The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) Review
What do I know about the film?
Queen without Freddie. The Jacksons without Michael. Spice without Ginger. Disney without Walt. What is the link? They fell apart when they lost their driving creative force. (Yes Ginger was the driving creative force behind The Spice Girls, more on that another day) Of course if you grew up in the Disney renaissance era as I did, the idea that Disney struggled without their leader seems like melodrama but if you want evidence that the studio had very little clue of where to go from his death, look no further than ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.’
Released in 1977 4 years after their last full length feature ‘Robin Hood,’ ‘Winnie the Pooh’ is made up 3 pre existing short films with a shoehorned in ending to make it a story. Yep. It took them 4 years to do what anyone with a basic editing app nowadays could do in about 40 minutes. They were lost with no hope of rescue. The great Walt Disney Studios had lost their bounce.
A few months later, their next film was ready to go so ‘Winnie the Pooh’ was basically a freebie but still…4 years. The three shorts that make up the film are ‘Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree,’ Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day’ and ‘Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too.’ all based on stories told by British writer/poet AA Milne. Milne’s books were a series of small adventures inspired by his Son, the real life Christopher Robin, and the menagerie of toys he carted around with him. It is difficult to overestimate the impact Milne’s stories have had on children, literature and culture as a whole (I am here to focus on the Disney interpretation after all) so I will say only this: They are really rather good.
He looks…fun. I guess.
Most of the reviews of the film that I have managed to track down seem to have been written retrospectively, and are pretty positive with most sources citing ‘Winnie the Pooh’ as the most faithful and charming of the films Disney adapted from traditional British classics. One or two feel they destroyed the integrity of the original stories….
Integ-integ-How do you say that word again?~Disney Executive
But largely, the Disney version of Milne’s tales seem to get a pass from everyone now. Is this deserved?
Well before we get to that let us talk about the real result of these adaptations: As with ‘Peter Pan’ before him ‘Winnie the Pooh’s’ biggest impact on the Disney legacy is marketing. If you think of a thing, chances are that thing exists with one of the Hundred Acre Wood gang on it. Whether you call it shameless, innovative or awww cute it is a fact that is undeniable. If you told me right now you can buy a pregnancy test where Eeyore’s gloomy face pops up to tell you the result and to passive aggressively criticise you for peeing on him, I wouldn’t even blink. It is one of the fundamental truths of our precarious existence: The sun will rise, the tide will flow, stuff has Winnie the Pooh and friends on it.
The day I don’t laugh at this is the day you find my ice cold corpse.
Did I see it as a child?
‘Winnie the Pooh’ was not a massive part of my childhood, which is a bit like casually announcing I hate puppies, sunshine and strawberries (2 out of 3 of those are true…) but bear with me. I was aware of both the books and the Disney version of course, and naturally had a lot of the merchandise because it is literally impossible to get through life without it.
Is it just me or is this proper creepy? It gives the impression that Pooh Bear’s face has been scraped off…
My favourite of the Winnie the Pooh merch I personally owned was this:
I got given him the morning of my birthday moments before I found out I would not have to attend school that day due to bad weather. It was excellent. Being off school on my birthday, not dangerous storms. Sadly, gosh this still hurts, I reluctantly left him behind on top of my chest of drawers when I had to do a bunk from my family home due to very dramatic reasons and he was very much lost in the shuffle. I still miss him a bit.
I genuinely got quite sad remembering that, so here is this again.
Going into this review, I had a vague memory of some of the songs, mostly because I owned quite a few of the Disney sing along song video tapes. One of the songs I thought I knew was not in the film, because it turned out it was the theme tune to a TV show from the late 80’s early 90’s called ‘The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.’ It is tonally very different to the music in the 70’s film so how I thought the two were linked, I don’t know. I think it is just the way memories get all mixed up during the age you just consume everything that is put in front of you:
As you can see, this seems to be a very…American take on ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and the only thing that I recall about the show is the above theme song which is quite sweet. Some might say sickly sweet but, eh.
Whatever Pooh does in his private life is none of our business…
One of the lines in it, brilliantly, I just straight up stole without consciously realising it for a song I ‘wrote’ when I was about 8 and had a pop band. So this song has been pretty nostalgia-tastic. Although largely irrelevant so moving on…
Despite being fairly certain I have not seen the 70’s version the whole way through and not exactly pouring over the text as a child, The characterisations of the characters are firmly ingrained in my brain, as they are in most people’s. The ‘Winnie the Pooh’ gang are marketable in part because there are a lot of them and they are all different. This and this alone is enough to make them fodder for some of the most over wrought and self indulgent philosophical and psychological analysis I have ever seen riddled throughout the veins of pop culture.
