Hip Hip Pooh-Ray: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at 45
In the spring of 1977, Walt Disney Productions would release a film that was made in an unorthodox way.
But that’s only half of the story…
In 1924, author A.A. Milne would publish the bedtime stories he told his son, Christopher Robin Milne, into a book for children called When We Were Very Young. The last story in the book introduced the character that became Winnie the Pooh. It would be followed by three additional books.
One night, Walt Disney heard his wife, Lillian, reading the Winnie the Pooh books to his two daughters. He then saw the possibilities of bringing the stories to life in animation.
While Walt attempted to purchase the screen rights in 1938, it wouldn’t be until 1961 that he actually purchased them. His first idea was to adapt the stories into a full-length film. But soon he decided that since audiences in America didn’t know about the books as the British did, he chose to produce a featurette instead.
Since Walt wanted this to be a musical, he contacted Richard and Robert Sherman to collaborate on this project. At first, the brothers didn’t quite understand the stories because they thought they were too childish. But after talking to British designer Tony Walton, who was working on Mary Poppins, they got into this new project.
The look of the featurette was a hybrid of two different styles. Walt wanted the project to look similar to the original E.H. Shepard drawings in the book but also have a style that was “Disney”.
The animators decided to keep the characters dimensional but still keep the eyes simple so they can still be toys.
The first Winnie the Pooh featurette, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, was released in 1966 and would be a success.
Next Walt decided to produce a follow-up, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery. Unfortunately, it would be one of the last projects he would work on. It was released two years after his death in 1966.
Even without Walt, the studio would produce a third featurette, Winnie the Pooh and Tiger Too, in 1974. Then in 1977, they decided to take the three featurettes and combine them into a package film called The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. But they also decided to have the animation team put linking material to connect the three so each new chapter would start smoothly.
They also decided to add a new end to the film based on the chapter where Christopher Robin has to leave the Hundred Acre Wood. This was planned for the second featurette until it was dropped.
Even after all this time, Winnie the Pooh and his friends still enchant audiences with their innocence and charm. It would even be to the point that in 1993, Winnie the Pooh merchandise would outsell Mickey Mouse merchandise.
Even after a few additional movies, both theatrical and direct to video, and a few TV shows, the stories that all started with a book Walt was charmed by will continue to go on.