There are some characters that are always a part of us. We never remember where or when they came into our lives, we just know that they have been there for us, in some way shape or form, as long as we have known. One such character: Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings since 1988). Everyone’s favorite bear from the Hundred Acre Wood is back in Disney’s upcoming live-action film, “Christopher Robin.” While audiences are used to spending time with Pooh and his pals in the Hundred Acre Wood, this adventure follows Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), as an adult with a wife, Evelyn (Haley Atwell) and daughter, Madeline (Bronte Carmicheal) as Christopher tries to save his employees from the unemployment line, but also realizing there’s a lot more to life that just working.
A few weeks ago, a small group of press was invited to chat with the voice of Pooh and Tigger himself, Jim Cummings about the upcoming film, and why he thinks audiences still connect with Pooh and more.
You’ve been doing the voice of Pooh for thirty years. So a lot of us, a lot of us have grown up with you. Now, you’re basically being introduced to a whole new generation. How does that feel?
JIM CUMMINGS: Feels great! I invite everybody into the hundred acre wood. You know, it’s a great place to live. I’ve been there for a while. No, I’m just very blessed. You know, it’s a whole new format, a whole new way of seeing the characters of interacting with them. Christopher’s all grown up and, I don’t want to give anything away, but they definitely defeat the Nazi zombies from Mars. At the end of the movie it’s … makes the world safe again.
So, in ’88 when you started doing Pooh and Tigger. Was it Pooh and Tigger when you started or was it just Pooh?
JC: Well, just Pooh at the time. Paul Mitchell and, you know, Sterling Holloway (original voices of Pooh), God bless him, he was retired, a very elderly fellow. But Paul was still going strong. But being the genius that he was, Paul Winchell, you know voice of Knucklehead Smith, he was one of the innovators of the first artificial heart, Tigger and he was off to cure hunger in Africa for crying out loud. Back when they had that horrible famine. And he theorized that he could bring mud skippers over, these little critters, kinda like salamander froggie critters that live in the banks of the Mississippi. And it’s not fine cuisine, but you can eat them. He thought that he could raise fish hatcheries and develop a food source over there of high protein. So he would go back and forth, I mean, you know Tigger, cure hunger, Tigger, cure hunger. An amazing guy. So I jokingly said that I was Tigger light at the time. But I guessed, you know, and I can always tell of course he could tell just from the recording techniques but I could tell which one was me and which one was Paul, but apparently a lot of other people couldn’t. Then, God bless him, you know he had a pretty bad stroke there toward the end. And, he ended up … it’s a tough story to tell ’cause its kind of one of those tear jerkers but he, you know after he told me that he had his stroke and you could see like, between his hands there and I thought my God now what does that mean? He said, well it means I want you to take care of my little buddy for me. Okay Mr. Winchell I will. I could barely get through that one. So that’s why I’m here.
How did you get started in animation?
JC: I was you know the annoying kid in the back of the class doing dolphin sounds and squirrel sounds. We don’t have dolphins here at Saint Columba, Mr. Cummings. Well, they do now. I was always in plays and things you know and I always thought it’d be … you know, you’re twelve years old and I didn’t wanna be the prince, I wanted to be the ogre or the wizard, you know what I mean? Yeah, she knows. And I guess I was accidentally, sort of, doing kind of research for you know … and I’d always do bad impressions of my relatives and for much to the joy of my other relatives ’til I was doing a bad impression of them. Then it wasn’t so funny.
What’s the most endearing quality about Pooh that you’ve incorporated into your voicing of him over the years?
JC: Oh gosh. Well, with or without me I think it would be his, uh … I always say he looks at the world through honey coated glasses. You know he’s got, uh, his glass is not only half full, uh, would you like some more? And here, let’s put some honey in it. You know, so he’s got the right outlook.
Does it feel very different playing Pooh and Tigger in the live-action Christopher Robin versus in animated?
JC: Well, we pulled him back a little bit. A little less animated, little less bodacious. Well, not, not Tigger’s case necessarily. He’s still pretty bouncy. But, yeah, Pooh is a little more centered, I think, a little bit laid back. People ask for a difference, that’s really the only one ’cause you want him to still be Pooh.
When you got the script and you read through it were you happy about the script was there anything that you wanted to change or tweak a little bit?
JC: I just rewrote the whole thing. No, I thought it was great. I just think the idea is so cool. You know, Christopher grows up. And they kept it right in the timeline you know from the ’20s to the ’40s he would’ve grown up and he would’ve gone to war and he would’ve come back just like all that stuff that happens. So, it was really kind of genius I think. And life catches up with him, and he becomes jaded a bit you know and the workaday world and gets ground down and loses touch with his childhood memories and his, even his family and Pooh slowly works his way back into his life and very suddenly, and you know, yanks him right back. Right back to where he needed to be in the hundred acre wood.
Why do you think Pooh and the hundred acre wood is still so relevant today?
JC: Oh gosh. Well, I think it drags everybody back, drags everybody back. It throws everybody back into their childhood. I think, you know, you can be eight … I’ll meet people like at conventions and they could be eighty-eight or eight or eight months and you know everybody’s a kid when they hear Winnie the Pooh. You know, it just sounds like your childhood even for me and I’m him and it still works on me so I think that must … something in there, some, some magic in there.
Christopher Robin opens on August 3rd.