I bring this up here, because I predict somebody at some point down the line will ask me why I didn’t point out that each of the characters represents a mental health disorder/a substance abuse problem/ a kind of sexual deviance in the review. Perhaps you are that person and you will have assumed I didn’t ‘pick up on it.’ No. No I just…don’t want to ‘diagnose’ Tigger. Fuck off.
Pooh Bear is sooo sick of your pop psychology he has thrown up Piglet. Is this what you wanted?!
If you are interested in this sort of chat (and why not?) then feel free to Google ‘Winnie the Pooh theories’ and fill your boots. I won’t be joining you. Unless you find one about the fact that nearly every character in the Disney adaptation has a different speech impediment of some kind because that is interesting…You see? Even I can’t help it. And Having just got comfortable on my high horse…I did chuckle at this…Pooh Bear has a problem:
Enough time wasting! Who is the Pooh Bear and what does he want with your children?
As previously highlighted, there are three distinct sections: Honey Tree, Blustery Day and Tigger Too. There are some perfunctory scenes to tie them together, and the narrative device of…a narrator. Fresh.
We begin in a nursery where some slightly unnerving versions of the characters are placed around the room:
Leading us into a song that introduces us to the world of Christopher Robin, a boy who has a gang of animal buddies who reside in the Hundred Acre Wood. The crew is comprised thusly:
Christopher Robin: The Overlord.
Pooh Bear: CR’s favourite teddy bear.
Piglet: Pooh’s little nervous mate.
Tigger: A happy-go-lucky very bouncy fella.
Eeyore: A sad donkey.
Rabbit: A fuss budget who says things like ‘Heaven’s to Betsy!’
Owl: Who is kind of wise but also a bit nuts.
Kanga/Roo: They…are there. Yep.
Gopher: On loan from the Lady and the Tramp universe. Yeah I don’t get it either.
The first story is about Pooh’s quest for honey which leads to him eventually being stuck in Rabbit’s house where the only solution is the old goose in a bottle scenario where he has to fast in order to emerge. The second is about bad weather. The third is about Rabbit’s frankly appalling quest to break Tigger’s spirit.
Winnie the Pooh (seriously…What is with that name?) as a leading character charmed me from the moment he leapt happily over his own name in the rather lovely opening song. The name leaping, getting distracted by a butterfly during his song, and his excellent, very toddler like walk…That was already three things I enjoyed about him and the film had just begun, which is more than many Disney protagonists give me to work with in a full run time. He then goes on to do his stoutness exercises as he celebrates his curves…
Screw ‘All About That Bass’ Pooh Bear can be ‘short and fat and proud of that’ without slagging off skinny people…
Oh my heart aches with love for him. Let me count the ways:
Firstly, his morning exercises. Done solely to prepare him for his meal. I can think of no other reason to work out, frankly. He is not even alarmed when his head does that Exorcist thing and his kidneys nearly fall out:
The way he talks, his walk, my God that walk is the best. The little happy wiggle he does before he eats (Yes I do that too):
I even love that tiny little T Shirt that doesn’t remotely fit him: Don’t we all have clothes we hang on to even though they don’t really fit anymore? Don’t make fun of me. I am short and fat and proud of that, bitches.
So yeah, I like him. Perhaps my favourite thing about Pooh Bear can be summed up in the following quote from early on in the film:
‘A bear of very little brain…So he thought in the most thoughtful way he could think’
Winnie the Pooh is cheerfully stupid. The poor bastard doesn’t even know what a mirror does. And yet there are many moments that show him trying his best to use his brain. Hell, in his spare time, he goes to his thinking spot to sit and do some quality musing. This to me is a most admirable quality.
When most people discover they are not good at something naturally, they will not endure it because people hate tolerating anything that makes them uncomfortable. I lump myself in with this: All it takes is a game of Trivial Pursuit to remind me that I am staggeringly ignorant on a number of topics that most people would consider basic or essential knowledge. Sure, I can name every David Bowie album in order of release but I can’t confidently point to Egypt on a map. But Pooh recognises his stupidity and makes an effort to improve. It is genuinely excellent: He may not be good at it, but he wants to learn. His affable enthusiasm for life is incredibly winning.
As is covered in that sketch I posted above, Pooh’s obsession with honey and his single minded drive to get it, (ok his addiction…there I said it!) kind of makes him, I may or may not be quoting A.A. Milne directly here, behave like a massive douche towards his friends. But I forgive him because here is the thing: It is made clear that he can’t handle more than one thought at once. So when he is hungry, he is consumed by that. The moments where his attention is diverted to his friends lead to some of the sweetest moments in the movie and support my belief that Pooh Bear stops just short of being unlikeable.
