How did Disney dis the Pooh?
February 17, 2007 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Regarding the recent thread on the blue about Winnie the Pooh, I noticed a lot of people saying that Disney had bastardized and soiled the the Pooh property, as well as The Jungle Book. I am curious as to why people feel this way. I am not saying I disagree; I am saying that I am unclear on what Disney has done to earn the wrath of the fans of the originals. Can anyone elaborate, or point to such an elaboration?
posted by John Smallberries to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, to start with, here's the original look of the Pooh characters. Here's the Disney version.

I think, although I'm not basing this on anything other than my hunch, there's also a general distrust of Disney based on the fact that they tend to "sanitize" things, or to make them bland and palatable to the widest possible audience.
posted by pdb at 10:47 AM on February 17, 2007

From Wikipedia:
The difference between Milne's and Disney's portrayals of Eeyore may be due to a difference between British and American culture. The original Eeyore is very British, embodying as he does a mixture of pessimism, stoicism, sarcasm and cynicism, all qualities common to the stereotypical British character. Moreover he expresses these attitudes in dry, deadpan humour, again typically British. In her book Watching the English, author Kate Fox lists 'Eeyorishness' as a fundamental English characteristic.

The Disney versions are Americanised, commercialised, overly cute, unwarrantedly optimistic and excessively cheerful.
posted by matthewr at 10:55 AM on February 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well... the Disney version of The Jungle Bood doesn't have anything in common with the original except for a general plot outline. If you watch the "making of" thing, the director(?) actually says that he didn't want any of the writers for it reading the book; he just gave them a very general plot. The tone is entirely different, the characters of the bear and the panther are switched (sort of), the monkeys suddenly have a king (they originally kidnapped Mowgli because they wanted him to be their king), and the Disney version cuts off the last part of the book. In the original, Mowgli goes to the human village and discovers that he can't live there, either. They fear him, and there is nowhere he belongs. The Disney one ends with him meeting a pretty girl from the village and going towards it with her, with the implication that They Lived Happily Ever After.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 11:10 AM on February 17, 2007

Also, I'd like to mention that when the Disney versions get more popular or well-known than the original, plenty of people think of them as the real thing and don't even really know about the originals. This rankles; it feels like the original creators are not being given their due.
posted by sleeplessunderwater at 11:14 AM on February 17, 2007

Disney made Quasimodo cute and cuddly!

The whole point of "the Hunchback of Notre Dame" was that Quasimodo was physically hideous but had a good soul.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:20 AM on February 17, 2007

Disney is all about making money by gaining access to the greatest number of children possible. To allow maximum market penetration everything is dumbed down and sanitized to offend the least number of childrens parents possible.

Many of the original works of these stories and the content of various Disneyised folk tales were concerned with much deeper issues, with actually saying something significant about life and human nature as in the Quasimodo reference above.

So in the rankle department, this means wisdom is removed from these stories and what's put in their place obscures the very existence of the original worthy material. In short, something far more worthwhile is lost culturally speaking than mere transient entertainment.

Also a factor is Disneys involvement in extending copyright law.

Generally ranklesome for some, is Disney continuing to trade on their wholesome family-oriented image while in reality being just another aggressive corporate entity, old Walt being long gone.
posted by scheptech at 11:47 AM on February 17, 2007

The Pooh books are very, very British, and that's a large part of their charm. Disney Americanized them. To me, that's not good or bad in and of itself. (I enjoyed the Americanized film version of "High Fidelity.)

But if you're going to adapt a work, the adaptation is only worthwhile if it results in a new work that is special in its own right. In my opinion, Disney's Pooh fails that test. The original has a strong voice -- which, again, is partly due to its Britishness -- whereas Disney's version is flat.

My guess is that, when translating the work into something American, the filmmakers didn't think deeply about what this change meant. They were probably just trying to sell the film to an American audience -- an audience they felt would be alienated if the characters and world was British.

The right way to do this is to think hard about what Britishness adds to the original, and to think about whether or not there's an evocative way to replicate this effect -- or replace it with something new (but equally interesting and meaningful) -- in an American idiom.

I haven't read "The Jungle Book," so I'll just state that -- regardless of its relation to the original -- I enjoy the Disney version. It's a bit of entertaining fluff, but I have fun watching it. It creates a world that seems coherent in and of itself. (And I love the "King Louis" scene with vocals by Louis Prima!)
posted by grumblebee at 12:25 PM on February 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Re: Britishness, here's a brief quotation from "Winnie-the-Pooh":

"I see, I see," said Pooh, nodding his head. "Talking about large somethings," he went on dreamily, "I generally have a small something about now -- about this time in the morning," and he looked wistfully at the cupboard in the corner of Owl's parlour; "just a mouthful of condensed milk or what not, with perhaps a lick of honey--"

There's something so understated about this -- the humble way Pooh talks (as opposed to a more American directness) -- that seems very English.

To be fair, I think Disney recognized this -- at least about Pooh -- and the voice in the cartoons is sort of mid-Atlantic. But the other characters are very American.
posted by grumblebee at 12:31 PM on February 17, 2007

Richard Schickel wrote a book about it.
posted by pasici at 12:58 PM on February 17, 2007

It's not so much Pooh as the jollying up of Eeyore which earns my wrath.

