Winnie the Pooh is one of my favorite childhood characters. When I was about six, my father gave me a small book he had since he was a child himself – ‘The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ – with the original drawings.
The book was written by A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin, the boy in the book, was actually his son, named Christopher Robin Milne. Winnie was a bear the boy had and apparently many other of his toys borrowed their names for most characters in the story.
Today, my father sent me this photo of Christopher Robin and Winnie. The real ones.
And this is one of the original 1926 drawings.
And then things changed.
From being a fictional bear a dad invented for his kid, Winnie’s fate took a different turn when Stephen Slesinger, also known as ‘the father of licensing’, acquired all sorts of trade rights for Winnie the Pooh in the 30’s. It was Slesinger who gave Winnie the face we all know and it was him to introduce Winnie as a cartoon in the 40’s. After Slesinger’s death in 1953, his widow inherited Stephen Slesinger Inc, Winnie the Pooh rights included, and in 1961 she licensed some of these rights to Walt Disney. Slesinger built a Winnie empire (the first Pooh doll, record, board game, puzzle, US radio broadcast (NBC), animation, and motion picture film) and Disney kept the flame going. So their Winnie the Pooh makes a lot of money.
There’s nothing wrong with making a lot of money, in fact I find it preferable to not making any money. But I still prefer the original book and drawings to the Disney version. Maybe it’s because my father gave me that book. Maybe it’s a certain nowadays nostalgia for everything old-school, with a feeling those things are more authentic and more honest. Or maybe, and I tend to pick this one to be my favorite possibility, there really is something lost in the process of putting Winnie the Pooh on everything from underwear to water bottles. In fact, the early Disney versions of Winnie – like the one of the theme song video above – have a certain feeling. But the smoother and neater and the more plastic Winnie became, the more he lost that feeling.
There is another, let’s call it ‘interpretation’ of the original 1926 Winnie. Some time ago I wrote about it and meanwhile, for some mysterious reason, I deleted that post. It is little known, but Russian kids had their own version of Winnie, named Vinni Pukh and his creator was Fyodor Khitruk. Now, after many years of Walt Disney, this Russian version might be hard to associate with Milne’s story. But I think the animation can be watched without being compared and I think the Russian version is really sensible and touching. Except for the voices maybe.
Last, here is a funny list of 15 reasons why the Russian Winnie is better than the Disney version.