Last weekend, D23 held “A Wonderful Morning with Winnie the Pooh,” an advance screening of Winnie the Pooh at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. In stark contrast to the overpriced, overcrowded fiasco that was D23’s Rocketeer 20th anniversary event at the El Capitan last month, the Winnie the Pooh event was well-run and a fantastic value for the money. (In fact, it was hard to believe the two events were put on by the same organization.) For $10 we got to see the movie and a discussion with a panel of animators, plus they gave us a bagged breakfast and a poster that most of us got signed by the animators at a post-panel autograph session. The event started at 7:30am, and when we got there at 6:15, there were already people in line. Somehow we didn’t get the memo that fans were encouraged to wear their pajamas to this early-morning event. But maybe it’s for the best—nobody wants to see Patrick in his birthday suit…
While we waited in line, ushers came by to tear our tickets and hand us lanyards. Then D23’s Jeffrey Epstein came by to make sure we were all awake by challenging us with such mind-benders as “Who traveled the farthest today?” (At that hour, I couldn’t even remember my own name, let alone where I lived!) Inside the Soda Fountain & Studio Store, our breakfast bags were lined up and ready to go. These turned out to be a Festival o’ Fruit, so I was glad I’d eaten before we left the house. There was a small orange juice, an indeterminately fruity bran muffin (which nobody we talked to wanted to eat before the movie), and an IQ test of a fruit bowl that would explode all over the place if you didn’t figure out it needed to be opened upside down.
As at Disneyland, there were actually two lines for the breakfast bag once you got inside the lobby, and, as at Disneyland, fewer people noticed the one on the left (a little touring tip for ya there!).
El Capitan house organist Rob Richards was playing already, despite the early hour. The pre-show organ concert is one of my favorite things about seeing movies at that theater. (Least favorite: the seat pitch and height—it’s been 20 years since that award-winning renovation, guys… time for some new seats!) We got a great spot in the middle-middle because there was hardly anyone in the theater yet. They were all out in the lobby picking up the limited-edition, “printed exclusively for John Lasseter” movie posters all D23 members got. I’m not sure what that even means. Why did John Lasseter need 500 copies of a special version of the movie poster? And how did we end up with them?
The movie started in a timely fashion, and we were excited to see that the short “The Ballad of Nessie” was included in the screening. I guess it’s a big deal in the fan community because of its Mary Blair-esque 2-D animation. It was very pretty to look at, but I thought the actual ballad was weakly written—not nearly as clever with a turn of phrase as Bud Luckey’s Boundin’ for Pixar. I have never been particularly interested in Winnie the Pooh & Co., but I found Winne the Pooh the movie absolutely charming. It was simple and childlike but also surprisingly funny—the audience was mostly adults, and we were cracking up all the way through. I liked how they didn’t try to turn the genre on its ear with some overly complicated plot or make painfully contemporary jokes in an attempt to be edgy. There was one point where I sorta started to zone out (I blame the early hour), so to the people who are already complaining that the movie is too short I say, trust me—it is exactly as long as it needs to be. Any longer and it would just get boring. The one discordant note were the original songs (not the soundtrack—that was great), which were uninspired and simplistic. Repeating the same word or phrase over and over is not establishing a theme, it’s just lazy. It’s too bad they couldn’t have had the Sherman Brothers do the songs for this Winnie the Pooh too—they know how to use repetition effectively! I’m also getting tired of Zooey Deschanel’s flat vocal stylings, which are gonna date this soundtrack faster than you can sing “It’s gonna be great” 15 times in a row. After the movie, Becky Cline brought out a panel of supervising animators to talk about their characters—and draw them too! On hand were Mark Henn (Pooh & Christopher Robin), Eric Goldberg (Rabbit), Randy Haycock (Eeyore), Dale Baer (Owl), and Bruce Smith (Piglet, Kanga, Roo), along with one of the stars of the film, Balloon.
After sketching Winnie the Pooh for us, Mark Henn displayed a photo of the original stuffed animals on which the stories are based. They now live at the 5th Avenue branch of the New York Public library.
Next up was a real treat—they showed us an extended, pencil-test version of Pooh’s duet with his tummy (an hilarious sequence and the only song I really loved).
After that they made an announcement about not taking anymore photos of the clips, so we just have a few shots of the animators and their neat name cards. Interestingly, several of the animators mentioned initially being disappointed with the characters they were assigned. Eric Goldberg was less than thrilled to be working on Rabbit but found ways to flesh out his character through visual humor. Randy Haycock talked about the radical new addition of eyelids to Eeyore. Not being an artist or very familiar with the first movie, I didn’t even notice this and couldn’t believe he’d never had them before, but Patrick had picked up on it and how much wider a range of expression it gave Eeyore. Dale Baer wryly mentioned that voice actor (and, unbeknownst to Baer, late-night talk show host) Craig Ferguson ad-libbed basically all of Owl’s lines instead of reading what was written on the page, which put an interesting wrinkle in the animator’s job. Bruce Smith was another one who was initially less than enthusiastic about his assignment. He mentioned how hard it is to get Piglet right from any angle but head-on, what with the little beady eyes and all. However, every time he told one of the ladies in the office who he was animating, they would always coo and declare Piglet their favorite. When he realized that Piglet was a chick magnet, Smith seemed to feel better about getting the assignment! Balloon could only be understood by Smith, but he kept us all in stitches and even got the last word! After the panel, we all shuffled downstairs to the basement to get the animators’ autographs on our posters. Unlike at the Rocketeer event, there was a nice, orderly line with classic Disney switchbacks to keep us contained. It was very much an assembly line—plunk down your poster in front of Dale Baer and then slide it along the row til you got to Bruce Smith—but the animators very kindly exchanged a few words with every single one of us.
The vaunted “Poohtique” turned out to be one display shelf jammed into the back corner of the Disney Soda Fountain & Studio Store. And the merchandise was almost nothing we hadn’t seen before. When I read in the credits that the gorgeous handmade-looking stuffed animals in the opening sequence were made by the Disney Store, I’d hoped that similar versions would be available for sale. But so far it seems they only have the same generic versions of the characters they’ve been selling for years. If you spent more than $40 on Pooh merchandise, there was the obligatory limited-edition lithograph. Where do people put all of these? Overall, we were very pleased with the event. It felt like you got a lot for your money (food is always a welcome addition), and the panel discussion was really informative—and worth getting up early on a Saturday for! If only D23 could do more events like this…