Speaking of which I just learned from my students that John Steinbeck's masterpiece is known as "Angry Grape" in China.
posted by Rash at 1:10 PM on February 17, 2007

Even very small children get a "feel" for characters and their mannerisms and quirks, especially if their parents read the books aloud. As a child who had read the original books long before seeing the Disney films, the garish celluoid version of the Hundred Acre Wood was a huge disappointment. The characters didn't act or speak like I expected them to. It was a crude disfigurement of people I knew intimately. The Jungle Book issue was a little different; the cartoon and the book were so dissimilar that it didn't seem as though Disney had bastardized it. They were birds of an entirely different feather. Nor was I attached to those characters in the same way as the characters in the Milne books, so it wasn't as odd an experience to see them portrayed onscreen.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:11 PM on February 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Rash, that is too awesome.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:13 PM on February 17, 2007

Ok, part of my job used to be thinking up new Winnie the Pooh toys. Disney likes to create subgroups of characters... for example, let's say you have a bunch of movies about Princesses (Cinderella, Ariel, Mulan, etc.) and you want to sell toys. So first they had toys based on those movies, then they came up with the pink Disney Princess line, then they came up with the princesseses as babies, toddlers, teenagers, ballerinas, you name it. They try all sorts of angles to see what kids will want to buy.

They did this with Pooh as well. So there was Classic Pooh, Modern Pooh, Pooh Babies, you name it. Then they found out that asian teenage girls really liked Pooh so they started trying to hip Pooh up... came up with stuff for teenage girls that featured Pooh as a hippie with all sorts of tie dye patterns behind him.

The Disney Store designed their own toys & they blatantly ignored Pooh's brand identity. When the movie Hercules came out, they themed a stuffed Pooh on Hercules and gave him bulging muscles (I SO wish I could find a jpeg of this). Just because it was so odd, I kept a Disney Store Pooh radio where his mouth opens and closes with the sound. It's really fun to watch him when I turn it to a mexican station.

Oh bother.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:13 PM on February 17, 2007 [5 favorites]

Oh yeah, and not only did they turn the old Eeyore blue, but they didn't want him to be depressing to kids so now he smiles. Other strange ideas: Fairy Eeyore.Your dog as Eeyore. Peekaboo Baby Eeyore. And since Disney loves symbiotic relationships... here's Eeyore as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Am I evil for thinking Baby Tigger looks like he has a birth defect?
posted by miss lynnster at 1:26 PM on February 17, 2007

Anyone notice that about 5 years ago Disney "rejiggered" Pooh's face from the "Blustery Day" featurette?
Twenty-first century Pooh looks more wide-eyed and a tad more "Downs' Syndromish" than before.
Is it just me?
(apologies to D.S. sufferers and their loved ones-- I mean no disrespect...)
posted by Dizzy at 1:28 PM on February 17, 2007

ms. lynnster seems to have explained it above.
posted by Dizzy at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2007

The following is one of my all time favorite quotes from the books, and it never fails to make me cackle. I think it serves to show the understated nature of the books' humor. The Disney Pooh stories have dumbed down the narrative voice and are much less entertaining because of it.
The next moment the day became very bothering indeed, because Pooh was so busy not looking where he was going that he stepped on a piece of the Forest which had been left out by mistake; and he only just had time to think to himself: "I'm flying. What Owl does. I wonder how you stop--" when he stopped.


"Ow!" squeaked something.

"That's funny," thought Pooh. "I said 'Ow! without really oo'ing."

"Help!" said a small, high voice.

"That's me again," thought Pooh. "I've had an Accident, and fallen down a well, and my voice has gone all squeaky and works before I'm ready for it, because I've done something to myself inside. Bother!"


"There you are! I say things when I'm not trying. So it must be a very bad Accident." And then he thought that perhaps when he did try to say things he wouldn't be able to; so, to make sure, he said loudly:

"A Very Bad Accident to Pooh Bear."
posted by winna at 1:48 PM on February 17, 2007

If Tonstant Weader fwowed up at the original, God knows what she would do faced with the Disnified version.
posted by matthewr at 2:02 PM on February 17, 2007

Jungle Book had a wonderful, rich depth of darkness and beauty, with poetry and terror and some excellent writing. It's Kipling, with all that that implies. And Disney's version is all about pratfalls, butt-jokes, and silly songs. My gripe is that children are getting Disney's version, and never being exposed to the -real- version. Disney has made their version be the one people are familiar with, so now if you mention Jungle Book, or you reference it in another work or make an allusion to it in literature of your own, instead of people thinking of how Kaa eats a bunch of the Bandar-Log or whatever, all they think about is a purple bear waggling his ass around and a scat-singing orang-utan.

