Tuesday, July 22, 2014

THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH (1977)

RELEASE DATE: Friday 11th March 1977
 
  
It's actually a bit of a stretch to call this Disney's 22nd animated feature, but that's exactly what it's classified as, so I'll go with it. This is actually a package film. Disney combined three short films that had previously been released alongside other features and smooshed them together to make something approximating full-length.
 
"Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree" was created in 1966 (11 years prior!) to be shown with a live-action film called "The Ugly Dachshund." It came out before Walt had passed away and had his full blessing.

The second segment, "Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day," accompanied a film called "The Horse In The Grey Flannel Suit" at the end of 1968.

Then in 1974 the third Pooh movie "Winnie The Pooh And Tigger Too" was released alongside "The Island At The Top Of The World."

It's interesting that the legacy of these little Pooh shorts has well-and-truly endured, but the three films it was the support-act for are now practically forgotten. In 1977 someone had the bright idea to put these three short films together with a smattering of new animation for the mid-sections and ending, and it became a feature film.

Based on the popular children's books by A.A. Milne, the characters in these stories have been beloved for generations, and many now consider the Disney versions to be the definitive representations. While many additional Pooh cartoons were made afterwards, only one official sequel was ever created, which was 2011's "Winnie The Pooh..." But we'll get to that later!


I suppose Disney had a relatively easy ride here, since the characters were all pre-written and already extremely well-defined. We begin this movie with the opening of a book, like many Disney movies before. This time though, it goes a bit further. The book is actually present throughout the entire film. Note that this would be the last time the "opening book" motif would ever be used in a Disney animated film; it hasn't been used since.


The adorable opening song introduces us to all the different characters in the Hundred Acre Wood, the world of Christopher Robin's imagination. Note that Tigger is not in this opening song and Piglet looks very off-model. That's because neither of these characters would be featured in the stories until the second part, "Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day."


Last but not least, we're introduced to our main character, a bear of very little brain, Winnie the Pooh. He tries hard to think, but he's rumbly in his tumbly.
 

He decides that what he needs is some honey, so he attempts to climb the honey tree to get some. The plan doesn't work however, and Pooh plummets to the ground.


Pooh goes searching for Christopher Robin, and finds him attaching a new tail to Eeyore's behind.


After borrowing Christopher Robin's balloon and rolling in the mud, Pooh considers himself well-disguised as a little black raincloud and thinks this is clever enough to fool the bees... It isn't...


After the unsuccessful attempt at stealing the bees' honey, Pooh tries to think. Honey rhymes with bunny, and bunny rhymes with... Rabbit! Pooh goes to visit his friend Rabbit, hoping that he will be offered some free lunch. Rabbit, who enjoys living a nice orderly life on his own, is none too pleased to see the bear.


Pooh eats Rabbit out of house and home, and then attempts to leave. But oh, something's wrong! Pooh has become so fat he gets stuck in the doorway!


Owl and Gopher discuss how to get Pooh "unstuck," but they decide that they'll just have to wait for him to get thin again. Gopher almost feeds Pooh some honey in the middle of the night, but a frazzled Rabbit puts a stop to that!

 
Eventually Christopher Robin leads a giant tug-of-war that yanks Pooh free of the doorway and launches him straight into the beehive, where he is quite content to stay!


The next story begins on a very blustery day; what's called "Windsday." Pooh and Piglet find themselves blown right into Owl's house at the top of a tree.


While Owl bores them both with tales of his ancestors, the wind blows so strong the entire tree comes crashing to the ground!


That night Pooh is finding it hard to sleep with all of the strange noises he hears. Suddenly a wild creature leaps out and pins him to the ground. It's Tigger! "T-I-double-g-Rrr!"


Tigger warns Pooh to look out for Heffalumps and Woozles, creatures that steal honey. Pooh has a terrible nightmare as a result of Tigger's words.


Meanwhile, round at Piglet's house, the blustery day has turned into a rainy day and his house becomes completely flooded. He sends out an urgent note for help.


After some more misadventures with Pooh, Piglet is rescued by Christopher Robin. Eeyore suddenly claims that he has found a new house for Owl. Only, it's Piglet's house that he's found. Piglet sadly agrees to let his house go, and Pooh asks Piglet to move in with him. Then they all have a party.


That brings us to the third story, in which Tigger is making an absolute nuisance of himself. Rabbit comes up with the idea of taking Tigger deep into the forest and losing him there. This will apparently cure him of his bounciness. Taking Piglet and Pooh with him, Rabbit successfully ditches Tigger in the fog.


Unfortunately for Rabbit, Tiggers never get lost, and before long Tigger is bouncing Rabbit all the way home.


In the coming days it is snowing in the Hundred Acre Wood. Tigger and Roo go out into the snow to play together, but Tigger gets himself stuck in a tree and is terrified to come down!


Meanwhile, Pooh and Piglet are in a state of confusion at some footprints that they are following. Where did they come from? What kind of creature left them??


Eventually Rabbit convinces Tigger to promise never to bounce again if he can only get down from the tree. When he does reach terra firma, Tigger becomes sad and pathetic without his bounce. Even Rabbit has to admit that he likes the old Tigger better too.


The film ends with a touching little segment where Christopher Robin and Pooh go for a walk through the woods. Christopher tells his bear that he's going to have to go away for a while. The school year is about to start, and so he's got some responsibilities and growing-up to do. Pooh tells him that no matter how far away he goes, he will always have a loving bear waiting for him in the Hundred Acre Wood.



