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Ink & Paint
Ink & Paint is a podcast journey through the Disney animated classics! Each week, host Daniel Lammin and a special guest will look at each film in the official Disney animated canon, and talk about their artistic, historical and social context. Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss an episode! Have comments or questions for Ink & Paint? Record a message for Daniel right from your phone, and we'll try to use it in our next episode!

Episode 24: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Daniel is joined by comedians, writers and parents Sarah Collins and Justin Kennedy to look at the feature film debut of one of Disney’s most popular characters in ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ and discuss how the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood reflect important aspects of early childhood behaviour.

Daniel Lammin
Sarah Collins & Justin Kennedy - Writers

Producer/Editor ∷ Alex Amster
Music ∷ Sam Porter
Show Artwork ∷ Nikolaos Pirounakis
Episode Artwork ∷ Lily Meek

Show Notes
With the successful release of ‘Robin Hood’ in 1973, the animation department at Walt Disney Productions seemed to have found its feet after the death of Walt. Their first two films had been important steps towards autonomy - ‘The Aristocats’ had realised an idea Walt had supported but made without his guidance, while ‘Robin Hood’ was a film for which the artists were entirely responsible. These projects also allowed them to bring new voices and talent to Disney, many of whom were champing at the bit to prove themselves. All eyes were on the future, and to finally putting the ghost of Walt Disney to rest.

Well... almost. Work was underway on a number of new projects, but before any would reach the screen, there was some unfinished business to attend to. There was still one project of Walt’s that needed to be finished. It had been begun with uncharacteristic caution, had proven unexpectedly and wildly successful and was now demanding to be completed as originally intended. Before Walt Disney Productions would release a new animated feature, they would bring the only remaining animation project of Walt Disney to its conclusion, a series of shorts set in the world of one little boy’s wild and wonderful imagination, and his adventures with a timid toy piglet, a rambunctious toy tiger and a silly old bear.

Pooh, for a bear of very little brain, you sure are a smart one.
Piglet, ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ (1977)

The 1977 package feature ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ brings together the first three animated theatrical shorts based on the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh stories by British author and playwright Alan Alexander Milne - ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ (1966), ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ (1968) and ‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too’ (1974).

Though primarily a playwright, A.A. Milne is best known for his Pooh short stories, collected in the two volumes ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, published in 1926, and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’, published in 1928. The stories were inspired by the teddy bear Milne’s son Christopher Robin Milne had received on his first birthday in 1921. The bear was originally named Edward, but Christopher renamed it ‘Winnie’ after a visit to the London Zoo, where he saw a Canadian black bear used as a military mascot during the First World War named Winnipeg. The ‘Pooh’ in the name came from a swan Christopher had also named ‘Pooh’. The stories initially began as bedtime stories for Christopher about Pooh and the other stuffed animals in his nursery having adventures in the imaginary Hundred Acre Wood, inspired by the nearby Ashdown Forest in Sussex where he and his father would go walking.

The first uncredited appearance of Pooh in print came with Milne’s poem ‘Teddy Bear’, published in ‘Punch’ in February 1924 and later in Milne’s poetry collection ‘When We Were Very Young’ the same year, but his name first appeared in print with the short story ‘The Wrong Sort of Bees’, published in the ‘London Evening News’ on Christmas Day in 1925. The first book of stories followed a year later, with gorgeous illustrations by illustrator and Milne’s close friend Ernest Howard Shepard, who drew inspiration from the landscape of Ashdown Forest as well as his own son’s teddy bear.

Illustration from ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ by E.H. Shepard

The Winnie-the-Pooh stories were an instant sensation, and were immediately embraced as an indelible part of British cultural identity. With starling swiftness, the stories and their characters were canonised as classics of children’s literature on par with ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘The Wind in the Willows’, and were even a success overseas, with the first book selling 150,000 copies in the U.S. during its first year of publication. It also didn’t take long for this literary success to be capitalised on for merchandising. In January 1930, American radio, television and film producer Stephen Slesinger purchased the U.S. and Canadian merchandising, television, radio and trade rights to the Pooh stories from Milne for a $1,000 advance and 66% of the revenue. Within a year, Slesinger had built Winnie-the-Pooh into a $50 million-a-year merchandising success, essentially creating the licensing industry in the process. It was Slesinger who added the iconic red shirt to the character in 1932.

