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Saturday Matinee

Disney Cartoon #10: "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree" (February 4, 1966)

by Albert Gutierrez

There's no other way to introduce this next cartoon other than to share the immortal words of Richard & Robert Sherman...

Deep in the Hundred Acre Wood where Christopher Robin plays, you'll find the enchanted neighborhood of Christopher's childhood days.  A donkey named Eeyore is his friend, and Kanga and little Roo.  There's Rabbit and Piglet and there's Owl, but most of all Winnie the Pooh.

Granted, I didn't write them down in their stanza form, but it does work well as spoken prose.  Recite the words aloud, it's as lyrical as the song and evokes the same children's storybook feeling as the original A.A. Milne stories.  Of the theatrical Pooh shorts, the first one, "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree" has always been my favorite.  It featured some of the best sequences ever from the Pooh shorts, as well as my favorite Pooh song, "Little Black Rain Cloud."

 

We begin with Winnie the Pooh and his morning exercises.  He sings about how he goes "Up, Down, Touch the Ground" but ends up ripping one of his seams.  He ties it up quickly and neatly and continues.  Soon, he gets hungry from his exercises, and races over to his pantry to get a jar of honey.  Sadly, it's empty except for the sticky stuff inside, which he licks clean.  Needing more honey, he finds a honey tree and has several attempts at acquiring honey from it.  One of his more famous attempts was rolling around in mud and clinging to a balloon by Christopher Robin.  This turns him into a "Little Black Rain Cloud" that the bees surely won't suspect really is a hungry bear.  As Pooh grabs at some bee-filled honey, he eats it, and summarily spits out the bees when they cause a ruckus in his mouth.  Soon, all the bees surround him and they attack Pooh, who eventually loses his balloon and falls down, caught by Christopher Robin.

Still hungry, Pooh visits Rabbit, knowing that he must have honey.  Rabbit pretends he's not home, but then ends up having to invite Pooh in for lunch.  He gives Pooh some honey, but Pooh keeps asking for more, and Rabbit ends up giving him all the honey in his house.  Satisfied, Pooh goes to leave, but finds his plump self is now stuck inside the hole that is Rabbit's door.  Rabbit tries to push Pooh out, saying that he ate too much honey and is too fat.  Pooh however, says that Rabbit's door is too small.  Either way, Pooh is stuck and he needs help.  Rabbit goes through the back door to find Christopher Robin, while Owl drops in for a visit.  As he tries to figure out how to free Pooh, we meet Gopher.  He wants to blast Pooh out with dynamite.  Ultimately, Christopher Robin and the rest of the gang (Kanga, Roo, and Eeyore) arrive, and they decide that Pooh will have to wait until he's slimmed down, and so he cannot eat anything until then.  Rabbit thus has to have Pooh's bottom protruding from his wall, and tries to make it blend in with his home.

Eventually, Pooh slims down and everyone gathers to push and pull him out of the hole.  They succeed, but Rabbit's extra effort at pushing Pooh Bear hurls him into the air and conveniently, into a honey tree.  It scares the bees away, leaving all that honey for Pooh to eat.  While the gang tries to tell Pooh they'll figure out how to get him out of that hole, Pooh tells them to take their time.  He's got honey again, and couldn't be any happier.

The short was attached to the Dean Jones comedy "The Ugly Dachshund" when it hit the theatres in February 1966, and as such, was the only Pooh short to have been released during Walt's lifetime.  However, he did oversee pre-production on an additional short, "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day", which was released in 1968 and attached to "The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit".  Six years later, Disney released "Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too" in 1974, where it was part of a double-feature with their big-budget adventure film, "The Island at the Top of the World".  The three shorts were then attached together to form 1977's feature-length film, "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh", making it the last of Disney's "package films."

In many ways, "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree" serves more as an introduction to a bigger story, although it serves well as a standalone short on its own.  Focusing exclusively on Pooh in this short does make it standalone (we don't even see Piglet or Tigger!), but at the same time, it's expected that the audience already know the other characters within the Hundred Acre Wood, thus making it feel like the beginning of a grand adventure.  The Pooh stories themselves are episodic by nature, so they can be presented either as standalone stories or as a compilation of several stories into that one grand adventure.  Thankfully, Disney has done both, as the Walt shorts are strong enough on their own, but still fit well together when it becomes a feature film.  In addition, all three generally shared the same voice cast, animators, and director, and thus, the joining of the three shorts is seamless.

There is continuing meta-fictional references to the narrator, Pooh interacts with him, and in later shorts, he interacts with the words on the page.  We even see Pooh jumping from one page to another, while Gopher proclaims that Pooh will fly out of the book unless we turn the page.  It's a nice way of remaining connected to the original Milne story and illustrations, even right down to the design.  They do, however, retain an originality to them that makes them Disney.  While most British audiences know Pooh as a naked little bear, it would be hard for American audiences to ever envision Disney Pooh bear without his iconic red shirt. In addition, we get Gopher, a character created specifically for the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh.  Later Pooh works by Disney would incorporate other original characters like bluebird Kessie and the young heffalump, Heffridge Trumpler Brompet Heffalump, IV, better known as Lumpy.

 

On VHS, the Pooh shorts have had individual releases, as well as in their feature film "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh."  However, the DVD releases have largely been in their "Many Adventures..." form, as a 25th Anniversary Edition DVD was released in 2002, and a Friendship Edition DVD was released in 2007.  "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" was also issued as a bonus short in the Special Edition DVD for "Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin."  Most of the Pooh DVDs are sadly out of print, likely due to the new "Winnie the Pooh" film coming out this July.  It can be expected that the original film and several other direct-to-video Pooh films will see a re-release to help promote the new adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

 

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