IRVYNE: This is unlike any other Disney movie (except perhaps its sequel) and rightly so. It wasn't even designed as a single movie in the first place! There is no overarching story thread or character development to speak of. It's just a bunch of stuffed toys getting up to misadventures. There's no threat, no danger, just the everyday lives of a bunch of strange characters.
I think it must be impossible not to love the character of Winnie the Pooh, especially with the warm, cuddly and naive voice of Sterling Holloway. All of the characters are endearing, from poor sad Eeyore to scared and anxious Piglet. Perhaps these characters were designed so that everybody could identify with one of them.
The only character that has always annoyed me is Rabbit, especially in the "Tigger Too" chapter, where he is a bullying jerk. I know he redeems himself in the end, but earlier on he is really cruel to Tigger and tries to deny him the one thing that makes him happy, just because HE finds it annoying.
Since the bits and pieces of this movie were created over the course of a decade, it really is impressive that they all flow together so well. The voices all sound like they were recorded at the same time and the animation is completely consistent. I never even realised this was made up of smaller films until I was an adult. It just works, and works well.
I've never been a fan of the Xerox look of the movies from the 60s and 70s, but I have to admit, this is the one case where I feel like it really matches. The sketchy-style of animation fits perfectly with the storybook backgrounds, making it literally look like a moving picture book. Many of the backgrounds have large portions of white in them (if they're not completely white) which gives the constant feeling that these characters are acting out their stories on pages of paper.

The animals are all given so much character. Pooh, Rabbit and Tigger are especially expressive.

There is one sneaky shot of recycled animation that I noticed, although I think it might be more of a cheeky homage than a money-saving scheme. In the "Heffalumps and Woozles" sequence (which itself seems very inspired by "Pink Elephants on Parade") there is some animation stolen directly from Dumbo!


As a living, breathing storybook, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is very visually appealing.


The songs were written by famed composers the Sherman Brothers. Each tune is a delightfully simple and catchy little ditty. You will notice though that while "The Honey Tree" and "The Blustery Day" have a number of lovely Sherman songs, "Tigger Too" is song-free. This is because the Shermans' Disney contract had expired after Bedknobs and Broomsticks in 1971 and they had since moved on to other projects.

By far the greatest song in the movie is the title song, which can be bouncy and jolly, as well as incredibly nostalgic and sad if given the right orchestration. It's a stunning case of clever songwriting.


The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is enjoyable, funny and adorable. It's an extremely safe and comfortable movie, making it accessible to Disney audiences of literally any age. The characters are endearing even after all of the years since A.A. Milne invented them. No Disney collection is complete without Pooh!
 
SHENZI: I love Winnie The Pooh!

 
RAPUNZEL: It's adorable how entirely dumb Pooh is. He's so stupid, it's wonderful.

 
IRVYNE: It's not his fault. He's a bear of very little brain, after all.

 
PASCAL: My favourites are Kanga and Roo... because together they make a kangaroo!

 
ANNA: As a child I hated Rabbit, but now as an adult I can understand how frustrated I would get if I lived near Tigger!

 
RAPUNZEL: I don't understand why Gopher is there. He's not in the original books and he doesn't serve any real plot purpose.

   
IRVYNE: Well he does freely admit that "I'm not in the book!"

WENDY: It's a very quotable film.

 
PASCAL: "T.T.F.N." - Tigger was the first person to talk in text-speak!

SHENZI: "I'm rumbly in my tumbly!"

 
IRVYNE: As for Gopher, he's really just a one-gag character, and it's the exact same gag that the Beaver had in Lady and the Tramp!

 
MALEFICENT: He's just a bit of fun.


WENDY: I think it's gorgeous how the book is part of the animation, like how they can jump from one page to another.

 
SHENZI: And how they say, "this part of the story is boring, so we're going to skip from page 41 to page 62!"

 
PASCAL: And "while Pooh's bottom was stuck at the top of page 28, his top was stuck at the bottom of page 30!"

 
IRVYNE: I love the way the narrator gets Tigger out of the tree! Have you ever paused the movie when the pages are turning and read what's written on all the pages? I can only assume it's directly from the original A.A. Milne books.

   
PASCAL: Out of the three stories, I found the last one - the Tigger one - to be a bit dull.

 
RAPUNZEL: Yeah, I found that story a bit boring too. It wasn't as funny as the other two.

 
MALEFICENT: My favourite is definitely the first chapter, "Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree." That's the one that I grew up with. I never had "The Blustery Day" or "Tigger Too." But I do love the Heffalumps and Woozles song in the second part.

 
RAPUNZEL: I think the songs are great!

HAKU: Did you know if you visit Cambridge you can see the original manuscript of Winnie the Pooh? It's in the library of the university.

 
IRVYNE: I think over the years there has been a lot of resistance from some Brits about how Disney "Americanised" their treasure. I think it's a bit hard for us to grasp this, because we've grown up with this version, and to us, THAT is Winnie the Pooh. Sterling Holloway IS Winnie the Pooh. I can't imagine him having any other voice, even if it is American.

 
MALEFICENT: And whenever you hear Sterling Holloway's voice in anything else, you say, "That's Winnie the Pooh!" It's just become iconic, even though he voiced SO many characters before this.

 
IRVYNE: Heaps of characters! I think the first time we heard him this year was as the stork in Dumbo, and that came out a full 36 years before this film!

 
MALEFICENT: It doesn't seem fair, does it? All these different roles he played, and we come along and say, "Oh, it's Winnie the Pooh!"
 
 
SHENZI: There are lots of accounts of the characters in the Pooh stories being representative of different mental illnesses.

 
IRVYNE: I agree with them all except for the schizophrenia. Christopher Robin is a child. He has imaginary friends that he's made out of his toys. That is not a mental illness, that's perfectly healthy childhood behaviour. Anyway. The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh is an absolute classic that all children should see. Obviously. Everybody knows that!

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