Monday, February 4, 2008
Tut-Tut, It Looks Like Rain
February 4, 1966, saw the original release of Walt Disney’s “all-cartoon featurette” Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. This was the beginning of Disney’s Pooh “franchise,” and what a beginning! The Disney animation team took both A. A. Milne’s funny and whimsical writing and E. H. Shepard's distinctive, sharply personalized pen-and-ink drawings and translated them into Disney animation without losing their flavor or character, as Walt directed. (Story artist Vance Gerry recalled Walt telling the story men to “be sure and not lose the whimsy.” “Then,” said Vance, “we had a meeting to decide what ‘whimsy’ was.”) Gracefully animated with vivid characterizations, Honey Tree is in many ways a showcase for Disney’s “second string” character animators, those animators who were not on the short list known as the Nine Old Men. Though John Lounsbery and Eric Larson were animators on the featurette (and it was directed by Woolie Reitherman), the triumvirate of directing animators—Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston—did not come aboard until the second Pooh featurette, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968). Hal King, John Sibley, Eric Cleworth and other animators whose names are not as well known as those of the famous Nine had the film pretty much to themselves. These unsung artists really shine in this gentle, low-key film, bringing some unusual characters to engaging life and firmly establishing the Hundred Acre Wood cast (with the exception of Piglet and Tigger, who did not appear in this production, even though they are on the original theatrical poster, pictured above) as they appear in the Disney universe to this day.