Winnie the Pooh is one of Disney’s biggest franchises. However, though Walt himself worked on obtaining the rights to A.A. Milne’s beloved stories, he did not live long enough to see the enormous following that has developed to Disney’s version of Winnie the Pooh. Despite this, Walt had a great hand in making the transition of Winnie the Pooh from the page to the screen.
One of the inspirations for a few of Walt’s properties stemmed from the stories he and wife Lillian would read to their daughters before bed. According to Disney archivist Dave Smith, Walt watched his children enjoying such stories as Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins, and this inspired him to create some of the films that we know and love today.
After Walt obtained the rights to Winnie the Pooh in 1961, he put several of his best people to work on the project. Woolie Reitherman was the director for the first short, and a couple other of Walt’s Nine Old Men worked on the project as well. The Sherman Brothers, composer of Disney classics like Mary Poppins, wrote original songs including the now famous title song Winnie the Pooh. Because the original Winnie the Pooh tales were known primarily in the UK, Walt decided to make a featurette rather than a feature so the public would become familiar with the Disney version in small amounts. The first short entitled Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree was released on February 4, 1966 ahead of Disney’s live action film The Ugly Dachshund. That December, Walt passed away.
The short was a great success and led to two others soon after entitled Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too!, respectively. These three shorts were combined to create a feature film released in 1977 titled The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. This film has gone on to inspire countless sequels and spin-offs, both direct-to-video and theatrical.
During the 1980’s, Disney released two Winnie the Pooh television shows. The first was called Welcome to Pooh Corner and featured a mix of real actors and puppets to tell the stories. The second was The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which was a traditionally animated show in the style of the original shorts.
The 2000’s were an interesting time for the Winnie the Pooh franchise. In 2000, the first theatrical Pooh movie since 1977 was released entitled The Tigger Movie, centering around the character of Tigger. Three years later, Piglet got his own movie as well in Piglet’s Big Movie. However, 1990’s and 2000’s were not all fun and games for Disney.
Over the course of 18 years, Disney fought for the Winnie the Pooh property when they were taken to court over unpaid royalties. The Slesinger family, who originally licensed the Milne stories to Disney in 1961, claimed that Disney owned them millions of dollars. However, this was finally settled in 2009, when the judge ruled that Disney had all the rights and did not owe anyone anything for Winnie the Pooh. Two years later, Disney released the most recent Pooh film, the 2011 Winnie the Pooh.
Thinking of Winnie the Pooh in 2018, we often do not think of it apart from Disney. For those who grew up with Disney’s version, the songs and images of all the characters are engrained in our minds and hearts.
On August 3 of this year, we are returning to the Hundred Acre Wood in a new film entitled Christopher Robin. This is the first theatrical released live action Winnie the Pooh film to date. It centers around an adult Christopher Robin, played by the charming Ewan McGregor, and features all of the characters we know and love. We are even getting new songs written by Disney legend Richard Sherman. This will be the ultimate nostalgia trip for many and will be a joy for adults and children alike.
Finch, Christopher. Disney Winnie the Pooh: a Celebration of the Silly Old Bear. Disney Editions, 2011.
“Winnie the Pooh (Franchise).” Disney Wiki, disney.wikia.com/wiki/Winnie_the_Pooh_(franchise).
Clark, Andrew. “Disney Wins Winnie the Pooh Copyright Case.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 Sept. 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/business/2009/sep/30/winnie-the-pooh-disney-law-suit.
“Disney Sued over Pooh Royalties.” BBC News, BBC, 13 Nov. 2009, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8358295.stm.
Arends, Harry, director. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: The Story Behind the Masterpiece. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2002.