According to Dianne Disney Miller, her father Walt was first introduced to the stories when she was a child, just as he had been to ‘Mary Poppins’. “Dad would hear me laughing alone in my room and come in to see what I was laughing at,” she later recalled. “It was usually the gentle, whimsical humour of A. A. Milne’s Pooh stories. I read them over and over, and then many years later to my children, and now to my grandchildren.” The stories were also very popular with the Disney artists, with Ollie Johnson later claiming that many of them could remember whole pages of dialogue from the stories by heart. When the Disney Story Research Department began pursuing the rights to potential properties for adaptation in 1938, the Winnie-the-Pooh stories and Shepard’s illustrations were among them, along with Milne’s beloved stage adaptation of ‘The Wind in the Willows’, ‘Toad of Toad Hall’. Enquiries were made with literary agent Curtis Brown, but though Disney was able to purchase the rights to ‘Toad Hall’, they were not able to secure the film rights to the Pooh stories from either Milne or Shepard.

Early ‘Winnie the Pooh’ concept art by Mary Blair © Disney

Walt continued to inquire after the rights in the decades following, but while he was vocal in his enthusiasm for properties such as ‘Peter Pan’ or ‘Mary Poppins’, he rarely expressed any personal enthusiasm for the Pooh stories. Occasionally, artists at the studio would investigate ways to bring Pooh to the screen. In 1941, Jack Miller wrote a series of treatments based on the stories, and in the early 1940s, Mary Blair created a series of story sketches for a musical adaptation set to Schumman’s ‘Symphony No. 4’ and Bach’s ‘Suite No. 3’.

Still from the ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ episode of Shirley Temple’s Storybook, 1960 © NBC

A.A. Milne passed away in 1956, and two years later, his widow Dorothy "Daphne" de Sélincourt agreed to sell the theatrical and film rights to the Pooh stories to NBC in the US. In 1960, Pooh and the other animals of the Hundred Acre Wood made their screen debut in an episode of ‘Shirley Temple’s Storybook’, with the characters presented as marionettes designed, made, and operated by Bill and Cora Baird. The following year, the film rights reverted back to Milne’s estate, and Disney once again inquired after them. This time they were successful, and in 1961, Walt Disney Productions finally secured the rights to produce a film based on the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

There was one problem - the merchandising rights were still held by Stephen Slesigner, Inc. Slesinger himself had passed away in 1958, so the character was now overseen by his wife Shirley Slesinger Lasswell. Walt was not comfortable with the idea of releasing a film of Winnie-the-Pooh without any merchandising opportunities that could benefit the studio, so Disney entered negotiations with Slesinger, Inc. not long after acquiring the film rights. The first of two major merchandising agreements was reached between Disney and Slesinger, Inc. in 1961, establishing a co-partnership over the characters that would run smoothly until a decade-long legal dispute over revenue began between the two companies in 1991.

‘Winnie the Pooh’ concept art by Ken Anderson © Disney

In 1964, story development finally began for a feature film adaptation of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories at Disney, but as with their other adaptations of British classics, the path to the screen would not be a straightforward one. As had been the case with ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’, the stories did not immediately lend themselves easily to adaptation, certainly for an American audience. Rather than barrel through regardless, as had been the case before, Walt and the animation department would instead make a series of careful, considered, often unusual and occasionally controversial decisions that would ultimately make Pooh, Piglet and the other inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood amongst the most successful characters in the studio’s history.

With the rights secured, Walt announced the start of development on a Winnie-the-Pooh feature project in 1964. He seemed to have an unusual degree of caution over the project, possibly still haunted by the critical and commercial failure of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in 1951, after which he had vowed never to adapt another work of classic British literature again. While the Pooh stories were more contemporary than the Alice books, they posed three very similar problems - they were revered by audiences in Britain, were not as familiar to audiences in America, and didn’t have a sturdy narrative structure.

