While writing the title to this post I can picture all of my readers smiling and sighing contentedly. Winnie the Pooh. The only person who doesn’t like Winnie the Pooh seems to be PL Travers at the beginning of Saving Mr Banks!
When I was 10, 16 and 18 my mother had babies, which meant as a teenager, not just children’s programming , but small, toddler focused entertainment was often playing at my house. Barney and Telletubbies would get a huge eye roll from me and most animated films are too scary, sad or long for children under 5.
The only shows I wasn’t completely miserable watching was Wishbone and Winnie the Pooh. And yet it’s hard to say why? What is it about a bear looking for honey with his friends that is so darn appealing? Even watching it today I was completely charmed.
The production on Many Adventures is pretty simple. It combines 3 shorts that had been released previously in the 60s into one film. This included Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too (1974). Many Adventures was released in 1977 just a few months before The Rescuers (talk about a change of tone in one year!).
All 3 shorts have songs by the amazing Sherman Brothers. They are sweet, simple songs and I love them. All 3 have the same cast, except for Roo and Christopher Robin. All break the 4th wall and involve the narrator, Sebastian Cabot, and the book in the story.
Here’s a great example of the narrator involvement from Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too:
Not many movies can pull off the breaking the 4th wall (Ferris Bueller comes to mind but not many others).
This would be one of the last package films for Disney in theaters until 1999’s Fantasia 2000 and I think it was a smart move on their part. Because it could be divided into bits it was very easy to transfer to television and if it was on TV a small child is going to have a far easier time staying engaged for 24 minutes vs 2 hours and a mother is more likely to allow a child to watch a brief program than a full length movie. This made it easy viewing for nearly every child for decades.
In fact, we didn’t have the combined feature but had 3 separate VHS tapes with the shorts and I remember liking them all but especially The Blustery Day (more to come on that later).
Why so Loved?
Brevity and a target audience wouldn’t be enough to be so consistently and universally loved. So why? Well, it simply makes a lot of correct choices.
First of all, it is lovely to look at. The animation is light without the heavy outlines of the last 15 years of sketch Xerox Disney films. It was a breath of fresh air just to look at today.
They also have iconic voice performances by Sterling Holloway as Pooh, John Fieldler as Piglet, Junius Matthews as Rabbit and Paul Winchell as Tigger. Winchell in particular played Tigger until 1999. There’s a warmth to all of their performances which is so winning and almost comforting to all ages.
Finally, the reason I think people love Winnie the Pooh is they are genuinely great characters. Pooh is not relentlessly cheerful like Mickey or Minnie. He can be very selfish and self-absorbed. Of course, Eeyore is always gloomy, Tigger has no boundaries, Piglet stutters, Rabbit is a nag, Owl is pretentious etc. They all have flaws and strengths and they learn through the story. It just shows good writing really does make all the difference.
One of the best examples of character growth and tender-hearted characters is in The Blustery Day when Piglet decides to give up his house for his friend. In a matter of seconds you see Piglet’s face and body go from concerned about self to amazing charity, and even knowing it is the right thing to do doesn’t make the words easy to say. Love that! It feels so genuine:
Let’s talk about the individual shorts for a second .
We get a lovely intro to the picture.
Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree
We start out learning that Pooh is thinking and “when he thought, he thought in the most thoughtful way he could think”. He then does his stoutness exercises which is such a fun number.
So off he is to find honey! With Christopher Robin’s help he creates a clever disguise to fool some bees into giving him their honey.
He’s so innocent and funny. How can you not love it?
Next Pooh decides to visit his friend Rabbit and eats all his honey. He gets stuck in Rabbits open door . What I’ve always thought was funny is Rabbit could push him back but he’d rather have him stuck than back in his house. ‘Having gone this far it seems a pity to waste it’.
We also meet the Gopher in this segment. His humor is meant entirely for adults as he talks about not wanting to give an estimate and working strictly cash. Concepts kids wouldn’t understand. He’s not in the book you know!
Finally he is free and we move on to
Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day-
We start out meeting Piglet and hearing about his house and what a blustery day it is! Piglet even gets turned into a kite
Eeyore sets off to look for a house for owl and the blustery day turns into a blustery night. This is when we first meet Tigger.
What a loveable character! But he has also told Pooh about Heffalumps and Woozles and despite his best efforts Pooh falls asleep and dreams of creatures stealing his honey. This scene is so reminiscent of Pink Elephants on Parade it is exhilarating and quite bold for a film for toddlers. Does it scare little children in your life? Oddly enough I don’t remember it scaring my siblings and they were wimps 😉 .
After a lot of films of safe animation the heffalumps and woozles segment was so refreshing. It must have felt that way to viewers in 1977 too!
Next we wake up to the blustery day turning into a flood. I love Piglet says ‘it’s awfully hard to be brave when you’re such a small animal”. What great writing for a movie geared towards small children (and even now I feel like a small animal sometimes).
Pooh saves Piglet and we have a hero party. Piglet gives Owl his house in the scene from above so it becomes a double hero party!
This last set is all about Tigger. He has gotten so bouncy that he has ruined rabbits garden and rabbit has had enough:
They decide to trick Tigger and scare the bounce out of him! But things don’t workout quite the way they expect. What I love about this story is the team is trying to take away what makes Tigger special. After all bouncing is ‘what Tiggers do best’.
Rabbit wants to change Tigger but he ends up grateful for his friend and being humbled more than a little bit! I love this scene:
Then the last segment is Tigger realizing that even bouncing can be done too much. He gets stuck up in a tree and as you saw in the narrator clip above it is tough getting down!
Finally we get an ending to all 3 pictures I had never seen before with Pooh and Christopher Robin talking before he goes off to school. I found this segment very touching:
Rip my heart out why don’t you. Now I know where Toy Story 3 got the idea for their ending.
“Pooh promise you won’t forget me”
“Oh I won’t ever Christopher I promise”
That’s exchange alone demonstrates the staying power of Winnie the Pooh. I think one of the great fears of nearly every human is a fear of being forgotten and for a child’s film to pick up on that is so lovely.
I heard an interview with the creator of Elmo and he said Elmo always meant love, and I think Winnie the Pooh is all about childhood- the innocence, selfishness, forgiveness, imagination and friendship. So often as adults those virtues get lost and a movie like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh reminds us to go back to Pooh corner and remember.
The voice work is fabulous and fits perfectly with the stories.The songs are lovely. The animation is fluid and non-sketchy. It feels light and the story rarely drags.The writing is sharp and full of memorable lines.
It is also not always syrupy and sentimental. We get scares and trippy nightmares. Characters have to make hard choices and sacrifice for their friends. They make mistakes and have to be rescued. They overdo things and are judgmental at times. It’s just go it all.
Each of the shorts is the perfect length to entertain very small children who can be difficult to find programming for. The Heffalump and Woozles might have to be skipped for toddlers but it depends on the kid.
The ride at Disneyland is also a lot of fun if you ever get a chance to ride it.
I really don’t have anything bad to say about The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Overall Grade- A+
(If people disagree with me on this one I will be stunned!).