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Winnie the Pooh is one of a few characters in the Disney pantheon that is older than Mickey Mouse himself. Created by author A. A. Milne, he debuted in the book “Winnie-the-Pooh” on October 14, 1926 (my birthday!). Pooh himself along with the other characters were inspired by his son, the real life Christopher Robin, and his son’s stuffed toys. These original stuffed toys can be found in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library. Though the name may seem odd, it is actually a combination of two names: a bear named “Winnie” who had been the mascot for the Winnipeg regiment of the Canadian Army, and a swan the family had met while on vacation named “Pooh”.
It wasn’t until 1961 that Walt Disney Productions licensed both the film rights and several other rights from both Steven Slesinger, Inc. – who had purchased some rights to the character in 1930 – and the Estate of A. A. Milne. And though there have been several legal issues resulting, from this moment forward Winnie the Pooh and friends have been a part of the Disney family of characters. Over the course of the next few years, Disney made several cartoons and featurettes including my personal favorite “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” which is featured in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh attraction (named after the 1977 movie) at Magic Kingdom along with others.
Now, after 50 years of Winnie the Pooh and friends being a part of the Disney family, they are starring in an all new movie simply named after the cuddly old bear himself, “Winnie the Pooh“. If you’ve followed the movies and featurettes over the years you’re likely familiar with the fact that the stories in these are drawn from the original works of Milne and strung together into a combined story. Pooh is out of honey. Eeeyore has lost his tail, home, or whatever. Owl has poor reading comprehension. The best laid plans backfire. But, everything works out in the end. Everyone remains friends. Always. And somehow we all feel a little wiser and warmer on the inside. Espeically our tummies. These are the core themes of every Winnie the Pooh adventure.
To celebrate this release, Disney has decided to showcase Winnie the Pooh himself at a Meet & Greet in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Replacing Lotso – the crazed, evil bear from the Pixar movie “Toy Story 3” – you can find him inside The Magic of Disney Animation building. While several characters have been in this location previously, recently they’ve gone to what seems to be great lengths to theme this area strongly for the showcased characters. This time around they’ve done a fantastic job.
When you enter the queue you pass by the spine of a book titled “Winnie The Pooh” because you’re supposed to be climbing into the story book itself in order to meet with the character. Like the classic novel, this book starts with a map of the Hundred Acre Wood, the place where Pooh and his friends live. On it you’ll find the homes of Pooh, Eeeyore, Owl, and Rabbit as well as the places they visit.
If you look around the walls you’ll immediately see that you’re walking along the pages of the book itself (not the entire book, just a few key pages). You’ll see Eeeyore and read about his lost tail, and Kanga’s attempt to replace it. You’ll see the pit that Pooh and his friends get trapped in and the clever manner in which they escape. You’ll also see pictures of Pooh’s dreams about honey, and screens that draw characters like Rabbit, Kanga, and Christopher Robin.
Then after waiting, you come out to be face-to-face with Winnie the Pooh himself. You’ll find yourself standing in front of his home as indicated by the “Mr. Sanders” sign above the door – a remnant left behind by the previous tenant. If you look around the theming goes just a bit beyond the painted cardboard facade – there are layers to it and some pieces are not flat. A portion of the carpet has been replaced to feel like the grass and leave covered floor of the woods themselves.
If you look around you’ll also notice two somewhat “animated” portions of the meet and greet. First, you’ll notice that Pooh is not alone. His best friend Piglet has come by to visit, but somehow poor Piglet has gotten himself stuck inside a beehive. Occasionally he will shake in order to try and escape and even shout to Pooh for help. The other is a pot of “Hunny” that is designed to appear to be floating around by a single red balloon, but is actually controlled by a system of pulleys. You will notice a blackboard with the word “TAEL” on it, and object under it that may be another replacement for Eeyore’s missing tail.
Disney could have simply stuck Pooh next to a cardboard tree and called it a day, but instead they went the extra mile. Taking the time to theme the meet & greet the way they did shows their love and dedication toward the characters created by Milne, and what he was trying to represent with them. And I can’t thank them enough for this.
What about you? Are you a fan of Winnie the Pooh? Are you looking forward to meeting with him? Have you yet? At this meeting or another? Are you looking forward to the new movie? Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?