollars from a local hunter. Colebourn named the little bear "Winnipeg" (after the Canadian city), but called it "Winnie" for short.
Winnie became a mascot for the troops, who subsequently smuggled it into Britain. When the Fort Garry Horse Canadian Cavalry was ordered to go into battle over in France, Colebourn loaned Winnie to the London Zoo in December 1919. After the war, Winnie was supposed to go live in the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, but the Fort Garry Horse Canadian Cavalry allowed it to remain in the London Zoo, where it lived until 1934.
As fate would have it, Winnie was a favorite of Christopher Robin Milne, whose father was author A.A. Milne. Taken by the bear, Christopher Robin decided to call his own teddy bear "Winnie." The "Pooh" name comes later -- from a swan that A.A. and Christopher had named while on a holiday trip; the swan would go on to appear in the elder Milne's poem "When We Were Very Young."
Besides Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin had several other stuffed animals: Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, and Roo. His father, who primarily wrote plays and novels, thought that these animals would be great characters for a children's bedtime story. (Since 1987, the actual stuffed animals have lived in the Central Children's Room at the New York Public Library, where children can visit them.)
Milne added the characters Owl and Rabbit, based on the animals that lived near his country home in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England. There is an actual "Five Hundred Acre Wood" outside Ashdown Forest, which was the inspiration for the fictional Hundred Acre Wood. Some actual locations in the Five Hundred Acre Wood are mentioned in the Winnie the Pooh books.
Winnie the Pooh first appeared in short stories for magazines such as "Vanity Fair." Pooh was drawn by several artists in the 1920s, but it was political cartoonist E. H. Shepard who scrawled the famous Pooh drawings for the Winnie the Pooh books. The first book, "Winnie the Pooh," was published on October 14, 1926.
In 1927, Milne wrote two books of children's poetry, "When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six," which included poems about Winnie the Pooh. In 1928, a second book, "The House at Pooh Corner," was published. Over the next few decades, the character appeared on radio, advertisements, and children's storytelling records.
In 1961, Daphne Milne (A.A. Milne's widow) signed the movie rights for Winnie the Pooh over to Walt Disney. In 1966, "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree" hit the silver screen. That short would be followed by more shorts, then films. and, finally, TV shows.
Now that you know how Winnie the Pooh came to be, we'll take a closer look at the beloved characters created by A.A. Milne.
The characters of "Winnie the Pooh" are some of the most beloved in children's literature, family film, and TV. In this section, we'll look at the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood and how they relate to each other.
"Winnie the Pooh" Characters
Winnie the Pooh is a friendly bear who is always willing to lend a helping hand to his friends. Pooh loves honey (he spells it "hunny"), but his eternal search for it often gets him into trouble. When Pooh runs out of the sweet stuff, he'll ask to borrow a jar (or several) from a friend or try to taste some from a bee hive in the Hundred Acre Woods.
Christopher Robin is a young boy and the only human friend of Winnie the Pooh (and the gang). Christopher is the one whom Pooh and the other animals can always call on when they get into trouble and need help. Christopher lives at the other end of the Hundred Acre Wood and often calls Pooh a "silly old bear."
Piglet is a very small pig and a good friend of Winnie the Pooh. He has a constant fear of the dark and is very anxious about anything unknown. Whenever he gets scared, he is often heard exclaiming, "Ohhhh, dear!" Even though he is a "very small animal," Piglet will conquer his fears to help his friends.
Tigger is a hyperactive tiger who loves to bounce, because that's "what Tiggers do best." He is a favorite of everyone in the Hundred Acre Wood, except Rabbit, whom he drives crazy with his bouncing. Tigger loves to try new things with gusto, but he often realizes that these endeavors aren't as easy as he thought.
Rabbit is a cranky rabbit who is always concerned that someone, usually Tigger, is going to destroy his well-kept garden. Rabbit likes a very serene life with no surprises, but Tigger and Pooh bring him plenty. While he tends to be a curmudgeon, Rabbit is a big help to Kessie, a bluebird whom he found and nursed back to health.
Eeyore is a loveable, pessimistic, and gloomy donkey. Eeyore is hardly ever happy, but his grumpiness might come from the fact that his tail is pinned to his behind. Disaster regularly follows him; in fact, nearly all of Eeyore's houses have either: fallen down, been knocked down by floods, or have been bounced down by Tigger.