Especially with Piglet. There is a great moment where they are having a Hero party for Pooh Bear (Hip-hip Pooh-ray!) and Piglet gives up his house so Owl can live there. Pooh is quick to not only ask Piglet to live with him but quietly check with Christopher Robin if the party can be for both he and Piglet. Would a selfish character happily share his party and his house?
Maybe. But here is the thing: All the characters are kind of obnoxious. But also likeable. Often writers work hard to make their characters ‘every man’ types and in doing so remove any edge or layers as they don’t want to insult the every man by suggesting they might be, gasp, flawed in any significant way. And yet, nearly everyone in this universe has character traits that you will recognise as your own. They are more rounded than most Disney characters in this regard.
I feel like whoever you like best says a lot about the special kind of dickhead you are. For anyone interested, my personal ranking of the Hundred Acre Wood gang goes thusly: Eeyore, Pooh and Tigger make up the top three followed by Piglet, Rabbit and Christopher Robin together and then Owl and then, quite some distance away, Kanga and Roo. (I don’t count the Gopher. More on that later) Make of that what you will…
While one could argue that anything that does work about this adaptation can be credited to Milne’s writing, I honestly feel the highlight of the film is the superb job they did with the cast. Because, aside from Christopher Robin who falls foul of the curse of child acting syndrome, the voice work here is some of the best I have ever heard.
A trend I have noticed since I began this task is that Disney are sometimes quite hit/miss with their casting choices and seem to go with whomever was hanging around the studio at the time…And…well…It doesn’t look like they changed it up for ‘Winnie the Pooh’ Most of the people were working at Disney already in some capacity. Only this time they captured lightening in a bottle.
When I found out that Disney writer Ralph Wright’s sole acting credit in his whole life was voicing Eeyore, I was amazed. The dude’s got vocal chords that are as magical to me as Barry White or something: Just this sound that stops you in your tracks. To think he could have gone undiscovered…with that droll, dry, dark, deep rolling thunder of a voice…His delivery is so…I don’t even have the words. It is just perfect. When I passed the message on, he said:
The voice of Pooh (still finding it funny, FYI) Sterling Holloway, has already come up a bunch of times in these reviews but he deserves extra props here for what must be his finest hour, his tour de force, his magnum opus. That man was born to play a mentally challenged teddy bear. As with Wright, Holloway’s work is like that of a great musician: He makes it look easy but you know if you tried to deliver the same notes in the same way you would look sincerely foolish. Try saying lines like ‘Now would you aim me at the bees, please’ out loud and you will see what I mean:
Paul Winchell brings a huge amount of charisma to Tigger, right down to the laugh which was all his own work. He also ad-libbed the now infamous exit line ‘TTFN: Ta-ta for now!’ Yes. There is much to love about Tigger. But I think we all know what the most WONDERFUL thing about Tigger is:
As you can see, I am failing at telling so have resorted to showing. The work of these actors (And Wright) in this film is so funny, so adorable, so easy to love. While I understand die hard fans of the books not appreciating the Disney gang getting their hands on literary childhood favourites, only the very stodgiest of fogies could fail to offer a standing ovation to the cast of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ who so successfully solidified the characterisations that were on the page.
Christopher Robin may stand out as being arguably the blandest character (something of a contradiction, I admit) but to be honest with you, I love him too. What struck me while watching this film was that Christopher Robin is essentially at least their carer and at most their benevolent God. Every time there is a problem, he is called upon to solve it. He spends his whole life just running around trying to sort out these screw ups. Watching this little boy leap over a fence to get to his troubled friends for the second time it occurred to me that the poor little git is clearly shackled to these losers for life…I kid. I love them. But there is something so… enjoyably accurate about this.
When you are a kid, your views and ideas and your identity are all things you try out while you are still working out who you are going to be. As a result, most adults don’t take you seriously. So in your own universe, of course you are wise, loved and in charge of everybody. Watching Christopher Robin in this movie reminded me of my own childhood games…I was definitely super important. I believe the only person I answered to in my pretend Universe was Gandalf because, even when I was 9, I knew I didn’t have the authority to boss him about. Although I did tease him about his hat and beard. Behind his back. While stabbing Jabberwockies, shooting pink lasers from the safety of my great glass elevator, and occasionally animorphing as part of my ongoing mission to save the world with my friend Erika. I was a bad ass. And apparently incapable of creating my own characters…
A couple of things are becoming apparent here: Firstly, I am surprised I was never sued while at play, and secondly, the universe of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ plays deep into the nostalgia most of us feel for that small window where we are truly young. The final scene, that was added to tie the film together, is Christopher Robin and Pooh saying goodbye because CR is headed to school, to learn the geography that I should have been paying attention to. He and Pooh have a lovely conversation (and play Pooh Sticks!) and CR talks about how nice it is to do nothing and asks Pooh not to forget him as he moves on with his life. Pooh assures him he won’t. The film ends with a paraphrased quote that can be seen on Milne’s memorial stone about how somewhere a little bear is always waiting.
