When Winnie-the-Pooh got stuck in the doorway of Rabbit’s home after feasting on large amounts of honey, he was assisted by a great and very strange chain of being. In Ernest H Shepard’s illustration, Christopher Robin can be seen tugging on the wedged bear, followed by four rabbits, a stoat, a mouse, Piglet, three more mice, and a hedgehog. Yet another mouse scampers to join the effort. A beetle is landing behind the mouse, and aloft are two more beetles, a dragonfly and, finally, a butterfly. In Disney’s animated film, made four decades — and a hemisphere — away, the chain is foreshortened and adapted to a New World audience. Pooh remains stuck of course, and Christopher Robin still leads the effort, but lined up behind him are Kanga, Eeyore, Roo, and a Gopher! In the cartoon, the Gopher makes it clear, and Pooh reiterates it, that he ‘is not in the book’. A translocation to a new place can be unnerving: though some things remain the same, alterations are inevitable.
I recently sat with pencil sharpened and notebook at the ready, like an anthropologist in exotic terrain, to watch Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), a feature-length collection of the earlier animated shorts. What happened, I wondered, when England’s most famous fictional bear migrated across the Atlantic and settled into an American landscape? Like Pooh, I had grown up in the British Isles and in my ripe maturity emigrated to the US. Like Pooh, I had spent much of my time out of doors. Over the back wall of our family home in southern County Dublin were mile after mile of farm fields, interspersed with shrubby hedgerow. Not quite as bucolic as Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood, perhaps, but there, until the summer dusk drove us home, was where we largely spent our childhood vacations. Like the transplanted Pooh, the terrain in which I now dwell in the New World is hospitable enough in many ways, and yet it is also uncanny. It is not quite home. The suspicion I am investigating here is that, from an environmental perspective, there is more to this bear of ‘very little brain’ than meets the eye.