The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman and John Lounsbery
A narrator tells three stories from the adventures of Christopher Robin and his childhood friends/toys, led by the bear Winnie the Pooh. In the first, Pooh runs out of honey and attempts to get some from a local beehive. After numerous failed attempts to do so, he instead visits his friend Rabbit and eats all of his honey, becoming so big that he gets stuck in the door. In the second, a wind storm blows down Owl’s house, and Eeyore sets out to find another one for him. A flood caused by the same storm washes away Piglet’s house, and he has to be rescued from the waters. Eeyore finds the house and offers it to Owl, and Piglet selflessly lets him have it instead of claiming it. Finally, the third story sees Rabbit getting so fed up with Tigger’s bouncing that he tries to take him into the forest and abandon him as a scare tactic, only to get lost himself. Later, Tigger bounces so high that he gets stuck in a tree, and promises to never bounce again in return for help getting down. Rabbit attempts to hold him to that promise, but relents when he sees how unhappy Tigger is.
Disney had always intended to make a feature film out of A. A. Milne’s Winne-the-Pooh stories, ever since he was introduced to them by his daughter in the 1930s. In 1961, he finally acquired the film rights to the property, and announced his intention to make a feature film of it to his animators. Very few of them, however, were familiar with Pooh themselves, and they convinced Disney that it would be a better idea to make a short film first that could be shown before one of their live-action films. Doing it that way, they suggested, would help to introduce American audiences to the British character and would make a future feature more successful. The short, entitled Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, was released this way in 1966.
Unfortunately, Disney didn’t live to see the feature film he’d initially wanted get made. And it never really did get made. Over the next eight years, Disney animation produced two more Winnie the Pooh shorts, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. In 1977, additional animation was produced to link the three shorts together, and they were released as a package film. Since The Rescuers would come out later that year, 1977 was the first time since 1942 that Disney animation had released two films in the same year, a feat that they wouldn’t repeat until 1999 (Tarzan and Fantasia 2000).
I’ll admit upfront that I watched the movie for this week about 10 days ago, and then never got around to writing it up until now. So it’s been quite some time now since I viewed it, and my review probably won’t be as long or as detailed as some of my others.
So, back a couple of months ago when I sighed in relief at the end of the package films? I’d completely forgotten about this one. I know that I’d seen all three of the shorts that make up this movie before, but I’m pretty sure that I saw them as individual shorts on VHS, not as one single film. Watching it again as an adult, the word that comes to mind most readily to describe it is: pleasant. This is a lazy Sunday afternoon of a movie, without much in the way of great stakes (unless you’re really invested in the consumption of honey). Which makes it the perfect movie for younger children, incidentally. My four-year-old niece is old enough that she’d probably be bored watching it, but I’ll bet that the one who’s two would love it. I myself wasn’t bored, though I wasn’t super riveted, either.
One of the best things that this movie has going for it is Sterling Holloway. Holloway was a Disney veteran, and this was the eighth and final movie that he appeared in for the company. He had over 180 credits that stretched from the 1920s to the 80s. But through it all, he’s always been just one character for me: Winnie the Pooh. His voice is so unmistakable, and so well-suited to the character, that I really can’t imagine any other voice actor in the role (I haven’t seen the 2011 Pooh movie yet, so we’ll see if my opinion changes when I finally get to it).
The movie’s framed as stories from the actual A.A. Milne books, and the narrator and text interact with the characters in rather inventive ways. The characters know that they’re in a book, and there really isn’t a fourth wall at any point during the stories. My favorite moment occurred in the third segment, when a distressed Tigger, still stuck in the tree, directly pleads with the narrator for help getting down. The pages of the book are then literally tilted, allowing him to use the words bordering the picture that he’s in as a set of stairs to reach the ground.
As I said earlier, it’s unfortunately been a little too long for me to do any sort of real in-depth analysis of the film. However, this really isn’t the sort of movie that needs that type of examination. Like Winnie the Pooh himself, it’s just a simple bit of children’s entertainment, pleasant to be around but with very little thought. For their next film, it seems that Disney took Monty Python’s adage to heart: “And now for something…completely different.” Up next: The Rescuers
Animation: B- (Still scratchy, but there’s some nice messing with the framing of the story that I appreciated)
Main Characters: B+ (Sterling Holloway is the definitely Pooh)
Supporting Characters: B (Eeyore isn’t quite as “Eeyorey” as I remember, and everyone else is pretty much fine)
Villain: N/A (What villain? The storm?)
Music: B- (Again, it’s pleasant, but not super memorable)