I found it worked really well as an ending, acknowledging the importance of saying goodbye and honouring the role friends play in each other’s lives. I got all choked up.
So many things get explained to children, so many things get taught. But how do we learn how to be an adult? We all have to grow up. While growing up doesn’t mean you have to let go of what you love it does mean facing the real world when you don’t feel ready to. I’ve yet to meet anyone who felt ready to be a grown up. All we can do is try and be brave. And that is why the ending, where CR and Pooh say a little goodbye, was touching. That is why it was beautiful. That is why I very nearly cried.
But then this thing winked at me and I was fine again…
Because I am not overly familiar with the text, I don’t know exactly how much of the wit in the film to credit to Disney seeing as I believe most of the script comes direct from the book. However, I am reviewing the film so perhaps the important thing to say is that choosing what to take from a book you are adapting is a skill itself. And there are some very funny moments. I even appreciated silly little jokes like Pooh Bear living under the name Mr Sanderz (that is what the sign says) and Pooh Bear having a Pooh-Pooh clock rather than a Cuckoo clock…
The interplay between the gang is great, helped by the delivery, and there are some great gags. I loved Winnie the Pooh’s attempt to get honey by pretending to be a rain cloud and asking CR to aid the deception by putting up his umbrella and saying ‘Tutt, tutt, it looks like rain’ It felt almost like a line from ‘Airplane!’ and I laughed out loud at how straight they were playing it. It is a kid’s film in how it flows but there is real wit, philosophical musings, (I love the exchange between Pooh and Piglet when the weather picks up: ‘Where are you going Piglet?’ ‘That’s what I am asking myself!’ ‘And what do you think you will answer yourself?’) as well as daft visual gags like Rabbit decorating Pooh’s arsehole when he is stuck in his house. Walt Disney’s favourite joke apparently. Who knew? I did.
Like the best art, it challenges you to think about it on different levels. So while I am leaving in that earlier paragraph about me not diagnosing the characters (You can’t imagine how much I don’t want to do that) I clearly couldn’t help but engage in the fun of looking at the whole thing and searching for meaning in the little moments. After all what else are reviews for? And it is deep. Kids can enjoy it on one level and adults on another. And there is a venn diagram of enjoyment with that, where everyone is getting something from it.
So it is a successful adaptation right? Right??? Errr…
What Doesn’t Work:
First of all…Let’s sweat the small stuff. The addition of The Gopher from ‘Lady and the Tramp’ as a character isn’t really necessary. The only cross over I was slightly rooting for was Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman during the scene where Rabbit is lost in the woods…It felt tonally right. Despite the fact that they hang a lampshade on the inclusion of Gopher, making a reference to him not being a character in the book, it just feels…pointless. Why bring him into such an established clique?
There are some crappy continuity errors, so far so 60’s/70’s Disney, like how there are some shots reused and the Piglet shown in the opening song is a completely different design to the one used in the actual film. Speaking of that song, it is odd that Tigger is the only main character who fails to get a shout out. This wrong will be righted again in the future…But at the pace I am moving at it will take about 2 years to get to that film.
Personally I find the third story the weakest simply because Rabbit crosses the line over to ‘actually horrible character’ as he plots to steal Tigger’s bounce rather than say ‘You know that time you wrecked my garden? It really hurt my feelings’ Even after he fails the first time and Tigger has to rescue him from harm he STILL continues to try and steal Tigger’s bounce, leading me to writing down the following note while watching: ‘I’ve gone off you Rabbit, you bounce stealing wanker.’
The ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’ sequence is transparently filler and is nearly a carbon copy of the equally pointless musical number ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ from ‘Dumbo’ Now the Heffalumps and Woozles may have been creations belonging to Milne but still why was Disney so determined that children should be shit scared of elephants? While some of the imagery and the song itself is pretty good, it feels more like a retread than an homage and the film gains very little for its inclusion.
Now…we come to the major problem.
Some books are crying out to be adapted into films. As you read, images are conjured in your head and, inevitably, some creative people might see the potential to take the images in their head and create movie magic. Some ideas come alive when correlated with the cinematic format.