It's like rewriting the Bible into a happy animated fest, and then forever after, when you say, "So and so is clearly a Christ-figure in this story", people respond, "Oh, you mean he walked around in a chorus line with twelve wacky guys and he rode off to heaven on a white unicorn named Crossie?"
posted by Rubber Soul at 2:26 PM on February 17, 2007 [8 favorites]

Rash, that is officially the best thing I've learned today. Thank you.
posted by honeydew at 2:59 PM on February 17, 2007

The Down Syndrome-ish Pooh line of merchandise is the Baby Pooh and Baby Tigger.

Does anyone else remember a news article from a year or two ago about them removing Christopher Robin and replacing him with a girl? I remember the girl had some weird name that started with a D, I think.

On Google: Aha, I found it. Darby is her name. BBC

Another good article on things like CR going to school in an Americanized yellow school bus.

I really liked Gopher ("I'm not in the book, you know!"), and Lumpy (Heffridge Trumpler Brompet Heffalump, the 3rd) from the Heffalump movie is really cute.
posted by IndigoRain at 4:47 PM on February 17, 2007

Yep Dizzy... you I are on the same exact wavelength. The Baby Pooh series has always looked like Downs Syndrome Pooh to me (I said "birth defect" above out of vague politeness) & I'll confess I have heard (and used) a few politically incorrect nicknames for those toys.

Tigger is the one that still really gets me though. He's such a wacky, lovable & energetic character, but his baby plush toy looks... ummm... more than a little mentally challenged.
posted by miss lynnster at 4:51 PM on February 17, 2007

Plus, as Disney does with everything, once they've made their money off the original feature film, they keep making more and more straight to video dreck and awful shows for the DIsney channel. So while The Many Adventures of Winne The Pooh is actually kind of cool and surprisingly faithful to the books (though not completely so) almost everything else is terrible.
The worst IMHO, is a straight to video thing called Seasons of Giving which some well-meaning but tasteless person gave my 3 year old last year, in which the Hundred Acre Wood crew celebrate... Thanksgiving. Yes, they're British. And they're celebrating Thanksgiving.

But there's also the feature-length stuff, like the Tigger Movie, Piglet's Big Movie and the Heffalump Movie, all of which are sub-par, writing* and animation-wise, and two of which have the added annoyance of having a shitty soundtrack written by Carly Simon, who has decided to direct her sonic assaults toward children now, since they're more defenseless. (Piglet's Big Movie even has a fucking music video at the end with Simon prancing about and pretending to stum a guitar.)

It's too bad, because TMAOWTP was kind of cool, esp.the Heffalump/Woozle dream Pooh has, which is trippy and has an awesome song to go with it. That whole film definitely departs from the books, but it does so in a tasteful, respectful way -- e.g. the scene where Tigger won't jump down from the tree -- the narrator intervenes and tilts the book (in which the whole story is ostensibly taking place), allowing Tigger to slide down the text to the illustration below where his friends are waiting -- that is defintely not from Milne, but it's in the character of Milne's wry, clever, turn-conventions-on-end prose style.

*The writing in all of these is so formulaic as to be offensive -- every single installment centeres around Rabbit being too uptight and everyone else trying to walk on eggshells around him as they figure out how to unwind the miserable bastard. This is nothing like the Rabbit in the books, who was nervous and a bit of a miser, but wasn't constantly functioning as the resident Superego.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:01 PM on February 17, 2007

I am unclear on what Disney has done to earn the wrath of the fans of the originals.

Operative word is fans. Fans like their classics pure and if you mess with the work, you'd best bring something pretty good to the mix. Disney tends towards, well, pablum.

Consider Alice in Wonderland, which has undergone numerous illustrations since Tenniel, some better than others, many of them quite striking. Scroll down this illustrative link slowly and see if you aren't jolted rather unpleasantly when you get to the end.

What makes it worse is that, once you have the Disney version in your head, it's hard to view the originals with the same affection. The Disney caricature is always at the side of the stage with that stupid sh*t-eating grin.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:22 PM on February 17, 2007

disney's pooh sells shit, milne's pooh didn't.

i molested winnie the pooh! he said it was an unbearable experience!
posted by bruce at 9:57 PM on February 17, 2007

As a kid, I found the Disney Winnie the Pooh boring, except for Tigger (and that only because we had a cat named Tigger and I was obsessed with cats). It turned me off from reading the Milne version, which, based on the excerpts here, would have been worth reading.

Fans of the original are probably cringing at what I just wrote; it's the root (one of them, anyway) of why they don't like the Disney version. When the Disney version becomes the more well-known 'standard,' people start to judge the original on Disney's merits.
posted by Drop Daedalus at 11:19 PM on February 17, 2007

I'm coming late to this conversation, but...

Disney's Pooh produces the same reaction in many people that I have when my children mention some cool song by a present-day pop artist that I realize is a remake of a beloved song from the 1960s or 1950s. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised and think the remake is an improvement or at least a re-imagining that makes me appreciate the lyrics all over again. Other times, the remake can only be described as blasphemy.

Imagine reactions you'd get if Mary J. Blige remade "Respect". (Aretha Franklin's version was also a remake.) Then imagine Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, or Paris Hilton recording a version. Each of those versions would insult a large number of people.

Disney's Pooh is probably on the Britney or Paris level to many.
posted by loosemouth at 5:15 AM on February 18, 2007

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