Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios have provided us with an extraordinary number of character model sheets, concept art and even new stills in honor of its return to the Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh which will be in theaters nationwide on July 15, 2011.
They’ve also provided us with some ‘fun facts’ regarding the movie and some of the magic that went into producing it, beginning with some of the original Pooh stories by A.A. Milne that inspired the new film.
STORY TIME — Senior story artist, Burny Mattinson, a 58-year Disney veteran animator/director/storyman who had worked as an assistant animator on the Studio’s first “Pooh” theatrical featurette back in 1966 (“Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree”), turned to three of A. A. Milne’s best-loved stories for inspiration in creating this latest animated feature. “In Which Eeyore Loses His Tale” appeared in Milne’s first Pooh collection, “Winnie-the-Pooh” (1926). “In Which Rabbit Has a Busy Day” and “In Which Christopher Robin Leads an Expotition to the North Pole” both appeared in the second book, “The House at Pooh Corner” (1928).
FIELD TRIP — In the fall of 2009, members of the film’s creative team (including directors Don Hall and Stephen Anderson, art director Paul Felix, layout supervisor Razoul Azadani and background supervisor Sunny Apinchapong) went on an expedition of their own to England. They visited Ashdown Forest in Sussex, the setting of Milne’s stories located a mile from where the author had his country home. There, they took copious photographs and did water colors on the actual sites. Felix was inspired by the lighting in the forest, and incorporated this element into his vision for the film.
A TALE OF A TAIL — During the course of the film, Eeyore’s pals attempt to find a replacement for his lost tail. Among the 17 different items that are suggested and tried are a balloon, a yo-yo, a cuckoo clock, a weather vane, a dartboard, an umbrella, a moose head, and an accordion.
CHIEF INSPIRATION — Eric Goldberg, who oversaw the animation for Rabbit in the film, was inspired to draw the character by looking at footage of the late President Richard M. Nixon, plus imagery of John Cleese’s character Basil Fawlty, animator John Lounsbury (one of Nine Old Men) and some original model sheets provided by veteran animator Burny Mattinson. Goldberg also oversaw the colorful “Backson Song,” which is done entirely in a chalk on blackboard style.
A STAR IS BORN — Many years ago, Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman, the director of the classic featurettes and subsequent feature, commissioned toy versions of the gang from the Hundred Acre Wood for the live-action open that is set in Christopher Robin’s room. Burny Mattinson, unaware of the arrangement, requested the same of his wife who created a lovely version of Winnie the Pooh. But it was too late; the opening scene had already been shot with the other toys. The director was so enamored with Mrs. Mattinson’s creation, however, he asked if he could keep it for a while (it was months before he returned it). Pooh went home with Mattinson, spent time with his kids and later his grandkids—and lived in a dusty attic for a while. “He’s gotten a little loose in the joints,” says Mattinson, “but he’s still holding together.” He makes its first big-screen appearance in the live-action opening of “Winnie the Pooh.”
KEEPING IT REAL — As part of their efforts to return to the look and feel or the original featurettes, filmmakers also returned to the live-action opening, which is set in Christopher Robin’s bedroom. They found pictures of the real Christopher Robin’s bedroom and designed the set accordingly.
BIG SHOES TO FILL
BOUNCING FOR JOY — Tigger supervising animator Andreas Deja pounced at the opportunity to draw this rambunctious character who was originally animated by the legendary Disney artist Milt Kahl (one of Walt’s “Nine Old Men”). Although they never actually worked together, Deja considered Kahl his mentor, and knows his work practically frame by frame.
TAKING FLIGHT — Dale Baer, the supervising animator for Owl, got his start at Disney in the 1970s and animated on the 1974 featurette, “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too.” Baer’s mentor was another of the pioneering Disney giants, John Lounsbery, who was responsible for directing and animating Owl in that Oscar®-nominated short film.
THE PERFECT BLEND — The voice cast features some returning favorites who’ve voiced their characters before: Jim Cummings (“Gnomeo & Juliet,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Shrek”) lends his voice to Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, and Travis Oates (“My Friends Tigger & Pooh,” “Tigger & Pooh and a Musical Too”) provides Piglet’s voice. The cast also includes Pooh newcomers Bud Luckey (“Toy Story 3”) as the voice of Eeyore, Craig Ferguson (“The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”) as the voice of Owl, Tom Kenny (“SpongeBob SquarePants”) as the voice of Rabbit, Kristen Anderson-Lopez (TV’s “The Wonder Pets,” Off Broadway’s “In Transit”) as the voice of Kanga, Wyatt Hall as the voice of Roo and Jack Boulter as the voice of Christopher Robin.
MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES — Demonstrating the incredible range of his vocal abilities, Jim Cummings is the versatile talent behind Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. In addition to providing Pooh’s voice for more than two decades, he has also provided the voices for other well known Disney favorites, including King Louie and Kaa (from “The Jungle Book 2”), Ed the hyena for “The Lion King,” and Ray the heroic and romantic firefly with the Cajun accent in “The Princess and the Frog.” Cummings inherited the duties of voicing Pooh from Sterling Holloway, and took over Tigger duties from his friend and colleague, Paul Winchell.
JUST ROO IT — Wyatt Hall, the seven-year-old son of director Don Hall, was recruited to provide the scratch—or temporary voice—of Roo. Hall says his son wasn’t interested at first, accepted the offer (after some Transformer bribery), and ultimately won the role as the official voice or Roo. “We may have created a monster, though,” says Hall. “We were trying to direct him on how to say a specific line and he actually said, ‘I don’t think Roo would say it like that.’”
DOUBLE DUTY — Robert Lopez (Broadway’s “Avenue Q”) and wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Wonder Pets”) provide original songs to “Winnie the Pooh.” Anderson-Lopez also lends her voice to Kanga.
Now for the eye candy: First up are several new stills from the film which have been added to the beginning of our stills gallery below. Note that here we catch our first glimpse of the throwback to the original Disney films in which the characters aren’t restricted to the illustrations in the book, but interact with the text as well, as first discussed by John Lasseter at the D23 Expo in 2009.
Next up is some fantastic concept art for the film, much of which is by Burny Mattinson who is one of the few remaining Disney artists who worked directly with Walt Disney and worked on many of the classics from the Disney animation studios. Mattinson began working at the Disney mailroom in 1953 at the age of 18 and, within six months, was promoted to an in-betweener for Lady and the Tramp. Mattinson also wrote, produced and directed The Great Mouse Detective.
Lastly, and perhaps most fascinating of the lot, are model sheets of the Hundred Acre Wood favorites along with some character poses used in the production of the film.