But not every book NEEDS a film. If you are going to go to the trouble of making a book into a film it is very important that there is a good reason for you to do so: What will be gained from making the leap that cannot be gained from reading the story or having the story read to you?
The insurmountable issue I have with ‘Winnie the Pooh’ is that it is not a film. It doesn’t flow like a film. It has no stakes, no plot, no drive, no reason to be: And in a way this is right. If they had given ‘Pooh’ a plot (as I assume the TV series and other, future adaptations did) it may well have been unwatchable for me.
As with Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ the power, impact and joy of Milne’s work is the unique way he plays with language and words. But unlike ‘Alice’ Milne’s work is about the mundane and banal. When the narrator promises adventures what he really means is ‘a Teddy Bear is going to get stuck in a hole for a while, till he gets out again’ This is a story book story. Not a film story.
And they knew that. That is why the film, which is masquerading as a whole feature, is stitched together from three different shorts. While package films like ‘Make Mine Music’ are introduced as being made up of several parts, this is supposed to be a correlating contentious story and it clearly isn’t. The seams are visible. The strain on the studio is on display for all to see.
Even the constant references to being in a story book, much more so than any of the previous films, seems almost apologetic: They know these tales are generally reserved for that quiet little space between getting into bed and going to sleep. That is their role, in the great tapestry of children’s literature. Would you make a movie about Lucy and Tom? They don’t do anything! Postman Pat? Ok they did, and look how well that turned out…What about Dr Seuss? Have you SEEN the attempts to stretch those stories out for 2 hours?
We let this happen. All of us. Nobody even tried to stop them…
The magic of the childhood safety that comes with bedtime stories doesn’t usually translate well to film and adding a plot where none is needed is worse, so I am glad they didn’t try: I can’t emphasise that enough. But the constant references to the story, (‘I nearly bounced right out of the book’) the fact that they lean on this concept throughout, suggest they know they are working in the wrong medium. Which leads me to believe that the respect they show the text in making such a literal translation to the big screen is actually a lack of original ideas. I will say it: ‘Winnie the Pooh’ was made into a movie because of the marketing potential alone.
Would I remove this film from the catalogue based on this assessment? No. I couldn’t deprive the world of this:
And it took me a long, long (checking last time I posted a Disney review) long time to work out what my problem was with ‘Winnie the Pooh.’ Despite the respect they gave the text in staying true to much of it, the end result made me squirm and sigh as I waited for the film to make the jump from children’s story book to full length feature. 70 minutes later, it was clear to me that graduation ceremony was never going to arrive. It doesn’t really work because books like Milne’s don’t belong in Hollywood. They are short and fat and proud of that.
Is the unquestionable magic of the Hundred Acre Wood destroyed because Disney wanted to make some money from it? No. The characters, the words and the ideas from the books are all there so it was never going to be a total mess. Despite my frustration at the futility of such a literal jump from book to film, ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ is sweet, thought and nostalgia provoking, witty, charming and the cast are on the top of their game. While they work better coming at you from the pages of a story book, people should know these characters. And they always will. There will always be a boy and his bear.
Disney Nightmare Inducer Count: 3
While ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’ was too close to ‘Pink Elephants’ for my liking, it still deserves the ‘Scary Tunnel in a Chocolate Factory’ award for needlessly nightmare inducing scene. So much so that while I have counted that scene as 1 Nightmare Inducer (I suppose it is only right the nightmare induces nightmares…) I had to highlight my personal Top 5 Scariest Moments in ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’
5) This arrogant fucker. What’s he so happy about?
4) These eyes.
3) The honey pot with legs. Let me repeat that…Honey Pot With Legs.
2) These two who break character to glare at you…keep watching…there! You see it???
1) And finally…This weird starey one genuinely freaks me out more than any of the Halloween films:
Also, there is some really ‘Candyman’ level shit going on with Pooh and the bees. At one point he just starts regurgitating them. It’s not really on.
And finally the creepy Pooh Bear that winks at the end. He is not my friend.
The Sherman Brothers work here is not their best but not their worst either (Cough cough Sword in the Stone coughie cough). There are some suitably pleasing moments though. I am torn between the opening song and the Tigger anthem simply because they were engrained in my brain long before I saw the completed piece and therefore were the ones I enjoyed most when they popped up.
I think it has to be the introduction song, ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ which is just such wholesome loveliness that I just want to make hot coco with two fair sized marshmallows in it and hunker down for a story:
It took me a really long time to get to that so about this for an offer? Come back on Sunday and you may have another Disney review! Like with the Studio itself, I am releasing these two nice and close together…
A couple of well dressed mice go looking for an orphan in The Rescuers (1977)