Owl is a wise old owl who tries to give useful advice, directions to far-away lands, and suggestions. Often, his words of wisdom backfire. He loves to read and is somewhat of a know-it-all. When Owl starts talking, he tends to go on and on; that's usually when Pooh and the other animals will quietly sneak away.
Kanga is a kangaroo and the mother of Roo. She also acts as a mother figure to the rest of the characters in the Hundred Acre Wood. Always helpful, Kanga comforts everyone and helps when they are feeling low. She often worries about Roo, especially when he goes off on adventures with his good friend Tigger.
Roo is a young kangaroo. He's Kanga's son and Tigger's best friend. Even though he knows better, little Roo constantly gets into trouble but always learns a lesson. He enjoys discovering the small wonders in life. Roo is nice and sympathetic, and he often expresses thoughts that make him sound older and wiser than his years.
Now that you have met all the characters, go to the next page to learn about Winnie the Pooh's film career. The character's first film appearances were in a series of small animated shorts (or featurettes). Pooh then graduated to full-length films and videos.
Winnie the Pooh Movies
Over the years, there have been several Winnie the Pooh featurettes (shorts), films, and home videos. In this section, talk about some of the most popular films. Download the Winnie the Pooh multimedia guide here for the full selection of films and television appearances.
"Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree"
"Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree," released on February 4, 1966, is the first animated featurette produced by Walt Disney. It is based on the first two chapters of A.A. Milne's original book. The story opens in the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh looking for honey. Pooh borrows Christopher Robin's balloon, disguises himself as a rain cloud, and floats up to a bee hive that sits in a tree. The bees are not fooled, and chase Christopher Robin and Pooh into a mud puddle.
Next, Pooh visits Rabbit's house, where he finds lots of honey and eats ten jars of it. He tries to leave, but he has become so fat from the honey that he gets stuck in the front doorway. Christopher Robin, Rabbit, and the others try to push Pooh out the door but can't budge him. They decide that Pooh will have to stop eating to slim down. As the days go by, Pooh finally slims down, but not enough; he is still stuck in the doorway. Tired of the delay, Rabbit charges into Pooh's behind, launching Pooh into the air like a rocket. The gang runs after Pooh and finds him stuck in a honey tree.
"Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day"
"Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" was released by Walt Disney on December 20, 1968. This second "Pooh" short won an Academy Award and was released with the film "The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit." In this film, Winnie the Pooh is told by Gopher that it is "Winds-day." Pooh decides to wish a Happy Winds-day to his friend Piglet, who is subsequently blown into the air. Pooh uses him as a kite, and wishes the other characters a Happy Winds-day.
A windstorm develops and knocks down Owl's house, and Eeyore is sent to find him a new home. That night, as the weather turns worse, the Hundred Acre Wood is flooded. Trapped in his home, Piglet writes a note for help and places it in a bottle. Meanwhile, Pooh gets trapped in a bottle of honey and floats off. Everyone else gathers at Christopher Robin's house to come up with a rescue plan. Pooh and Piglet are rescued, and Eeyore finds Owl a new home (which turns out to be Piglet's house).
"Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!"
"Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!," the third Winnie the Pooh short from Disney, was released on December 20, 1974, along with the movie "The Island at the Top of the World." This featurette was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The short starts with Tigger bouncing on everyone in the Hundred Acre Wood. Tired of his bouncing, Rabbit, Pooh, and Piglet decide to take Tigger out into the forest and ditch him. After they do this, Pooh and Piglet feel guilty and search for Tigger. They apologize to Tigger, but he takes no offense. Meanwhile, Rabbit actually gets lost in the forest, but Tigger rescues him.
Back at Kanga's house, Roo wants to go play, so Kanga calls on Tigger to watch Roo. Bouncing around the woods with Roo on his back, Tigger accidentally jumps too high into a tree and is too scared to come down. With the help of the narrator, Sebastian Cabot, who tips the book (the movie screen), Tigger makes it down but is sad because he promised Rabbit that he would never bounce again. Rabbit eventually allows Tigger to take back his promise, and Tigger teaches everyone, including Rabbit, to bounce.
