Walt Disney and the Silly 'ol Bear

Look what I found buried behind a pile of stuff in my closet. It’s a beautifully framed and matted piece of cartoon art I did many years ago. Though the art was created in Adobe PhotoShop it’s actually based on a cartoon gag I drew back in the sixties. Would you care to hear the story?

You see, back in the sixties the Walt Disney Studio was on steroids. There was so much going on and the Old Maestro, Walt Disney was in the thick of it. The theme park in Anaheim was an on going project but many others were in the planning stage. It was no secret that Walt had his eye on a huge swath of property in Orlando Florida. Then, there was the Mineral King Project being planned in the High Sierras and the work on the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Of course, we were still making animated and live-action movies and that list seemed endless. However, another property caught Walt Disney’s attention. In truth, the Old Maestro probably had his eye on this little gem for decades, but now was the time to move forward. Intense development on the property, “Winnie the Pooh” began straightaway and the assignment went to one of Walt’s favorite directors, Woolie Reitherman.

Keep in mind, Wolfgang Reitherman was still developing feature films, but Walt had confidence his director could juggle two assignments. I guess the boss was right because Woolie moved ahead and didn’t miss a beat. As work continued on the Silly ‘ol bear, a number of questions presented themselves. How close would Disney’s design follow the original Shepard illustrations and would Walt’s Pooh Bear have a thumb? It seemed this silly debate would go on for weeks and Walt Disney grew increasingly impatience with the lack of a decision. And that, boys and girls is how this cartoon drawing came about. I sketched an exasperated Walt Disney buying the silly ‘ol bear a plane ticket back to London.

All in all, in was a fun time and I remember seeing Woolie and his team walking down the hallway of the Animation Building enjoying a good laugh. Along with him were voice actors, Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holloway, John Fiedler and Roy Glenn. Remember Roy Glenn? The black actor who played Sidney Poiter’s dad in Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” I can only guess he was auditioning for the role of Eeyore because of his deep, rich voice. Eventually, all the problems were solved and Woolie completed, “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.” I confess I was surprised how well the film turned out. It was truly fun, charming and captured the essense of the original source material. However, I’m willing to bet a fair number of Brits voiced their complaints over Walt’s take on the material. I never worked on Winnie the Pooh movies mainly because I was always busy working on something else. All that changed many years later when I joined writer/director, Jun Falkenstein along with the amazing Sherman Brothers on the film, “The Tigger Movie.”

Finally, whenever I think of the movie, "Winnie the Pooh" I can’t help but think of this silly cartoon I drew so many years ago. Walt Disney still guided his exceptional enterprise, the Nine Old Men were in their prime and working at Walt Disney Studios was clearly the best job in the world.

Developing "Winnie the Pooh" at sixties Disney. Fond memories.

Developing "Winnie the Pooh" at sixties Disney. Fond memories.