His first decision in handling these problems came as a shock to the core team of artists at Disney. Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnson, Milt Kahl and Marc Davis were all great admirers of the stories and were enthusiastic about the project, but instead, Walt handed it to Wolfgang Reitherman, fresh from his first solo directing experience on ‘The Sword in the Stone’. It was an unpopular decision, with no one more disappointed or frustrated than Reitherman himself. Unlike his peers, he had no enthusiasm for the stories, finding them too childish and too British. Walt then went one step further, assigning Thomas, Johnston and Kahl to ‘The Jungle Book’ and handing the Pooh project to the less-invested Eric Larson and John Loundsbery.

It was a tactical decision on Walt’s part. Fidelity to the material had been a major issue on ‘Alice’, and he wanted to avoid the same issues arising on the Pooh film. “We were pretty surprised”, remembered Thomas. “Walt didn’t bother to explain, of course, but as far as we could figure out, he felt the material was pretty low-keyed to begin with and he was afraid that if Ollie and myself, and Milt Kahl, and some of the other Pooh fans got hold of it we would want to stay too close to the book and that, I suppose he thought, would make for something too precious.”

In Reitherman, Walt knew he had a director who would be more inclined to bend the stories to his (and ultimately Walt’s) will, and hopefully make a film more accessible to American audiences. He was counting on Reitherman’s frustrations having a positive effect on the project, and bringing the film more in line with Walt Disney than A.A. Milne.

‘Winnie the Pooh’ concept art © Disney

Story development began, with Larry Clemons, Ken Anderson and Xavier Atencio forming the core writing and development team. There isn’t a lot of information available about this initial treatment, but later anecdotes suggest that they had been developing the first book into a feature, possibly finding some narrative cohesion between the disconnected stories. At some point in 1964, with two-thirds of the leica reel completed, Walt reviewed the work and made his second unexpected decision. In a story meeting following the screening, it was decided to transition the project from a feature into a 25-minute animated short that could play before a live-action feature film.

A number of reasons have been suggested for why Walt took this course of action. One is that the childish humour of the stories would not be enough to sustain the film and would ultimately make it feel slight. The other was his concern that American audiences were not familiar enough with the stories to guarantee the financial success of a feature film. The stories were certainly well-loved and successful in America, but this wasn’t enough of an assurance that a costly feature production was worth the risk. In the years following the disastrous release of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Walt had become more careful and cautious with the animated features.

Walt decided that a featurette would be a better way of introducing the characters and stories to American audiences. The short would use the first third of the developed feature, covering the opening chapters of the first Pooh collection, and if it was successful enough, would be followed with another, potentially collecting a series of Winnie-the-Pooh shorts into a feature later down the track. For now, focusing on a smaller-scale project would be a more effective use of time and resources, and allow them to deal with the challenges the adaptation was already posing.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’’ background layout © Disney

One challenge was the visual look of the film. Just as had been the case with Alice, the illustrations that accompanied the Winnie-the-Pooh stories were as iconic as the stories themselves. Any animated adaptation would have to deal with either translating Shepard’s style or (as had been the case with ‘Alice’) reject it entirely. The former approach was adopted, and Shepard’s hatched line style was cleanly adapted by the background and layout department by adding extra detail and filling out the black-and-white illustrations with colour, an approach perfectly suited to the Xerox process. The gorgeous simplicity of Shepard’s drawings was maintained, but now expanded into a richer visual environment more fitting of an animated film.

An even greater challenge was the characters themselves. All of them (with one notable exception) were inspired by toys in Christopher Robin’s collection, but some, such as Kanga, Owl and Rabbit, were inspired by real animals. Others, such as Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger, would barely appear in the short, or in the case of the last two, not appear at all. Winnie-the-Pooh himself was particularly tricky. His design most self-consciously resembled a stuffed toy bear, which typically do not have any elbow or knee joints. Stiff movements were important for selling him on-screen as a toy, but they restricted his movements to an extent that he might be less engaging in motion.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’’ background layout © Disney

Luckily the artists at Disney had faced a similar issue before. In the late 1930s, during development on ‘Pinocchio’, they had been stuck trying to render the title character as a faithful representation of a wooden puppet. The results had been so unsatisfactory that Walt had shut the project down until Milt Kahl had proposed his redesign of the character as a little boy rather than a puppet, slightly exaggerating and humanising his movements. With this in mind, Winnie-the-Pooh was also approached with the principles of child-like movement in mind, the artists occasionally cheating with the suggestion of knee and elbow joints and thumbs. They also gave him small dots for eyes, both to allow a greater range of expression and to give him a doll-like appearance. The final decision was to adopt the red t-shirt that had become familiar to Americans through the official Pooh merchandise since 1932.

