Trailer watch: is Disney's new 'Winnie the Pooh' a step too far?

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Tom Huddleston groans at the latest attempt to turn Winnie the Pooh American

One Sunday in March, the directors of Disney’s latest take on AA Milne’s perennial kids’ favourite, ‘Winnie the Pooh’, came to London to present a preview of their new film. In a just world, they would have been stopped at the airport, arrested for crimes against the Crown and hauled away to face the long arm of British law. At the very least, they should have been confronted by an angry mob of librarians, literature lovers and pre-teens when they arrived at BFI Southbank.

Of course, that’s just a comic fantasy. None of this happened. The film’s makers simply turned up, displayed evidence of their crimes to a packed audience and left unmolested. And another beloved British institution, arguably the greatest book ever written for young children, was quietly, brutally murdered. And no one lifted a finger.

Let’s get one thing clear at this point: I’ve not seen the new ‘Winnie the Pooh’. I’ve only seen the trailer. It’s entirely possible that the film does full justice to Milne’s glorious, idiosyncratic prose; that it keeps our favourite characters intact in all their lovable strangeness; that it doesn’t simply fly a balloon over the Hundred Acre Wood and urinate on it from a great height. I have, however, seen the trailer, and unless they picked all the most crass and insensitive moments from the film and stapled them together, the dream of a genuine tribute to Milne and his creations still remains a long way off.



Let’s get another thing clear: I have nothing at all against Disney, or the vast majority of their animated films. Over the past 50 years, they’ve created some hugely important, enjoyable and artistically valid works of cinema, a tradition that continues to this day. But theirs is a distinctive brand – simplistic, all-embracing, overwhelmingly optimistic, iconically American – and as such they have no more place adapting ‘Winnie the Pooh’ than Stephen Fry would have taking the lead role in a biopic of John Wayne.

One risks treading on thin ice in claiming that something is ‘inherently’ English: it implies a set of shared cultural characteristics and values that are very hard to define. But in this case, there’s simply no other way to put it: giving Winnie the Pooh an American accent is sacrilege. It was sacrilege in the 1960s, when Disney’s first run of Pooh movies were released, and it is perhaps even more so now, with cultural sensitivity supposedly on the rise.

But there’s worse in the trailer than just those awful, out-of-place aw-shucks accents: although the majority of the animation seems to shun Disney’s classic, rounded, hyper-clean style in favour of something a little more shabby and EH Shephard-ish, the Busby Berkeley song-and-dance fantasy sequence involving giant pots of honey looks horribly garish. Worst of all, the presence of Keane’s sickly ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ on the trailer’s soundtrack suggests a dangerous intention to bring things up to date.

But simply complaining about this sort of cultural misappropriation isn’t going to be enough: it seems to me that our only option is to give as good as we get. So anyone for a remake of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ set on a canal boat in Norfolk, starring Noel Clarke and one of McFly? Or how about Shane Ritchie in ‘The Elvis Presley Story’? Or ‘Carry On Founding Fathers’ with Julian Clary as George Washington? Or an epic action movie about Iwo Jima in which all the roles are taken by 'Corrie' cast members?

But no, some things are sacred. I’m no stuffy traditionalist – just look at Wes Anderson’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ for a perfect example of how to cleverly Americanise a British classic. But there has to be a limit.

Winnie the Pooh’ opens in cinemas on April 15. My campaign of peaceful protest starts right now. We can’t let them get away with this. Who’s with me?

Author: Tom Huddleston



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