Say the words “Winnie the Pooh” and everyone thinks of the exact same image: Yellow bear, red shirt, jar of honey. It’s an image that’s been ingrained in culture for almost a century, one that felt as though it would last forever.
Well, not so fast. With Disney’s new film Christopher Robin, Pooh has been given an upgrade and entered a digital world.
“It’s a fresh reimagining,” Jim Cummings, the longtime voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, told us. “Pooh and Tigger have been around almost 100 years now and to have an injection of this calibre, at this point, it’s just a beautiful thing. Technology caught up to us and here we are in the Hundred Acre Wood again like we’ve never been before.”
In the new film, a grown-up Christopher Robin (played by Ewan McGregor) is reunited with his childhood friends Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Rabbit, Roo and others, to help him reassess his increasingly adult life.
The characters, almost always known for their two-dimensional animated selves, are brought into 3D with computer effects for the first time, making them very lifelike.
For Cummings, who has been voicing Pooh and Tigger since 1988, this was a very significant, but welcome, change.
“[Pooh’s] is a legacy of peaceful, childlike wonder and not forgetting or losing touch with the important things in your life,” he said. “And I think [Christopher Robin] figures heavily into it. I mean, it’s so different. I could say it’s ‘the best ever’ or I could say it’s ‘the most different ever’ and I think I would be right every time.”
“Christopher was always seven or eight years old and now he’s a grown man,” Cummings continued. “That is so different and so beautiful in itself that it’s hard to say where [this film] fits in [the legacy]. I think it just is in [the legacy].”
For most of us, that legacy is a long one with some very specific milestones, according to Cummings.
“For some people, The Search for Christopher Robin, the animated one in the ‘90s, is their be all and end all,” he said. “For others, it’s The Tigger Movie or Piglet’s Big Movie. Others, it was the original in the ‘60s or Winnie the Pooh 2011, which I thought was truly the best of that whole genre we ever did. And now this is such a fresh reimagining that it’ll find its own place.”
A big part of that is Cummings himself. By doing the voice in most of those projects above, he has become Pooh and Tigger for a whole generation, if not several generations. With that comes a responsibility he embraces every time he steps in front of a microphone to voice one of these legendary characters.
“It’s a privilege,” Cummings said. “It’s an honour. I take it seriously but I don’t take myself seriously. I take the work seriously and I know it means a lot to a lot of people.
“Meeting people down through the years, they’ve said that it’s a comfort and touchstone for them, like how smells bring things back or sounds bring things back. I’ve always thought that Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood gang, they’re a pipeline to childhood and everybody likes that trip.”
The latest trip, Christopher Robin, is in cinemas September 13.