The persistent issue on the first short, ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’, was how to translate the inherent British quality of Milne’s stories to the screen in a way that was both faithful to the material and easily accessible to American audiences. Walt insisted on the Disney tradition of a narrative driven by gags and situational comedy, and by reducing the scope of the story to a much simpler adventure (Pooh’s pursuit for honey, his adventure climbing a tree to raid a bee’s nest and his eventually becoming stuck in Rabbit’s warren door after eating all his honey) allowed for such a structure. This included the centrepiece gag of Rabbit using Pooh’s posterior as a decorative piece, with his legs refashioned as a shelf, a gag Walt suggested and developed himself.

The adaptation problems were many, how to keep the original Milne style and still make it understandable to the American audience and not upset the British.
Ralph Wright, story artist (1969)

In order to maintain the wit of Milne’s writing, Reitherman and his team came up with an ingenious solution. Rather than trying to tear the stories away from the pages of the book, the book itself became the backdrop against which the story would take place, with Pooh and his friends interacting directly with the text on the page. This emphasised the storybook quality of Pooh’s world and offered an even greater scope for visual humour, resulting in one of the most unique and imaginative adaptation techniques utilised in a Disney animated film.

Storyboards for the opening sequence of ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’’ © Disney

Another approach would be to translate Pooh’s charming short poems or “hums” into the musical language of the film. Rather than using them as written, Walt tasked the Sherman Brothers with composing new songs for the film in a similar style. Much like Reitherman, the Shermans were initially unenthusiastic about the project. They found the stories too charming, dismissing them as “kiddie nonsense”. At the time, they were deep in production on ‘Mary Poppins’, and mentioning the project to production design consultant Tony Walton, they were surprised by his immediate and infectious enthusiasm for Milne’s stories. Bolstered by Walton, the Shermans looked at the material once again, and started to find their way into it.

The songs we wrote for the Pooh films were all light and feathery… We never lost sight that, as Milnesque as we were trying to be, we had to be Disney too.
Sherman Brothers

“Walt wanted the songs for ‘Winnie the Pooh’ to be eminently singable and very simple”, remembered Richard Sherman, “and yet try and be original and whimsical.” They looked to the “hums” for inspiration, and began with the now-iconic title song where all of the characters are introduced. “... it was kind of like a love song”, he went on, “to this whole idea of being young and believing in teddy bears and little piglets.” The song would be accompanied by ingenious orchestrations by composer Buddy Baker, who used the same principles as Prokofiev’s classical piece ‘Peter and the Wolf’ by associating each character with a different instrument - a bass clarinet for Eeyore, a flute for Kanga, a piccolo for Roo, a clarinet for Rabbit, an oboe for Piglet, an ocarina and a french horn for Owl, and a baritone horn for Pooh. The song was accompanied by a subtly animated recreation of Shepard’s map of the Hundred Acre Wood.

While these decisions offered some effective solutions to the Britishness of the Pooh stories, it wasn’t enough to satisfy Walt’s concerns. Two additional decisions to further Americanise the short would later prove highly controversial. The first was to cast Wolfgang Reitherman’s son Bruce as the voice actor for Christopher Robin, despite his American accent. The second was to introduce a new character that would be more easily identifiable for American audiences, in this case repurposing the Beaver character from ‘Lady and the Tramp’.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’’ Gopher character model sheet © Disney

