My Word: What’s happened to Winnie-the-Pooh and the world

The Frake-Waterfield version could be called (or spelled) Winnie-the-S**t. The bear who is always “rumbly” in his “tumbly,” is causing a very different type of stomach ache.

 VISITORS WEARING face masks and Winnie-the-Pooh costumes are seen outside Tokyo Disneyland in  February 2020. The affable bear is being turned into a serial killer now that Disney no longer controls the rights. (photo credit: Issei Kato/Reuters)
VISITORS WEARING face masks and Winnie-the-Pooh costumes are seen outside Tokyo Disneyland in February 2020. The affable bear is being turned into a serial killer now that Disney no longer controls the rights.
(photo credit: Issei Kato/Reuters)

Let’s talk about Winnie-the-Pooh. You know, the “Chubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff” – at least that’s how most of us like to think of the symbol of childhood friendship and innocence. But something has happened to the “Willy, nilly, silly old bear.” After bringing so much joy to the world in the last 95 years, he’s about to suffer from a fate worse than death following his entry into the public domain a few months ago. 

If you haven’t heard, Pooh is about to make a movie comeback – as an evil serial killer. I kid you not. I wish I could joke about it.

Social media and some traditional press have been reporting on the trailer released last week for the movie Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. "This ain’t no bedtime story," the publicity proudly announced with an image of a distorted Pooh holding an ax, dripping with blood.

Too right. This is the stuff of nightmares. 

From what I can tell from the various reports and the trailer itself, the plot revolves around Christopher Robin having grown up and headed for college, but this is no Toy Story. This Winnie is no Woody (still a firm favorite of mine.)

Left to their own devices, the characters from Hundred Acre Wood, run wild. As director, writer and co-producer Rhys Frake-Waterfield recently told Variety: “Because they’ve had to fend for themselves so much, they’ve essentially become feral... they’re like a vicious bear and pig who want to go around and try and find prey.”

“Because they’ve had to fend for themselves so much, they’ve essentially become feral... they’re like a vicious bear and pig who want to go around and try and find prey.”

Rhys Frake-Waterfield

The trailer shows the villainous Pooh and Piglet on a rampage, eying a bikini-clad young woman relaxing in a jacuzzi. There’s obviously more blood and stinging pain than sweet soothing honey. 

Favorite characters Eeyore and Tigger are missing – it’s implied that they have been eaten by their former firm friends. The real reason for their absence is not quite as dark: While the copyright for Winnie-the-Pooh himself has expired, leaving him open to being exploited and abused, some of the other characters are not yet in the public domain

In the Variety interview, Frake-Waterfield said he was balancing a line between horror and comedy. “When you try and do a film like this, and it’s a really wacky concept, it’s very easy to go down a route where nothing is scary and it’s just really ridiculous and really, like, stupid. And we wanted to go between the two.”

Most of my friends were shocked when I mentioned the Winnie-the-Pooh makeover. “Travesty,” “terrible” and “twisted,” were just some of the words they used. Only one younger colleague treated it as a joke, declaring it to be justified as satire. 

There is a place for satire: Blazing Saddles, for example, is a biting social commentary on both Hollywood and racism, but it probably couldn’t be made today, in the politically correct era. The trouble with the Winnie-the-Pooh hit job is that it deliberately swipes at a childhood icon and in time associations with the ever-happy character could be changed forever. No more sitting next to a young child learning life’s lessons from Pooh and friends. 

Until now, my main complaint about Winnie-the-Pooh was the atrocious spelling. “Hunny,” that should be my greatest worry regarding the anthropomorphic teddy bear’s educational qualities: “Piglet: ‘How do you spell love?’; Pooh: ‘You don’t spell it, you feel it.’” 

The Frake-Waterfield version could be called (or spelled) Winnie-the-S**t. The bear who is always “rumbly” in his “tumbly,” is causing a very different type of stomach ache. I’m not prepared to just grin and bear it, as it were.

It’s not that Disney is all fun and games. Most Disney movies, like fairy tales, have difficult, even haunting, moments. I still find the scene in Dumbo where the big-eared baby is separated from his mother disturbing. I missed most of Bambi the first time I went to see it as a young child, too upset by the death of his mother (sorry for the spoiler for the reader who didn’t know.) And I got rid of a film version of Pinocchio which was way too dark for me to comfortably show my son when he was young. I’d be interested, however, in hearing how the latest version of Pinocchio, starring Tom Hanks as Geppetto, goes down.

One issue raised by the production of Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey is what happens to our rights after death. A.A. Milne must be spinning in his grave, but he’s not alone. Anything anyone has said or done could one day be misrepresented when we’re not in a position to do anything about it. And in Disney’s world, Mickey Mouse had better watch out – he enters public domain in 2024.

Is nothing sacred?

Will Paddington Bear one day develop a taste for something more malevolent than marmalade sandwiches? What will be “the bare necessities in life” that happy-go-lucky Baloo sings about in a future remake of The Jungle Book? And is Rupert planning his revenge for not achieving the international stardom of other ursine characters?

I’M AWARE that there are bigger stories. There are earthquakes, floods, fires and other disasters in a world slowly recovering from the COVID pandemic and dealing with the climatic extremes. And there’s the conflict in Ukraine and Putin’s “Cold War,” holding Europe hostage to Russian gas supplies ahead of winter; the devastating clashes between Ethiopia and Tigray; global terrorism; and the way China’s President Xi Jinping threatens Taiwan. That’s just a partial list. 

Incidentally, Xi reportedly ordered a ban on two Disney characters after memes dared depict his rotund figure walking next to a lithe Barack Obama as Winnie and Tigger. 

This week, the 50th anniversary of the Munich Olympics Massacre was commemorated. Eleven members of the Israeli team were held hostage, tortured, and finally killed (along with a German policeman) in the botched rescue attempt. The world watched the hostage crisis as if it were a reality show in a classic case of what is now called the Theater of Terror. The eight terrorists from the PLO’s Black September movement exploited the fact that the world was watching and that encouraged more attacks and many hijackings. 

A dotted line, like red drops of blood, connects the Munich Massacre to the more recent attacks by al-Qaeda and Islamic State. But already, there is a tendency to create new narratives in documentaries and movies to evoke as much sympathy for the terrorists as for their victims. Lines are being blurred.

A photo caption by a respected news outlet showing a picture of a commemoration service in Germany described the event thus: “the 50th anniversary of the attack on the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics in which eleven Israelis, a German policeman and five of the Palestinian gunmen died.” Note the five Palestinian terrorists (not gunmen) share equal space with their victims – who, it should say, were murdered. They didn’t simply die. 

Next week marks the 21st anniversary of 9/11 when some 3,000 people were killed and the world changed forever. I fear for the day when, in this telling, too, the terrorists become the good guys. Anything is possible in a world dominated by moral equivalence on the one hand and the desire to grab attention by being contrary on the other.

It reminds me of the great line from The Incredibles: “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved, you know?” And don’t you dare touch that movie. I still need some innocent escapism.

The main problem is borders between good and bad, right and wrong and heroes and anti-heroes are no longer clear in increasingly misanthropic movies and TV programs. Although the public should remember, we have a choice: We don’t have to watch. 

Take a minute to consider what we’re teaching children and impressionable teens around the world – how gratuitous sex, violence and dystopia have become the rule rather than the exception. In short, what happens when you turn Winnie-the-Pooh into the bad guy?

In the immortal words of you-know-who: “Think, think, think.” Oh, bother. Turning Winnie-the-Pooh into a vicious serial killer doesn’t bear thinking about. 

[email protected]