First Theatrical Release: March 11, 1977 (although segments of it had been released as “shorts” earlier than that.)
First Home Viewing Release: June 26, 1981
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Where I Found It: My library’s DVD collection — it was the 25th Anniversary edition.
Bechdel Test Score: Failed on all three prongs. There is only one female character — Kanga — and without passing the first prong of the test, it’s impossible to pass the other two.
I’m going to be upfront and admit that my rating is purely based on my own “enjoyment” of this film — which is, not very much — even though on an artistic level it pretty much accomplishes everything it set out to do perfectly.
In Which Walt Disney Remains Remarkably True to the Book
Disney follows the Winnie the Pooh books almost religiously in his rendering of the story, something that has not happened yet and will not happen again throughout the Disney canon. Although there will always be the purists who think any adaptation misses the mark, this is the only movie in which long strings of dialog and narration are transplanted directly from the page to the screen. In fact, as I read Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, I couldn’t keep from hearing the Disney songs and character voices in my head.
Not only does the movie follow the book remarkably closely, but it’s the only movie that remains conscious of its literary roots throughout. Many of the movies reference their bookish source material in the opening or closing titles, but this one has an ever-present narrator who spouts off page numbers and zooms out so we can see long lines of text interwoven with the animated images. At one point the narrator “saves” Tigger by tipping the book so that Tigger can slide down the side of the text — something that is better executed in the movie than the book, where he simply jumps down into the blanket the way Roo does.
And when the movie does stray from the book, it draws attention to itself. The Gopher character announces, “I’m not in the book!” the first time he arrives on the scene; and when he abruptly disappears, Pooh says knowingly, “Well, he’s not in the book, you know.”
It’s all so very meta.
I never read these books as a child, so I always thought this meant the Gopher’s business was unlisted in the phone book. In the Making of Winnie the Pooh featurette I watched, I learned that this double meaning was intended.
Despite the fact that this movie, rather than giving a passing nod to the source material, weaves reminders of it into every aspect of the story, as a child it never inspired me to seek out the real Winnie the Pooh books, or even to wonder about them. After all, Disney did its job so well that very little seemed left unexplored.
In a Child’s World …
Despite the fact that Winnie the Pooh ranks low on my list of Disney films, it does capture the reality of childhood remarkably well — the way that a child makes up strange creatures to attach to unfamiliar words (Heffalumps and Woozles), the idea that if the rain keeps coming down everything will float away, the belief that a muddy disguise can trick bees into thinking a teddy bear is a cloud, or a wind that is so strong it can blow a person into the air like a kite. These things do not seem fantastical to a child’s mind — they seem like very real possibilities.
Because of this, Winnie the Pooh has a sort of pre-conscious tone that some people find quite magical. I find it unsettling.
Perhaps this is why every character seems to be a fractured piece of a greater whole — the characters have a fairly limited range of emotion, almost as if each one were meant to embody just one feeling, all of which are familiar to children —
Excitement – Tigger and Roo
Sadness – Eeyore
Timidity and fear – Piglet
Anxiety – Rabbit
Self importance – Owl
Reassurance – Kanga
And of course, Christopher Robin is the most fully integrated character, the one who can respond with ease to every emotion. Although all the characters are “child-like,” Christopher is the only REAL child on the scene — and he is so eminently competent and well adjusted that he gives children someone truly positive and powerful to identify with.
Perhaps one of the reasons that this movie makes me feel squicky as an adult is that all these creatures with childlike mentalities have adult-sounding voices and live in their own houses. When perceived as adults, they all seem to be a little … “off.” And by “off,” I mean clinical.
When I was in abnormal psychology class back in college, my professor used Eeyore as an example of dysthymia, a mild but persistent form of depression. But Eeyore isn’t the only one who could receive a DSM diagnoses.
Tigger’s constantly on-the-go, can-do-anything personality is characteristic of the mania stages of bipolar disorder. His first encounter with Pooh comes in the middle of the night, and people with bipolar are often able to go days with little or no sleep during a manic episode. He has that sense of invincibility when he bounces all the way to a top of a tree with a small child on his back, then realizes only at the very top that he’s done something scary and dangerous. He is a bit “too much” for nearly everyone around him, but especially Rabbit …
Who has some definite anxiety issues, to the extent that he is upset at any disruption to his routine, whether from a visit by Pooh or a bounce through his garden by Tigger. His anxiety is on full display when he gets lost in the woods and finds the crunching of caterpillars and the croaking of bullfrogs to be menacing enough to make him sweat bullets.
Piglet is so accommodating that he refuses to speak up when Eeyore suggests that Piglet’s house is the perfect new home for Owl, even though Piglet loves his house more than anything. This might be some serious co-dependence, co-morbid with anxiety characterized by scarf wringing and a persistent stutter.
Owl may have a touch of Asperger’s, with his “special interest” being his own lineage, so that the rest of the world totally fades away when he talks about them, and he doesn’t seem to read the social cues of disinterest around him. If he is talking about his special interest, he is happy, regardless of whether anyone is listening.
And Pooh? I’m afraid Pooh might be in the early stages of dementia. He believes his honey pots are “calling to him.” He often forgets from one moment to the next what he was doing or thinking. He needs to be constantly “re-oriented” by the narrator as to where he is and what is going on. In a short included in the 25th Anniversary edition of the movie, “Eeyore’s Special Day,” Pooh knocks on his own door, not realizing it’s his house.
Kanga and Roo seem to be well-adjusted enough, perhaps because Kanga is the only adult character who acts like a real adult, and Roo acts appropriately like a child because … he is a child.
And of course, Christopher Robin is the kind, wise, and patient warden of them all.
Either Way …
Whether you see the world of Winnie the Pooh as a child’s rich imagination or a residential home for animals with special needs, the ultimate message is the same:
Despite our differences and eccentricities, at the end of the day, we can all manage to get along with each other. We can get annoyed and still be friends. And that is something anyone can get behind. Despite the fact that I don’t particularly like Winnie the Pooh, I certainly can’t object to its message. Winnie the Pooh might be one of the few movies you can plop your kid in front of without worrying about what he might be absorbing.
My Personal Thoughts
So, why doesn’t Winnie the Pooh do it for me? I guess it seems to lack the transcendent quality I recognize in so many Disney films. Unlike many of the movies, which I didn’t truly love until after I had hit adolescence, Pooh seems to be unabashedly a movie for “little kids.” And it serves that purpose well enough: I probably watched Winnie the Pooh every time I was sick from the time I was born until I was eight. After that, I really had no desire to see it again — not even for this project. (And even though I haven’t watched it since I was eight, a full 26 years ago, much of it remained remarkably familiar, a testament to how much I must have viewed it prior to that.) Still, it seems so firmly rooted in early childhood that it holds little appeal for me now that I’ve left that stage behind.
Pooh’s old-man-voice and the way he talks to himself creeps me out. I adore Eeyore. Kanga makes me feel all nice and soothed. Christopher Robin is a boy I would be proud to call my own. Tigger scares me. I relate far more to Rabbit than I’d like to. And I just don’t think Piglet is all that precious.
But whether I like it or not, these characters will probably be embedded in my psyche forever, and will require me to grapple with them once more in Disney’s updated take (which I’ve never seen) in week 51. (This movie epitomizes the Pooh stories so well that I can’t imagine what the studio felt was left undone … but I guess I’ll find out.)