The introduction of Gopher might make sense in theory, and he is certainly added with tongue-in-cheek humour, the character continuously remarking that he’s “not in the book”. His addition though suggests a misunderstanding of Milne’s stories. While characters like Tigger and Kanga are based on animals not native to the United Kingdom, they are directly inspired, as are all the characters, by Christopher Robin’s toys. Gopher is not one of Christopher Robin’s toys, clearly presented as a real animal, and gophers are native to the United States, not the United Kingdom. Walt was determined to make a distinctly American stamp on the stories for audiences to connect with. Both Walt and Reitherman supported the addition of Gopher to the characters of the Hundred Acre Wood.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ completed production in late 1965 and was released in cinemas on February 4, 1966, attached to the Disney live-action feature ‘The Ugly Dachshund’. While the feature has been almost entirely forgotten, the short proved popular with American audiences despite mixed reviews, and was once again released in the fall of 1966 attached to ‘The Fighting Prince of Donegal’.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ Theatrical Poster, 1966 © Disney

While the response in the U.S. was warm, the response to ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ in the UK was significantly more hostile. The short seemed to be the last straw for the critical and literary community after their objections to ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘The Jungle Book’, and prompted some of their most vicious reviews of a Disney production, the ‘Daily Mail’ proclaiming it an “extraordinary attack on the last proud remnants of the British Empire”.

As well as the general tone of the short, they targeted a number of the decisions that had been made specifically to appeal to U.S. audiences. The appearance of the non-Milne character of Gopher would have been offence enough, but it was even more so when the beloved character of Piglet was nowhere to be seen in the film (apart from being referenced in the opening titles of the short). “It appears”, wrote the ‘Daily Mail’, “that in the Very Unenchanted Forest of film commerce, a gopher is worth more than a piglet.” While the criticism of Gopher may have been valid, his appearance was never at the cost of Piglet, who does not appear at all in the chapters on which the short was based.

Another objection came from the casting of Bruce Reitherman as Christopher Robin. Critics were furious that the beloved character had an American accent, enough so that Felix Baxter, the film critic for ‘The Evening Standard’, launched a campaign to have the voice performance changed before its release in the UK. Baxter cabled the studio personally to express his concerns before the short could be screened at the 1966 Royal Performance of the film ‘Born Free’. “REGRET EXCERPTS FROM CHRISTOPHER ROBIN SHORT SHOWN HERE GIVE HIM AN AMERICAN ACCENT”, he cabled, “BEG TO POINT OUT THIS CHARACTER VIRTUALLY ENGLISH FOLK-HERO. SUCH TREATMENT BOUND TO CAUSE CRITICISM. PLEASE CONSIDER REDUBBING BEFORE ROYAL FILM SHOW.”

When Disney didn’t reply, Baxter intensified his protests in print, arguing that Americans would be just as upset if Johnny Appleseed had been given a British accent. There was never an official response from Disney, but news eventually reached Baxter that the only print of ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ in Britain had been recalled to Burbank to be redubbed with a British voice for Christopher Robin. “Disney is going to re-dub the voice!”, he proclaimed. “Long live Uncle Walt! Rule Britannia!” For the British print, Reitherman was replaced by young British actor Jon Walmsley.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ production cel © Disney

Even more successful than the short was the merchandising campaign launched to accompany it. 168 items were produced from 49 licensees, including soft toys, puzzles, games, records, books and fashion items. It was such an enormous success that it surpassed the campaign for ‘Mary Poppins’ (Disney’s most successful at that point) and established Pooh as their most popular and profitable character since Mickey Mouse.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ enjoyed a strong success during its numerous theatrical runs in 1966 and into 1967. Walt’s instincts had been proven right - as a proof of concept, the short had connected the character with a wider audience in a manner where the success had been healthily outweighed by the risk. In his review of the short in the ‘New York Times’ on April 7, 1966, critic Howard Thompson wrote that “The Disney technicians responsible for this beguiling miniature have had the wisdom to dip right into the Milne pages, just as Pooh paws for honey… The flavoring, with some nice tunes stirred in, is exactly right—wistful, sprightly and often hilarious… we can only hope ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ means a whole series to come.”

Audiences wouldn’t have to wait for long.

After the success of ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’, a follow-up was guaranteed, but when the project went into production the following year, circumstances at Walt Disney Productions had changed. Walt had given the go-ahead for a second short, but ten months after the release of ‘Honey Tree’, in December 1966, Walt suddenly passed away, leaving ‘The Jungle Book’, the new Winnie the Pooh short and the early-in-development feature ‘The Aristocats’ unfinished.

