Disney and Winnie-the-Pooh

The Disney Winnie-the-Pooh
Have you ever visited the Hundred Acre Wood? You can, you know. It’s a real place, hidden in the Home Counties and quite recognisably Pooh’s domain. All the landmarks are there, even the sandy place where Kanga and Roo lived. If you were brought up with Pooh it’s a quite amazing experience. It’s quaint, of course – very English – cream teas, a nice gift shop, the original Pooh Sticks bridge. It has absolutely nothing to do with Disney, though. It’s a non-Disney attraction. No one dressed as Tigger, no rides, no attractions, no hotel (no entry fee): just a fading trace of Winnie-the-Pooh’s origins, the place his creator lived and played, where Christopher Robin grew up.

I haven’t been there for years. I only mention it, really, because I just read that Pooh and his friends earned Disney $5.3 Billion in the last year. There’s something in that collision (unstoppable licensing powerhouse and quiet, half-buried English childhood treasure) that takes the breath away, something very descriptive of the whole business vs art, capital vs culture thing. Disney took a tiny, local, very modest cultural phenomenon and made from it the second richest fiction franchise in history. Is that a bad thing? No. Are the Pooh purists wrong when they say Disney ruined the characters? Yes. Disney’s forty year investment in Winnie-the-Pooh has taken him a long way from his quiet Surrey origins but without it generations of kids might never have heard of him.

A much bigger concern for me is Disney’s ruthless campaign to extend copyright protection for their properties into the distant future – a kind of sequestration that threatens to close off large parts of our literary and entertainment culture for good (I’ve written about this before). I guess $5B of annual income from one character is going to make you a little protective of your assets but it makes me sad to know that, in a period of unprecedented graphical and technical experimentation, we’ll probably never see another interpretation of Pooh. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to see a new Pooh from a studio you’ve never heard of or an illustrator with a new angle? (I guess I’m thinking of how much Helen Oxenbury’s gorgeous new interpretation of Alice adds to the Tenniel originals).

(Obviously, you’d have been upset if I hadn’t linked to this useful medical diagnosis).

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