"The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh"
"The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" is a full-length animated film that was released on March 11, 1977. It is comprised of the previously released animated 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). This film includes newly created "linking scenes" between the three featurettes and a new ending to give closure to the stories.
This new ending is based on the final chapter of the book "The House at Pooh Corner." Walt Disney reportedly intended to create a feature film way back in the 1960s, but decided to make shorts instead in order to introduce U.S. audiences to the characters. "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" was the inspiration for an attraction of the same name at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Hong Kong Disneyland.
"Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin"
"Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin" is Disney's second full-length Winnie the Pooh animated feature, released in 1997. Christopher Robin is getting older and has to begin school, but he doesn't have the heart to tell Pooh, so he leaves his friend a note attached to a jar of honey. The note reads: "Dear Pooh: Don't worry about me. I'm not going far away; just to school. Help yourself to this honey. Christopher Robin." But the honey spills, making the words on the note hard to read.
Jim Cummings, the voice of Winnie the Pooh, says, "Pooh, the bear of very little brains, and his friends misinterpret Christopher Robin's soggy note and think they have lost Christopher Robin forever." Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit, and Eeyore embark on a rescue, which turns out to be more than they expected. They have to pass through biting plants in the forest of thorns, a muddy marsh, and chills in the skull cave.
Cummings adds, "They eventually learn that Christopher Robin is coming back, so it all turns out well. We actually had the premiere of this film at the United Nations. The film had beautiful songs -- a great soundtrack."
"The Tigger Movie"
"The Tigger Movie," released in 2000, is another feature film. This film begins with Tigger trying to find somebody to play with him. After he accidentally destroys Eeyore's house with a boulder, Rabbit informs him that nobody should play with Tigger. Saddened, Tigger walks away alone. When Roo catches up with Tigger, he is on a bridge, watching all the other characters with their families. Roo feels sorry for Tigger, and believes the gang should write a letter to him and sign it as his "family."
The next day, everybody is woken up by Tigger, who is excited about the letter and claims that his family is coming to a party that he is throwing. Not wanting to disappoint him, the gang dresses up like a group of Tiggers to make him feel loved. But when their disguises are exposed, a depressed Tigger leaves and walks out into a snowstorm. His friends search for him, and Roo gets caught in a snow avalanche. Fortunately, Tigger is able to bounce through the snow and rescue Roo.
Cummings, who performed both Pooh and Tigger in this film, says that he worked with the musical writing team the Sherman Brothers. "They wrote songs for all the original Winnie the Pooh movies," he says, "as well as 'Mary Poppins' and 'Jungle Book.' It was an absolute joy. They told me stories about Louis Prima, who did the voice for King Louie in 'The Jungle Book.' That was my favorite movie. They are incredible tunesmiths and very nice guys. Robert Sherman told me how they wrote 26 movie scores, and then Richard looked up and said, 'It was 27.' Robert then said, 'Come to think of it, it was 27!'
"They were impressed that I could read music and sing a song called 'Whoop-de-Dooper Bounce,' which went faster and faster as the song progressed. The Sherman Brothers gave me a signed score -- thanking me for my 'Super-Cala-Fragilistic Expealidocious-singing.'"
"Piglet's Big Movie"
"Piglet's Big Movie" is a full-length animated feature that was released in 2003. In this film, Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, and Eeyore come up with an elaborate plan to gather honey from a hive of angry bees. However, they do not include Piglet because they think he's too little to help. Depressed, Piglet wanders off. While he is gone, Pooh and the gang hope to find him by using Piglet's "Book of Memories" -- drawings of past adventures with his pals. They hope that the book can "remember" where Piglet went.
Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, Eeyore, and Roo set off to find Piglet with the "Book of Memories" as their guide. The film then has a flashback to previous adventures in which Piglet saves the day: from building a house for Eeyore to introducing the gang to Kanga and Roo. The flashbacks are the first adaptations of original A.A. Milne stories since "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" and "Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore." Pooh and company realize that this "very small animal" has been a big hero.
Cummings (the voice of Pooh and Tigger) recalls that "John Fielder [the voice of Piglet] got top-billing this time, which was nice because he was ill at the time. This was his last role as Piglet, and he finally had his time in the spotlight. Everyone on the film was very excited for him. He was such a sweet man. He wasn't doing a funny character voice -- he really sounded like Piglet."