While ‘The Aristocats’ would be the first Disney animated feature to enter production after Walt’s death, the second Winnie the Pooh short, tentatively titled ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Heffalumps’, would be the first animated project of any kind to be produced and released without him. It would be a smart move for the animation department, unsure of their future without Walt’s leading force, finding their feet on a more modest project before launching into a complicated feature.

The second short would adapt stories from A. A. Milne’s collections ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ and ‘The House at Pooh Corner’, with what would probably have formed the middle third of the abandoned feature film. Before production began, director Wolfgang Reitherman and his team took stock in the work they had done on ‘Honey Tree’. The interaction with the storybook, the design of the characters and the use of music were all clear successes, but Reitherman’s relationship with the character and the original stories had changed. He’d grown an affection for the material, and thought that the most successful aspects of the short were those that had remained faithful to Milne’s stories. The second short would benefit enormously from this realisation.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ story sketch © Disney

In the second short, eventually titled ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’, Pooh and the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood weather a vicious storm that brings havoc to their peaceful home. The short would finally herald the arrival of two of the most beloved characters from Milne’s stories. The first, Pooh’s tiny and nervous best friend Piglet, had been hinted at in the opening song of the first short but had never appeared on screen. The second, the rambunctious troublemaker Tigger, would make his on-screen debut. The role of the problematic Gopher would also be reduced, and after redubbing the character for the UK release, actor Jon Walmsley would reprise his role as Christopher Robin.

With production now over on ‘The Jungle Book’, many of Disney’s finest animators could now join the team working on Winnie the Pooh, some of whom had been disappointed to miss out the first time. “Essentially, our approach on Pooh was no different from our approach on any other film”, remembered Frank Thomas. “The characters were different, however, and the whole secret was to understand the characters. Once you get inside them, then the animation follows. In this instance, of course, Milne had given U.S. wonderful characters to work with.”

While the first short had been approached trepidatiously by the Disney artists, the second was embraced whole-heartedly. Perhaps it was the shared passion for the material or perhaps it was in the wake of the recent loss of Walt, but the short became a labour of love for those working on it. Animation and character duties were shared equally between the animators, with the exception of one soon-to-be-iconic character.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ rough character sketch for Tigger by Milt Kahl © Disney

Milt Kahl had delivered a powerhouse performance with the tiger Shere Khan in ‘The Jungle Book’, so it made sense to give him the responsibility of bringing Tigger to the screen. While Shere Khan had all the attributes of a real tiger, Tigger would need to adapt those features into those of a soft toy. There is a beautiful and simple elasticity to Kahl’s animation, a perfect match for the memorable vocal performance by vaudevillian actor Paul Winchell, who improvised Tigger’s catchphrase “TTFN, tah-tah for now!” during the recording sessions. The character was also given the perfect entrance, with the Sherman Brothers delivering one of their best Winnie the Pooh songs, ‘The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers’. Kahl’s animation was then brought to life by the artists in the Inking and Painting department, who developed a special dry brush technique for the character.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ cel animation © Disney

Another highlight of the Shermans’ score and of the short itself is the ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’ sequence where Pooh has a nightmare of monsters resembling elephants and weasels trying to steal his honey. The unusual sequence recalled the iconic ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ scene from ‘Dumbo’, and while an anomaly in the short, is one of its most imaginative moments.

The short benefited enormously from the improved resources and bolstered talent behind it. The animation is more assured, the storytelling more confident and, while the short still took liberties with Milne’s material, the world of the Hundred Acre Wood was now more sturdy in its construction. Even the animation of Pooh himself improved, with a more articulate and psychologically complex performance.

‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ Theatrical Poster, 1968 © Disney

In anticipation of its release, Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty proclaimed the 25th of October as Winnie the Pooh Day, and another extensive publicity and merchandising campaign was launched to promote the short. ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ was released as the companion short to the Disney live-action feature ‘The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit’ on the 20th of December 1968. It was an immediate commercial and critical success, even in the UK, with many proclaiming it superior to its predecessor. A few months later, its place in film history would be assured when the short won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject, awarded posthumously to Walt.

