I prepared for my interview with Jim Cummings, the voice of Winnie the Pooh in Disney’s Christopher Robin, like all the rest: by skimming his Wikipedia entry.
I know it’s not the standard method and that many people do countless hours of research and background work so they can go into an interview with the hard hitting, one-of-a-kind questions, but I’m just not that writer.
I like to have a conversation, in this case with Jim and 24 other people, where I learn most of what I know about the person from the time I spend with them. After, I usually go and read all of the things so I can mesh our experience together with what the Internet is able to tell me about them, but when I sit down with someone for the first time I don’t want all of that in the way. I like to be in the moment, free of preconceived ideas about who someone is and what they’re about, and surprised.
Yeah, that’s what it is, I like to be surprised.
And, Jim Cummings surprised me.
The Impressive Voice Talents of Jim Cummings
I’d skimmed over all the parts on his Wikipedia entry about the fact that he’s voiced something like 400 different characters in his career.
Do you know what kind of talent it takes to voice 400 characters with different voices?!
The impressive kind.
The kind that can drop in and out of character voices in front of your eyes without skipping a beat. The kind that can be Winnie the Pooh one moment, Tigger the next, and Darkwing Duck the one after that. The kind that can take over an iconic character (or two in Jim’s case) and make the transition so seamless no one even noticed.
When you take your children to see Disney’s Christopher Robin, now playing in theaters, you’ll recognize Jim’s voice as the one that has given life to everyone’s favorite bear for over 30 years, but Jim is not the originator of the voice.
While some voice actors use their own unique voices and talents to do voice overs as themselves (think Patrick Warburton who has brought many animated characters to life, all of whom sound pretty much like Patrick Warburton), Cummings is one of those voice actors who uses his voice as an instrument to play whichever character he is asked to play. In 1988, that character became Winnie the Pooh.
Pooh was originally voiced by Sterling Holloway who brought the character into Disney featurettes from the first appearance through 1977. Following Sterling’s death, actor Hal Smith took over the voice of Pooh for a short time (1981-88) until he passed it on to Jim Cummings in 1988.
Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh… & Tigger Too
Cummings came into a character that was already very well loved and very well established so, instead of bringing a voice to life for the first time, his job with Winnie the Pooh was to basically embrace his role and keep him alive for everyone who loves him:
“…job one when you’re taking over a character that’s been established is that it 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.”
Which is exactly what he has done for the past 30 years with Pooh, and for nearly as long with Tigger (he shared the role with Paul Winchell for many years, but took over for good when Winchell retired in 1999).
When Disney decided to allow Marc Forster and crew to take Pooh and friends to the live action realm and 3D, somewhere they’d never been before, it made sense for Jim to be a part of that journey as well. You can expect to hear him playing both Winnie the Pooh and Tigger in the film, Christopher Robin, which he sees as an opportunity to endear his Hundred Acre Woods friends to a whole new generation.
“…it feels great. And I love the reimagining, I love you know, oh my goodness, Mark’s vision is sublime… it’s an honor, it’s a privilege to bring them [Pooh characters] forward to new generations.”
If you’ve already had the pleasure of enjoying Christopher Robin, you’ll agree that the live action, stuffed animal versions of Pooh and his friends are pretty easy to fall in love with.
Jim Cummings in Disney’s Christopher Robin
The film, set in 1940s London, follows Christopher Robin, all grown up and home from the war, as a husband and father. He finds himself struggling to balance the demands of his job and time with his family, wife, Evelyn, and daughter, Madeline.
As he’s failing miserably and his family seems to be slipping further and further away, Winnie the Pooh is awakened from the Hundred Acre Woods and begins a journey to find his missing friends, a task he needs Christopher Robin to help him with. Their journey to rediscover each other and their friends collides with his need to save the company he works for and his family life. Pooh, in classic Pooh fashion, is there to guide him with his unwitting, but perfect life advice that ultimately helps Christopher remember love, friendship, and the people who are most important to him.
For me, this film highlighted what a role model for awesome living Winnie the Pooh truly is. He is a champion for things like finding joy, maintaining perspective, being a good friend and a kind person, showing those you love that you cherish them, and living your best life at all times.
While some of his ideas are misaligned with what we’ve come to know as “adulting,” a lot of what he stands for can and should be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle that balances home and work life in a way that allows you to be both successful in your career and happy outside of it.
But, what’s unique to Pooh is his delivery of such ideals. He’s not one who comes at you with well thought out anecdotes that he’s been mulling over for years. He doesn’t call on his wealth of education or years of experience before he drops knowledge on you. He just does. He speaks his truth as it is at the moment –pure and from his heart.
Because, as “a bear of little brain,” Pooh doesn’t have an agenda or a plan. He doesn’t say or do things in order to benefit from them in anyway. He is truly kind, truly loving, truly eager to spread joy and he shares his thoughts and feelings, as they are, in an effort to be supportive of his friends. They just happen to make so much dang sense!
Cummings calls it Pooh Logic:
“…I always say that there’s such a thing as Pooh Logic…And it’s just so plain and it’s so right down there to Earth.”
And, it is part of the heart of this film.
It’s true Winnie the Pooh and it’s a reimagining that Cummings believes they’ve got exactly right:
“…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 should probably go find out for yourself.
Christopher Robin is now playing everywhere in theaters.
Read my full movie review here: Disney’s Christopher Robin Review
Read my interview with Ewan McGregor here: Ewan McGregor Chats About Becoming Disney’s Christopher Robin