The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Dir. John Lounsbery and Wolfgang Reitherman
Premiered March 11, 1977
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was the last film in the Disney Animated Canon to feature any involvement by Walt Disney himself. You can tell.
The feature, based on A.A. Milne’s classic characters from the 1920s, was actually stitched together from a series of short films that had begun in 1966, the year Disney died. It had always been Disney’s intention to make a feature film of Winnie the Pooh, but there were too many films already in the works at that time to make it a reality. Appropriately for a company that lost such an imagination-obsessed leader (and they got really, really lost), the 1977 Pooh has a respectful, melancholy air.
Accordingly, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh doesn’t have much of a plot. The titular teddy bear (Sterling Holloway) is a good-natured if foolish character who lives in the Hundred Acre Wood where Milne’s son Christopher Robin (Bruce Reitherman, Jon Walmsley, and Timothy Turner) plays with him and other stuffed animals like fretful little Piglet (John Fiedler), overexcitable Tigger (Paul Winchell), depressed donkey Eeyore (Ralph Wright), and Kanga (Barbara Luddy) and her son Roo (Clint Howard and Dori Whitaker). Often, Pooh and the others have their own adventures with the weather and wildlife of the Wood, like the exasperated Rabbit (Junius Matthews) and pretentious Owl (Hal Smith).
The original shorts are stitched together using a very meta framing device whereby the scenes are depicted as pages in a book and the narrator (Sebastian Cabot) sometimes interacts with the characters. The sketchy animation style, which had been the company standard since 101 Dalmatians, feels more appropriate here than anywhere else, with a storybook quality and the winking appearance of the plush characters’ seams in every odd frame. The songs, all by the classic Sherman Brothers, are not only surprisingly memorable for the films of this era, but curiously evocative of a much earlier era in the company, especially “When the Rain Rain Rain Came Down” and “Heffalumps and Woozles,” the latter of which borrows thematically from “Pink Elephants on Parade” but is still very good in its own right. This was also the second Disney movie ending to make me cry (the first, believe it or not, was Wreck-It Ralph).
So yeah, not much else to say about this one except that I liked it. As compilations go, it was given a lot more care and attention to detail than any of the Warner Bros. stitchings (compare with the following year’s Bugs Bunny’s Thanksgiving Diet. Woof).
How Did It Do?
Christopher Robin asks, “will you still remember me, Pooh, when I’m 100?” We do.
I was unable to find any information regarding the budget or receipts for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I know Disney was doing poorly in the ‘70s, so there’s that. But it certainly proved a winner with critics, earning a 92% rating on RottenTomatoes, and its commercial influence has certainly been long-lasting. Before the Disney Renaissance, Winnie the Pooh was the most recognized and most heavily marketed character in Disney Animation besides Disney’s original characters; I distinctly remember Winnie the Pooh apparel being everywhere when I was a kid.
In 2011, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh became the second WDAS film ever to receive an official sequel, simply titled Winnie the Pooh, which was also the last of the Disney canon to employ hand-drawn animation. The first film to get a sequel, coincidentally, also came out in 1977.
And now for something completely different.
Next Time: Eraserhead