Walt Disney Animation Studios returns to the Hundred Acre Wood with "Winnie the Pooh," the first big-screen Pooh adventure from Disney's feature animation studios in more than 35 years. With the timeless charm, wit and whimsy of the original featurettes, this all-new movie reunites audiences with the philosophical "bear of very little brain" and friends Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo--and last, but certainly not least, Eeyore, who has lost his tail.
"The entire story takes place in the course of a day," says director Don Hall. "It's business as usual in the Hundred Acre Wood. Pooh wakes up absolutely famished and he happens to have no honey. So that sets him out on his journey, which is ultimately derailed--first by a contest to find Eeyore a new tail."
Pooh later finds a note from Christopher Robin that reads: "Gone out. Busy. Back soon." But then Owl misinterprets the note, proclaiming that the boy has been captured by a creature called a "Backson." Soon, the whole gang is on a wild quest to save Christopher Robin from the imaginary culprit. It turns out to be a very busy day for a bear who simply hoped to find some honey.
"We always set out to make a movie that will transcend generations--appeal to kids, entertain their teenage brothers and sisters, and make Mom and Dad laugh out loud," says executive producer John Lasseter. "The personalities of A.A. Milne's characters are so sharply drawn, so elegant in their simplicity, we found that they were amazingly funny before we even made our first story sketch. These are characters most of us have grown up with--characters we all want to introduce to our little ones and rediscover with all the loved ones in our lives."
Funnyman John Cleese ("Shrek Forever After," "A Fish Called Wanda") serves as the narrator for "Winnie the Pooh." The voice cast features some returning favorites who've voiced their characters before: Jim Cummings ("Gnomeo & Juliet," "The Princess and the Frog," "Shrek") lends his voice to Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, and Travis Oates ("My Friends Tigger & Pooh," "Tigger & Pooh and a Musical Too") provides Piglet's voice. The cast also includes Pooh newcomers Bud Luckey ("Toy Story 3") as the voice of Eeyore, Craig Ferguson ("The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson") as the voice of Owl, Tom Kenny ("SpongeBob SquarePants") as the voice of Rabbit, Kristen Anderson-Lopez (TV's "The Wonder Pets," Off Broadway's "In Transit") as the voice of Kanga, Wyatt Hall as the voice of Roo and Jack Boulter as the voice of Christopher Robin.
The film is directed by Stephen Anderson (director "Meet the Robinsons") and Don Hall (head of story "The Princess and the Frog," "Meet the Robinsons"); Peter Del Vecho ("The Princess and the Frog") produces. "Winnie the Pooh" is executive produced by John Lasseter. Kristen Anderson-Lopez ("In Transit") and Robert Lopez (Broadway's "Avenue Q") provide original songs; the original score is by Henry Jackman ("Kick-Ass," "Monsters vs. Aliens"). Actress/musician/singer/songwriter Zooey Deschanel (Indie folk band, "She & Him") provides the vocals for a special rendition of the beloved "Winnie the Pooh" theme song, as well as additional songs from the film, including the end credit song, "So Long," which she wrote.
The film is inspired by three stories from A.A. Milne's books in Disney's classic, hand-drawn art style
"The look of this movie comes straight from Milne's storybooks," says Lasseter. "It has that classic watercolor feel, and a signature hand-drawn appearance that would be polished away in most animated films. These characters literally leap off the page--at times taking a few words and letters with them. It's classic Pooh at his best."
A RETURN TO HIS ROOTS: Filmmakers Embrace the Timeless Characters
When chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios John Lasseter approached directors Don Hall and Stephen Anderson about bringing Winnie the Pooh back to the big screen, it didn't take long for the filmmakers to come aboard. "We thought it was a great opportunity to revisit these really beloved characters and get to play with them, play in their world and bring them to today's audience," says Anderson, who's a lifelong fan of the books and music--his mother played Winnie the Pooh music for him as far back as he can remember.
It had been 35 years since the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood had stepped foot in Walt Disney Animation Studios (recent films came from the straight-to-DVD unit), so it was important to Lasseter and the directors to bring these characters back in a very special way on the big screen. "Our mandate was that Winnie the Pooh should find a broad audience--little kids, big kids, teenagers, 20-somethings and beyond," says Hall. "We felt we needed to take him back to his roots."