"Pooh's Heffalump Movie"
"Pooh's Heffalump Movie" is another feature film and was released in 2005. Winnie the Pooh and friends hear a strange noise and find some large circular footprints in the Hundred Acre Wood. They jump to the conclusion that the noise and prints are from a Heffalump. Rabbit organizes an expedition to catch it but tells Roo to stay behind because it may be dangerous.
Cummings (the voice of Pooh) recalls, "This is the first appearance of a Heffalump in the Hundred Acre Wood. The Heffalump is basically like an elephant. Roo runs across small one, who turns out to be his size."
Indeed, the Heffalump is a four-footed creature named Heffridge Trumpler Brompet Heffalump IV (nicknamed "Lumpy") with a trunk like an elephant's. Roo is afraid at first, but the two later become friends. They meet Pooh and his friends, who are frightened and try to "rescue" Roo and capture Lumpy. When Lumpy scurries away, Roo runs after him but ends up in a tight spot. Lumpy's mother then saves Roo, showing everyone that Heffalumps are nice.
"This film was about accepting people and their differences, and learning how to get along," Cummings says. "We had the premiere in New York City, and the film had songs by Carly Simon."
Besides featurettes and films, Winnie the Pooh and his friends have been a favorite on TV, appearing on shows that appeal to preschoolers, older children, and adults. In the next section, we'll take a look at Pooh's career on the small screen.
"Welcome to Pooh Corner" was a live-action/puppet television series that aired from 1983 to 1995 on the Disney Channel. The show featured Winnie the Pooh characters portrayed by human-size puppets, except for Roo, who was a traditional hand-puppet. Each show started with host Laurie Main narrating an episode, which then was acted out by the characters. This was followed by a music video of songs from the Winnie the Pooh movies. The last segment was an arts-and-crafts lesson taught by a Pooh cast member.
"The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh"
"The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" was an animated television series that aired from 1988 to 1991 on ABC-TV. Reruns aired on ABC-TV until 2002 and on the Disney Channel until September of 2006 (presumably to make way for a new series, "My Friends Tigger & Pooh"). On the show, Pooh was joined by the regular cast and new characters: Christopher Robin's mother, Owl's cousin Dexter, Kessie the Bluebird, Junior Heffalump, Skippy the Sheepdog, Stan Woozle, and Heff Heffalump. Some episodes from this TV series have also been featured in films.
Jim Cummings, the voice of Pooh, recalls that this was his first Pooh gig. He attended an open call in which Disney was looking for a new voice for Pooh. Cummings also shared the voice of Tigger during the series with Paul Winchell, the original Pooh, who was often traveling. Cummings says, "I was also a Woozle and a few other extraneous characters."
"The Book of Pooh"
"The Book of Pooh" was a puppet show for preschoolers that aired in 2001 and 2002 on the Disney Channel. The puppets were filmed against cut-out style backgrounds, which gave the show a "pop-up book" look. This show departed from the original Pooh books and films, as it featured Tigger eating honey. (In previous Pooh stories, Tigger would say, "Tiggers don't like honey!") In addition, Tigger could bounce up and down from trees; previously, he could only bounce up into a tree.
Cummings (the voice of Pooh and Tigger) says the puppets were somewhat complicated. "It took four people to operate the Tigger puppet," he says. "It was Japanese Kabuki-style puppetry, beautifully done. We would record our voices, which were sent to New York City. Then the puppets would lip synch to our voices [as characters do in animation]. It was fully articulated, just riveting."
"My Friends Tigger & Pooh"
"My Friends Tigger & Pooh"
"My Friends Tigger & Pooh" is an interactive, learning-focused television series for preschoolers. It is scheduled for a spring 2007 premiere during the "Playhouse Disney" programming block on the Disney Channel. The series will present the Hundred Acre Wood in CG animation and introduce a new character, a six-year-old girl named Darby. She is a new friend for both Pooh and Tigger, and shares the personality traits of both.
Although Christopher Robin is not a main character in this series (neither is Owl), he does appear in storylines and interacts with Darby. She encourages Pooh and Tigger to be "super sleuths" and help her solve mysteries in the Hundred Acre Wood. Pooh and friends will help young viewers learn how to work with others, resist immediate gratification, and understand the value of patience and reasoning. "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" is produced to appeal to kids and parents alike.
