Disney legend Jim Cummings crafts two Tigger-iffic, (Pooh) Bear-y wonderful characters in ‘CHRISTOPHER ROBIN’

Jim Cummings voices Winnie The Pooh (and Tigger) in CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

The word “icon” is overused these days. However, it’s a fitting descriptor talented extraordinaire Jim Cummings has earned in his decades long career in animation. A legend in his own right, the affable actor’s voice is synonymous with well-known characters like “Ed” in THE LION KING, “Pete” in A GOOFY MOVIE, “Taz” in TAZ-MANIA and “Shredder” in the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES animated series. He’s even done voices in films that appealed to, let’s just say, a more niche audience, voicing the “Cupcake” in CABIN BOY.

But perhaps his most identifiable characters are “Winnie The Pooh” and “Tigger,” of which he voices in Disney’s live action feature, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. The film tells the tale of a jaded adult Christopher Robin (played by Ewan McGregor), who’s forced to rediscover his joy after his childhood friend, Pooh (voiced by Cummings), drops by London for a visit.

The filmmakers approach making this film was a bit different than normal, Cummings shared at the film’s recent Los Angeles press day held on the Disney lot in Burbank.

It was interesting. We recorded the whole movie, or my part, upfront and then they took that to the set so to play live with Ewan, Hayley [Atwell] and the gang. Upfront, it gave them something to act and react to, because acting is reacting. Then we got it back and changed it up all over again.

On set, McGregor had the task of acting against a Pooh Bear stand-in that was not very Pooh Bear-like at all.

Poor Ewan. He’s sitting there talking to a gray lump semi-doll-shaped Pooh. He was acting. He was earning his money. He had a bigger job than me.  

And once Cummings got that footage back, it was off to do ADR.

It was kind of looping. A lot of people will see an actor looping before a soundstage and there’ll be an animated character and everybody thinks that’s how every single cartoon is made, but it’s not because you can’t draw comedic timing or, in this case, animate comedic timing. It was [a matter of] matching the lip flap. It was a bit challenging in that regard.

Though the technical process for him changed with this family-friendly, live action feature, the spirit of those much beloved animated characters he plays remained the exact same. Cummings reassured,

It’s the same characters, a little more pulled back – less bombastic because it’s not really animation.

Cummings credits director Marc Forster (FINDING NEVERLAND, WORLD WAR Z, MONSTER’S BALL) for making sure the tone would befit the character.

He wanted to treat the property with great reverence and respect. You can’t let it be lampoony. You can’t let it be farcical or absurd. He really walked the line of nostalgia and bringing you into Christopher’s world that wasn’t in the Hundred Acre Wood. You have to kind of be serious, but at the same time, [be able to get] back into the Hundred Acre Wood, mentally and spiritually.

Ewan McGregor and Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) in CHRISTOPHER ROBIN. Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Forster’s take on the material’s tone impacted how Cummings modulated this version of the silly ‘ol Bear.

I always had to pull back a little bit, because [I was] used to being a little more boisterous. And this was more of a Zen Pooh – he was a little calmer. He looks at the world through honey-colored glasses.  

Since he’s doing two voices here, he would record one of the characters completely first, and then do the other, rather than trying to flip back and forth simultaneously.

The way we do it now is I like to do all the Pooh stuff, because Tigger is slightly more gruff. They don’t sound alike. So I get Pooh out of the way first.

Despite today’s youth feeling the pull of superheroes, video games and technology, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN should appeal to kids – and the child in all adults

There’s a timeless quality to it and it’s got enough appeal for kids. This definitely has enough appeal for kids and adults.

Many of the other voice actors in this franchise have been shuffled around – only not Cummings, who’s been a mainstay in the roles of Pooh and Tigger. He’s unsure to what he owes his longevity to, though he does joke,

….blackmail. I’ve got the goods on everyone.

I guess, luck of the draw and I’m certainly passionate for it. It matters to me a lot. I don’t take myself seriously, but I take the work seriously. Maybe that shows.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN plays to a cinematic trend lately found in other films like WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR, PADDINGTON 2 and HEARTS BEAT LOUD – one that values kindness, compassion and empathy. When asked what he thought Pooh Bear would say to audiences searching for kind-heartedness in the world, he flips instantly into character, stating,

Well, I think they need to see the world for honey-colored glasses. [does Tigger voice] And keep on bouncin’.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN opens on August 3.

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