To get a feel for the stories' setting, the filmmakers visited Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England, where A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie the Pooh books and where the real Christopher Robin spent his summer vacations. They visited several London museums to check out E.H. Sheperd's original drawings, and screened the classic films for the cast, crew and their families--earning laughs from all ages, which was encouraging to the team.
"We all fell in love with the featurettes that Walt did back in the late '60s," says Hall, who wasn't as familiar with the characters at the project's onset, but has since become a fan. "We watched the old films again and again and we also went back to A.A. Milne's original text--we read both books and tried to pull stories that we felt hadn't been explored much on film."
Then the team turned to their secret weapon: Burny Mattinson. "I'm a story man," says the veteran Disney animator. Mattinson is one of the few Disney artists who can say he worked with Walt Disney--and he's still on staff at Walt Disney Animation Studios more than 50 years later.
"We were so lucky to have Burny, one of the greatest storymen of all time, leading the development of the story," says executive producer John Lasseter. "They had a blast visualizing and telling these stories, and it shows."
Adds Hall, "There's nobody better to channel the spirit, the charm of classic Disney. We call him the Pooh guru because he's been our guiding light throughout the process."
Mattinson started in the Disney's mailroom in 1953. He was just 18, but that didn't stop him from rising through the ranks--within six months, Mattinson was working as an in-betweener on "Lady and the Tramp" (1955). Ten years later, he met Winnie the Pooh. "I started working on 'Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree' in 1964," says Mattinson. "I was working as an assistant to Eric Larson at the time--he was one of the Nine Old Men."
The film, says Mattinson, started out as a feature--but Walt Disney decided to release an abbreviated version as a featurette. "The first featurette did so well," says Mattinson, "Walt said 'let's put out a second one.' And 'Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day' did even better and won an Academy Award."
According to Mattinson, Winnie the Pooh--the films and the merchandise that followed--became a huge success. The Studio created a third featurette, "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too," for which Mattinson served as a key animator. The featurettes were later combined into a 1977 feature, "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh."
Now, more than three decades later, Walt Disney Animation Studios takes on the bear of very little brain once again. "We're returning to not only the literary roots--the A.A. Milne books," says producer Peter Del Vecho, "but also the Disney roots. We haven't actually animated those characters within the Walt Disney Animation Studios walls in 35 years.
"We realized," continues Del Vecho, "the early films had a real charm to them and certain elements that were missing from the more recent films--for instance--there was a lot of interaction between the characters and the book's text, so you were constantly reminded that these are characters in a book that have come to life. We've returned to that interaction."
The interplay with the book text, plus character interaction with narrator John Cleese, effectively breaks the fourth wall--bringing the characters that much closer to the audience, an aspect filmmakers found particularly appealing. They also employed an art style reminiscent of the early films. Says Del Vecho, "We made sure the film had the watercolor feel of the originals. And the layout drawings were all done in pencil by hand--you can actually see the lines in the finished background, as well as the white paper coming through. The pencil, the paper and the watercolor all married together to capture the essence of the classic films."
The filmmakers also returned to the live-action opening, which is set in Christopher Robin's bedroom. "The reason that's important," says Del Vecho, "is because by opening the movie in Christopher Robin's room, we let everyone know that these are stuffed animals and it's the imagination of a child that brings them to life."
They found pictures of the real Christopher Robin's bedroom and designed the set accordingly. Of course, to shoot the live-action scene, filmmakers would need the stuffed animals. Fortunately, Burny Mattinson had Pooh covered. Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman, the director of the classic featurettes and subsequent feature, asked a member of the ink-and-paint team to construct dolls for the open. Mattinson, unaware of the arrangement, requested the same of his wife. "She set upon doing it," says Mattinson, "and I showed the little Pooh guy to Woolie and he was like, 'this is beautiful.'"
But it was too late, the opening scene had already been shot with the other toys. The director remained enamored with Mrs. Mattinson's creation. "He says, 'can I borrow this and keep it in my room a while," says Mattinson. "And he wouldn't give it back."