Now that you know which films and TV shows Pooh and company have starred in, let's meet the real-life people behind the classic music and the memorable voices.
Winnie the Pooh: Behind the Scenes
Who are the talented folks behind the magic of Pooh? In this section, we'll meet the guys who wrote songs such as "Winnie the Pooh" and "The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers" and learn about the talented voices behind some of your favorite characters. We'll also see what the future holds for the beloved bear.
The Sherman Brothers (Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman) are known for their contributions to Disney films such as "Mary Poppins" (they won two Oscars), "Bed Knobs and Broomsticks," and "The Jungle Book." They also wrote songs for the original Winnie the Pooh featurettes: "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree," "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day," and "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!" After a 28-year absence from Disney, they returned to write songs for "The Tigger Movie" (2000).
The brothers, who also penned tunes such as "It's a Small World" for Disney Theme Parks, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and are in the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. They also wrote two songs that hit the pop charts: "Let's Get Together" (from "The Parent Trap") and "You're Sixteen," a No. 1 song for Johnny Burnette and, later, Ringo Starr (post-Beatles). These days, they write songs for theatrical musicals, such as "Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang" and "Mary Poppins."
In the first three Winnie the Pooh featurettes, the voice of Winnie the Pooh was performed by voice actor Sterling Holloway, who also performed voices in many other Disney films, including "Dumbo" to "Alice in Wonderland." The role of Pooh was then passed to Hal Smith, who performed Pooh in the 1983 short "Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore" and in the TV series "Welcome to Pooh Corner."
Winnie the Pooh has since been voiced by Jim Cummings, who answered an open casting call for the part. Cummings is a longtime Pooh fan and says he saw the first Pooh featurette when he was around 10-years-old.
"I loved the Sherman Brother's songs, and Winnie the Pooh was very different from the Disney cartoons back then," he says. "They broke the fourth wall -- the characters talked to the narrator."
In addition to Pooh's voice, Cummings can perfectly imitate Tigger, whose voice he took over from the late Paul Winchell. Winchell was a popular ventriloquist in the 1950s and '60s and was the original voice for Tigger. Winchell and Cummings shared the voice for Tigger in the TV series "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" before Cummings took over the role beginning with "The Tigger Movie" in 2000. The original Piglet was voiced by well-known character actor John Fielder, who, ironically, passed away one day after Winchell.
How The Voices Come Together
Depending on the show, there have been a lot of different techniques used to make America's favorite bear come to life. In "The Book of Pooh" series, which involved puppetry, the production artists organized complicated processes to make the series believable.
Says Cummings, "It took four people to operate the Tigger puppet. It was Japanese Kabuki-style puppetry, beautifully done. We would record our voices, which were sent to New York City. Then the puppets would lip synch to our voices [as characters do in animation]. It was fully articulated, just riveting."
Lending Their Voices
Cummings doesn't just use his practiced Pooh and Tigger voices for the big and small screen -- he also lends his voice to the Make-a-Wish-Foundation when he calls sick children in hospitals.
"One child that I called was dying of cancer," he says. "Pooh called her, and she started to giggle. Her mother was in tears, just crying. She said that was the first time her daughter had smiled in six months."
Cummings recalls another child whom he spoke to, a little boy with autism: "He asked me to do all the voices, even small parts that I had done -- extraneous characters. Then his mother, crying, got on the phone and said, 'He doesn't speak.' I said, 'He's been speaking for over an hour.' And she said, 'No, my son doesn't speak -- he's never spoken this much before.' I videotaped this for his doctor."
Winnie the Pooh's Future
Cummings will continue to entertain children, both sick and well, in the future with the 2007 premiere of the new show "My Friends Tigger and Pooh." He will, as usual, voice Tigger and Pooh. He will be joined by child actress Chloe Moretz as Darby, a new friend of the Pooh gang. The show, created in CG animation and based on additional A.A. Milne stories, is expected to debut on the Disney Channel in May 2007.
Milne's characters from the Hundred Acre Woods are as beloved as ever. And there appears to be no end in sight for them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Allen is a Los Angeles-based writer whose credits include animated series on MTV and Nickelodeon. His favorite cartoon of all time is "Scooby-Doo."
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