Disney Winnie the Pooh: A Celebration of the Silly Old Bear

by Christopher Finch, a Welcome Book from Disney Editions, 176 pages, hardcover, with lots of full-color illustrations.

It is a stroke of showmanship that the same Christopher Finch, who has for a long time been one of the Disney Company’s favored authors, should reveal his middle name to be Robin.

Yes, as in Christopher RobinFinch, who has written the sanctioned Disney book on Winnie the Pooh. 

Finch is British, and years ago he once met his famous namesake, the realChristopher Robin, son of A.A. Milne. 

 

Such remarkable coincidence of course allows for an author’s introduction that is far more personal and enjoyable than we expect from the standard commercial picture book. It’s one of this book’s many charming aspects.

In most respects, Finch’s WINNIE THE POOH is a perfectly fitting tribute to the gentle Pooh franchise. Although Finch is a recognized historian of Disney, he has never distinguished himself as one of the studio’s better observers. His best-known work, for instance, 

THE ART OF WALT DISNEY, remains one of the blander texts on the studio, though the illustrations in that volume are beautiful. With POOH, he has gotten the chance to redeem himself. 

The text is not particularly long, but Finch gets things going with his splendid introduction and follows it with nicely written accounts of the Pooh phenomenon, from creator Milne’s original beloved stories to the continued success with them in the hands of Disney.

Among the interesting revelations are the literalness with which Milne adapted the stories of his son and his dolls, and Disney’s seeming reluctance to at first adapt Pooh to the screen, fearing too literal an adaptation. 

Disney gambled first on Woolie Rietherman helming the debut cartoon, entrusting him to make some changes from the source material. The series of Disney featurettes started with some mixed results, but quickly became magical. And surprisingly, given Disney’s initial mandate for change, the films grew more and more faithful to the original stories.

One of the greatest contributions, of which Finch takes note, is the star-making of Tigger by Disney animators. Of all the characters based on the Ernest H. Shepard illustrations, Tigger is the most drastically reworked, to wonderful effect. 

Master animator Milt Kahl can take most of the credit, animating him with “manic energy” in “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (1968). 

This was followed by “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too,” which vaulted Tigger into co-star status. No mention of Pooh even needed to be made in the title of the recent “The Tigger Movie” (2000).

More about this book reviews – This book strikes a nice balance between a simple, elegant text by Christopher Finch and some really nice artwork, contributed by the indispensible Dave Smith, among others. 

The jacket design is especially appealing, employing a clear plastic that gives the effect of a cel animation overlay. Artwork includes inspirational drawings, posters, photographs, background illustrations, animation drawings, and visual tributes to the characters. 

By giving plenty of recognition to the classic Pooh of Milne and Shepard, this book in no way attempts to co-opt the Hundred-Acre Wood as solely a Disney territory. And by doing so, readers remain still clearly impressed by Disney’s subtle re-invention of these characters.

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