Eventually, Reitherman returned the doll to the veteran animator, who still has it today. "I took it home and gave it to the kids--and later the grandkids. It spent some time in a dusty attic," says Mattinson. "He's gotten a little loose in the joints, but he's still holding together."
In fact, the homemade Pooh doll makes its first big-screen appearance in the live-action opening of "Winnie the Pooh." "When we decided to do this picture and redo the opening, I brought it in to the directors and they liked it a lot."
IMPROVING ON A CLASSIC: Filmmakers Seek Subtle Ways to Enhance Beloved Characters
The filmmakers were faced with a challenge when they took on a film with characters known worldwide. Says director Stephen Anderson, "It's an interesting comparison between creating a world from scratch versus dipping into a world that already exists. You don't have to stare down at that blank page with all its unanswered questions and bang your head against a wall trying to figure it all out. But you're taking characters that are beloved by audiences for years and years. You want to honor their spirit, but you want to find ways that our team can bring something of ourselves to the movie."
The trick, say the directors, is in keeping the treasured classic qualities, while adding contemporary touches that enhance the fun for today's audiences. "The world that Milne created is a timeless world and we wanted to maintain that," says director Don Hall. "We're not trying to give the characters modern contrivances. We want to keep it ageless, but one area we thought we could update was the humor."
While some of the characters--Tigger and Pooh--retained their personalities, Hall says others were tweaked a bit. "Rabbit was pretty stodgy, very neat, tidy, persnickety and at times a little unlikable," says the director. "He's kind of grouchy guy--he needs to fulfill a little bit of that role in the ensemble. But we thought we could warm him up a little and get a little bit more humor out of him."
And Owl, says Hall, "steals the movie. He's hilarious. Owl used to be kind of a braggart, a blowhard, but now he's actually a lunatic. He's absolutely crazy in a good way."
And crazy just may be the key to the kind of humor the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood has to offer, according to the filmmakers. In fact, executive producer John Lasseter compared the characters in "Winnie the Pooh" to those from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
And that, says storyman Burny Mattinson, opened a lot of doors. "It really allowed us all to think of these characters in a whole different way. Their humor is so simplistic and yet so off the mark."
The goal, say the filmmakers, is to surprise audiences--in a good way. "They may have a little bit of a preconceived notion about Winnie the Pooh," says Hall. "We want everyone to realize that Pooh isn't just a film for preschoolers, it's something that resonates with everybody--they can find entertainment in any of the characters and will actually see themselves in these characters."
The timing couldn't be better, adds producer Peter Del Vecho, who says "Winnie the Pooh" offers life lessons that will resonate with today's audiences more than ever. "It doesn't have to be complicated. These characters keep it simple. It's all about relationships, and it reminds us all about the importance of imagination. And everyone has at least one character who they identify with."
Says Anderson, "The interesting thing about the friends from the Hundred Acre Wood: you can boil each one down to a word: Piglet is fear, Owl is ego, Rabbit is control, Pooh is innocence, Eeyore is pessimism. They all come down to core human values--the human experience, really. That's what makes them relatable and what makes them entertaining. You can look at it and laugh, and see yourself in these characters."
WHO'S WHO IN "WINNIE THE POOH": The Beloved Characters are Back
"Winnie the Pooh and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood are among the most entertaining and beloved characters ever animated by Disney," says executive producer John Lasseter. "This exciting and imaginative new feature provided the chance for an incredible bunch of today's top filmmakers to bring their own vision to the material.
"Literally borrowing a few pages from the great award-winning theatrical shorts of the 1960s that were created by Walt Disney and his team of legendary animators and storytellers, our directors, Don Hall and Steve Anderson, have done a fantastic job telling a fun and emotional new story," Lasseter continues. "It's a true joy to see these characters back on the big screen, and I know it will appeal to the child in everyone." Read the full story
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER: The Music of "Winnie the Pooh"
The filmmakers knew early on that music would be an important element to "Winnie the Pooh." "We definitely wanted to open the movie with the classic Winnie the Pooh song," says director Stephen Anderson. "But the question was, 'what's the best way to interpret it for today's audiences?' We wanted to keep the same charm as the original, but give it a fresh spin, a contemporary feel." Read more
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