Winnie the Pooh has been a childhood classic for generations and always a favourite of both of ours. My coffee cup has Tigger on the side. Danielle’s has Eeyore. We’re fans.
That being said, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a meaningful point in Disney history in terms of artistry and history.
Actually stitched together from three earlier shorts, with some smaller animation sequences linking them together, the film is truer to the studio’s desperate days of the 1940s than the roaring artistic successes of the 1950s. It was a time of deep change for the studio, as the old guard slowly withered away and a new line of young animators, managers and directors were being asked to take the wheel of a great ship.
Sterling Holloway, a long time voice actor with the studio, hung up his microphone after completing the film. His soft voice became iconic of Pooh Bear and the best actors have been doing their best to mimic him ever since. Previously he voiced Roquefort the Mouse in The Aristocats, Kaa the Snake in The Jungle Book, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, the adult version of Flower in Bambi and was the Stork in Dumbo all the way back in 1941. He took a few smaller roles after The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but died in 1992 having never worked for Disney again, but with 179 acting credits to his name.
Pooh, in many ways, was a celebration of the studio as a family. Many of Disney’s favourite voices were brought back to bring magic to this extra special childhood tale, and in many cases for the last time. Disney lost a lot of talent after this production wrapped.
Rabbit was voiced by Junius Matthews who had previously given snarky life to Archimedes the Owl in The Sword in the Stone. He died the following year at the age of 87. Kanga was played by Barbara Luddy, who had previously voiced Lady in Lady and the Tramp. She died in 1979 at the age of 70. Both had been fixtures of studio life and had lent their talents to innumerable characters and productions.
And darling Eeyore was voiced by Ralph Wright. Eeyore was the only character Wright ever acted for, and 1977’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was the last time he ever did it. Wright was most successful as a writer, and produced the story behind The Aristocats, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Lady and the Tramp and even worked on the story for Bambi. Wright died in 1983 at the age of 75.
Also lost after this production was Sebastien Cabot, the narrator of this particular film. He also played Bagheera the Panther in The Jungle Book and Sir Ector in The Sword in the Stone. He died in 1977.
Also notable in this film is director Wolfgang Reitherman. This was the last film Reitherman ever directed as he wound down his career. He also died in 1985, the third of the famed Nine Old Men to pass away during this time.
The original guard who had built the studio from the ground up were no longer the spry young men who had launched a risky startup more than 50 years earlier. They were now old men whose health was failing and whose hands were not as reliable as they once were. Eric Larson came to the rescue.
Larson, one of the Nine Old Men himself, saw the writing on the wall earlier in the decade and began a training and recruitment program at Walt Disney Studios to ensure that the next generation were up to snuff before they were expected to carry the torch. Young kids like Tim Burton, John Lasseter and Henry Selick got their start thanks to Larson’s training.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh remains a work of art. The illustration style perfectly mimics that of the classic children’s book, the moral lessons are light and thoughtful, the voices whimsical and the direction clean and quick. It is a testament to the studio’s ability to train new staff and incorporate their work into the core business of the company that these three shorts became a feature film, and that the feature in turn was so well accepted.