I received an all expense paid trip from Disney to attend the #ChristopherRobinEvent. The opinions expressed here are my own. Some interview questions and responses have been edited to improve readability.
We were finishing up a group photo with Ewan McGregor at the Christopher Robin press junket when we hear “Say Honey” in Pooh’s voice. Everyone looked up at the same time in awe as Jim Cummings, the voice of Tigger and Pooh, was trying to get us to smile. He most definitely accomplished his mission. I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t smile at that voice. I’ve done a handful of celebrity interviews and I think this might be the first interview that I walked away from with sore cheeks from smiling so much. Jim Cummings was everything I hoped he would be and more. He was high energy and fun to be around, often breaking out his best Pooh or Tigger voice. I’m so glad that I have an audio recording of this interview because it’s one I’ll listen too when I’m feeling like Eeyore and need a smile.
You can read all about my experience on the Christopher Robin red carpet HERE.
Q: You’ve done so many characters, how do you come up with each of those voices?
A: Well, you know, I sculpt it. I always think of it as sculpting like, you know, Pooh and Tigger were established a long, long time ago. So, those you just nail, you know, get on that. And job one when you’re taking over a character that’s been established is has to sound like him if he sneezes or you know, has hiccups or fill in the bodily function. It has to sound like him and from there you know, you’re an actor, character actor, so you’re playing the character. But, the new ones like I don’t know, Dark Wing Duck maybe you work with the animators, with the producer, with the writers who sometimes know what they’re talking about. So it’s a sculpting process, it’s kind of like audio sculpting, it’s like a sculpture you can hear.
Q: How does it feel to bring Winnie the Pooh to life again?
A: Well, he’s been around with me for a long time. And it feels great. And I love the reimagining, I love you know, oh my goodness, Mark’s vision is sublime. I haven’t seen, I mean I’ve seen some of it, I mean I know how it ends, don’t get me wrong. But, you know, it just feels great you know, to be associated with such a beautiful, a beautiful franchise. It’s not a franchise to me. What am I trying to say? It’s a universe, sort of. The Hundred Acre Wood, everybody knows about it and everybody knows all those characters and they have a sweet spot in everybody’s hearts and it’s an honor. It’s a privilege to bring them forward to new generations. I’ve jokingly said, ‘Winnie the Pooh generation is every three and a half years because brand new set of Pooh fans.’ It’s joyous. One of the best things about my job is that when I’ll do a voice for a little child or something and then they realize, ‘wow, doesn’t really look like Winnie the Pooh.’ Their mothers are going, ‘no it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s really cute.’ You know, so it’s not too bad. Yeah, it’s not bad, beats heavy lifting.
Q: What do you think it is about Pooh’s voice that just gets such a reaction from everybody that hears him?
A: We’ve talked about that and thought about it. I think almost no matter how old you are, there’s a certain feeling of it’s a pipeline to you at five. You know, or eight years old, it just seems like, ‘oh gosh, that reminds me of when I was,’ you know, and then you’re going, ‘oh, that’s, boy those were good times, oh say something again.’ It’s just a comfort. I think it’s like audio comfort, you know.
Q: Do you have a favorite Pooh quote that you’ve said over the years?
A: Probably. There are so many. I always say that there’s such a thing as Pooh logic. You say well, ‘what do you think Pooh–.’ [In Pooh’s Voice] Well, I think that I think. It’s just Pooh logic. It’s the various things you know, you’re stronger than you seem, you’re braver than you think and you know, smarter than you think, stronger than you feel and braver than you seem. People end up knitting those things into quilts or making plates and, ‘would you sign that?’, ‘I’d love too.’
Q: Your voice is such an asset now; do you do anything to preserve it?
A: Not really, well, I enjoy staying alive, you know. It’s a big plus, right off the bat here. No, you know, the people say, like Tom Waits or Doctor John, they have that whiskey and Marlboro voice, well I don’t, never smoked a cigarette yet and I don’t drink whiskey. Just don’t abuse it. I’ll go to a football game or a concert and I’m not yelling, that’s not me, there are people for that. It’s an instrument, you know, if I was a baseball pitcher, I’m sure I’d be massaging my arm or something, whatever they do. So, I take care of myself.
Q: Aside from Pooh and Tigger, which character have you most enjoyed playing?
A: Of the newer ones? Well, geez, you know, Hondo Ohnaka from Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Rebels. I like him a lot. He’s one of my favorites and I like Dark Wing. And, Ray’s been around a few years now but he’s one of my all-time favorites from Prince and the Frog. He was great because at the time we were, had just made it, my little girl Gracie, she’s thirteen now, well she was four, four years old and so was Tiana at the beginning of the movie back in there when Oprah was making the thing. And, she looked just like her, and she had the same hairdo and everything, I was like, ‘oh come on.’ And I remember joking with John and Ron, I said, ‘if you don’t let me in this movie, I’m gonna sue ya, cause that’s my kid right there. That’s, little baby Tiana looks just like Gracie.’ Here, I just so happen to have a picture of her, or a thousand [shows us a photo of his daughter].
Q: What was the recording process like for this movie?
A: Bloody long. No, it was great. The way we did it, just to get going, gosh, over a year ago, went to England and just kind of recorded the whole movie. And it always changes, you know, the, the lyrics, the words and both of ‘em change. And we recorded that up front so that they had something to play on set for Ewan, for Haley and everybody.
Otherwise it would just be the puppeteers and it wasn’t giving ‘em enough and I think they should get an academy award anyway. I told Ewan, I said, ‘that’s amazing.’ Because there’s a speaker over here, ‘oh Christopher, what do you want to–?’ and then he has to turn around and talk to his lump, kind of clay. They’re basically like almost dolls and they’re sitting there on a log and Ewan’s giving this great amazing acting job to this little lump that has a speaker coming over from here that he’s supposed to hear.
And, so, that must have been fun, I wasn’t in on that although I was at the beginning. And then at that point they take it back and they animate, they put in the fur and the lips and the feathers and all the stuff. And it’s pretty magical. Yeah. I’ve only seen it maybe like when it was seventy percent done. And, some of them were still kind of, [not life-like] you know, so I understand they’ve improved on that. So, I’m excited.
Q: How have you seen the franchise or legacy evolve over the last thirty years?
A: I came from the 2D world, standard animation and that was beautiful and a couple of projects were better than others. But, overall, I think just staying true to the characters and true to the feeling is the way to go. And we’re right back there to square one with this and I just think it’s brilliant. You know, it’s, what do you do? What’s the pitch on this? What if Christopher Robin grew up, got in trouble, turned into a hum drum you know, work a day drone, like everybody else. What would we do? Well, by god we’d have to get Winnie the Pooh in there to fix that. So, we did.
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