Frank Thomas with the Academy Award for ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’, 1969 © Disney

The success of ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ further cemented Winnie the Pooh and his friends into both popular culture and the fabric of Walt Disney Productions. It also represented some of the finest animation produced by the studio in the decade following Walt’s death, with an attention to detail, storytelling imagination and visual daring missing almost entirely from the feature films that were to follow it a few years later. There was no question that a third short would be needed, but while the first two had come in quick succession, it would be another six years before everyone’s favourite silly old bear would return to the screen.

The second Winnie the Pooh short had been the first major project after Walt’s death, but in the years following ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’, Walt Disney Productions returned to feature animation with ‘The Aristocats’ and ‘Robin Hood’. Plans for a third Pooh short were very much in place, but would not be pursued until these projects were completed.

According to the little that is known about the original planned feature film, the first two shorts would have constituted the first two acts of that film. The third, ‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too’, doesn’t seem to have its origins in that project, instead developed only after the release of ‘Blustery Day’. The title, a play on the famous campaign from the 1840 U.S. presidential election, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”, signals the shift to Tigger as a central figure in the short, responding to his growing popularity with audiences. Drawing primarily from two chapters in ‘The House at Pooh Corner’, the short finds the animals increasingly frustrated with Tigger’s incessant bouncing, and Rabbit determined to put him in his place.

‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too’ colour key concept art by Anne Guenther, 1974 © Disney

Once again, animators Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston lent their skills to bring the world of the Hundred Acre Wood to life, but with Wolfgang Reitherman working on other projects, directing duties were handed to John Lounsbery. The major vocal talent also returned, including Sterling Holloway whose performance as Pooh had become one of the most iconic in Disney animation. By now, Jon Walmsley was too old to return as Christopher Robin, so the part was recast with young British actor Timothy Turner.

Conspicuously absent from the production were the Sherman Brothers. Though their songs from the previous shorts would be recycled for ‘Tigger Too’, the Brothers had left the studio under strained circumstances during the production of ‘The Aristocats’, and did not return for the third Pooh short.

There isn’t a lot of information available about the making of ‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too’, but it’s clear from the quality of the short that the same care and attention lavished on ‘Blustery Day’ was given here. The quality of the animation is superb, and Lounsbery was able to match the energy of Reitherman’s direction. If it lacks in anything, it is in the cobbled-together quality of the narrative. While ‘Blustery Day’ was able to establish a strong through-line, ‘Tigger Too’ is let down by its episodic structure, even if each episode is charming on its own.

‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too’ Theatrical Poster, 1974 © Disney

‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too’ was released theatrically on December 20, 1974, seven years to the day after ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’. The short was attached to the Disney live-action feature ‘The Island at the Top of the World’, and by all accounts appears to have been another success, culminating in an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Subject.

With yet another successful Pooh short under their belt, it would have made sense for Disney to begin preparations for a fourth. Instead, they would look back to Walt’s original plan and finally bring it to fruition.

There are conflicting anecdotes around what exactly Walt Disney had planned for Winnie the Pooh. There is strong evidence that, despite the shift to a featurette, he always intended for there to be a feature film later down the track, but it is unclear whether that feature would have been entirely new material or, as it would end up being, a package film with the featurettes combined as a single program. Regardless of his intentions, in the wake of the success of ‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too’, plans began to bring the three beloved shorts together.

To do so required some clever editing and the generating of new material. Each of the shorts had begun with a live-action sequence set in a children’s nursery (albeit a very American-looking one) with soft-toy recreations of the main characters. The stories then began with the opening of a copy of A. A. Milne’s book, and concluded with the book closing. The film would borrow this same structure and reuse this material, but new narration and additional animation of pages turning would help transition cleanly between the three stories. There would also be small cuts to all three shorts to keep the runtime to an acceptable length.

Bringing the shorts together would also require a new ending, since each had simply concluded with the book closing. Thankfully, Milne already had the perfect ending for them. In the postscript to ‘The House at Pooh Corner’, Christopher Robin must say goodbye to the animals in the Hundred Acre Wood before he goes to school, including a gentle and heartfelt conversation with Pooh about the concept of growing up. It would bring the film to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

There is some mystery around the origins of this sequence. It would make sense that no work on the sequence would have been necessary until the shorts were packaged together, but while Jon Walmsey voices Christopher Robin in the first two sections and Timothy Turner voices him in the third, Walmsey returns in the epilogue. Since Walmsey would have been in his late teens by the time the feature was produced, this suggests that it was recorded in the early 1960s. Perhaps it had been intended as the ending for ‘Blustery Day’, but there is nothing to suggest that it was included in any prints of that short. Perhaps it had simply been recorded early with the intention to use it as the conclusion of a package film later. This vocal inconsistency though doesn’t detract from the power of the sequence, one of the most tender in any Disney animated film.

‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ Theatrical Poster, 1977 © Disney

The final film, titled ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’, was released theatrically on March 11, 1977. Easily the strongest of all the Disney package films, it has since been acknowledged as a classic, despite criticism of its treatment of Milne’s stories. Now combined as a single program, the ingenuity and imagination of the three shorts bursts off the screen, and unlike the previous package films, makes for a consistent and holistic experience. Despite their early misgivings, the Disney animation team crafted moments of genuine magic, with a deeply heartfelt and unexpectedly witty portrait of childhood made manifest in this strange collection of soft toys living in the woods.

In the decades that followed, Winnie the Pooh would continue to grow in popularity, including further theatrical shorts, a television series and a number of direct-to-video and theatrical features. In the early 2000s, Disney investigated the idea of restoring ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree’ with some of the material deleted when the original feature film version was scrapped, but ultimately decided against this when not enough material could be found to include. Instead, Winnie the Pooh would return to the big screen, and to the Disney Animated Classics, with his second major feature film in 2011.

“Walt was concerned that they would have more charm than substance, and he wanted to be sure that we had captured the story, that we captured the strength of the characters so they would exist on their own; they didn’t rely on you having read the story.” - Frank Thomas

The release of ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ was a bittersweet moment for Walt Disney Productions. The film was the culmination of their work so far on A. A. Milne’s beloved stories, successfully establishing Pooh as one of the most popular fictional characters in the world and launching a merchandising industry that persists to this day. Mixed into that success was Walt himself. This would be his last film for Walt Disney Productions, over a decade after his death. Compared to the films immediately preceding and following it, ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ has far more in common with the tone and texture of the films of the Silver Age, a time capsule of Disney’s past. With the Winnie the Pooh feature film finally realised, it was as if the ghost of Walt Disney was finally being laid to rest.

In the meantime, the new generation of Disney artists had been working on a project of their own, a shelved project Walt had considered before his death but had no enthusiasm for. These new artists were keen to prove themselves, keen to both return Disney animation to the heights of its early days and carve out a space for themselves within the legendary company. While the Nine Old Men had been present at the construction of Walt Disney animation, their disciples had grown up with it, been inspired by it and found their calling within it. They would test their mettle on this dark and strange film, one more indicative of the changing artistic landscape of the late 1970’s - the story of two intrepid mice on a mission to rescue a little girl and bring her home.

The 1982 U.S. VHS release, the 1996 U.S. Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection VHS release, the 2002 U.S. 25th anniversary DVD release and the 2013 U.S. Blu-ray release.

  • ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ made its VHS debut in June 1981 as a rental release, with a commercial VHS, Betamax, CED and Lasedisc release the following year. It was once again released on VHS in 1984 as part of the Walt Disney Cartoon Classics collection.
  • In 1996, the film returned to VHS and Laserdisc in a special edition release as part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection, featuring the making-of featurette ‘The Story Behind the Masterpiece’.
  • For its 25th anniversary in May 2002, the film was restored and released for the first time on DVD, featuring the making-of featurette and the 1983 short ‘Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore’. It was also re-released on VHS.
  • A second DVD release came in June 2007 with the Friendship Edition, featuring the same bonus features as the previous DVD release.
  • The film made its Blu-ray debut in August 2013, carrying over a number of the features from the DVD releases.
  • The film is available on Disney+.
  • Despite numerous releases on VHS and as special features on early DVD titles, the three original shorts are no longer publicly available in their original form.

Battle lines are drawn at Disney animation with the melancholy and beloved classic, ‘The Rescuers’.

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