by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
Winnie the Pooh is one of the most beloved characters in literature. The story of Pooh and his friends has delighted children and adults alike since his introduction to audiences nearly 100 years ago. Disney’s most recent project bringing Pooh to the screen, centers around the affable bear’s human companion, Christopher Robin.
Producer on the project, Brigham Taylor, recently sat down with LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher to talk about why this character still resonates with audiences, how the story connects with today’s culture, and how writers should approach universally appealing characters.
John Bucher: Let’s jump right in to talking about this story. This is a really different lens for this world that many of us are familiar with, with Christopher Robin already being an adult. Can you talk about why you think that works well as a storytelling angle for this particular story?
Brigham Taylor: I was always drawn to the notion of the adult Christopher Robin, because it forces you to ask questions about what is the relevance of Pooh and his friends to us, moving ahead in life. It gives you this inherently adult perspective that I think gives the audience access to the story. I think you have the magic of bringing Pooh and Tigger and Eeyore and Piglet to life in this wonderful photo-real visual effect way, and hopefully, that charm and wit comes through and is the appeal for younger audience members.
But for me, I was curious about how to reintroduce Pooh to a multi-generational audience, and not just to kids. I think that the company (Disney) has done a great job at keeping Pooh alive as a character for younger kids in particular, with programs that have gone on the Disney channel and some of the animated features in the past. But I always had the firm belief that he had equivalent appeal to adults. He had this weird, bizarre, nonsense wit and philosophy that goes over the head of a young child. For me, to be able to tell a story both in the medium of live action and also from the perspective of the adult now getting reacquainted with an old friend from childhood seemed to be an irresistible idea.
John Bucher: Let’s talk about this character of Pooh and his relationship with Christopher Robin. What is that universal appeal that Pooh has? Why do you think Pooh has remained a character that we’ve been intrigued by for such a long time now?
Brigham Taylor: I’m left to guess a little bit, but my hunch is that at the center of Pooh is this amazing, loving, tolerant, and accepting character who just owns his own habits and desires, even some of his foibles. He’s very at peace with himself as a stout little bear and with his appetite. There’s a gentility and a beautiful philosophy to Pooh that is always about being with the ones you love and doing the things that you love. I think that inside the package of an incredibly appealing stuffed bear, a fuzzy, warm, attractive stuffed bear is just something that has had an appeal for almost 100 years.
We focused a lot in this movie about the appeal of his Zen quality — him just being able, even in times of crisis, to somewhat be at peace with his situation and figuring it out and getting through, coupled with the loyalty he has to his friends. Those are really eternally appealing ideas.
John Bucher: The other characters in the story have gained just as much love universally throughout the years as Pooh — Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet, especially. This world and this relationship between these characters, as you mentioned, seems to have withstood the test of time. Are there any of those characters that people gravitate to that might be unexpected or a surprise?
Brigham Taylor: I’m never surprised, because that whole crew has been around. You have the big four, which is Piglet and Tigger and Eeyore and Pooh. And then, slightly secondary, you have Rabbit and Owl and Kanga and Roo. They all typically have moments to shine. They all present their own interesting personalities and anxieties and foibles. I’m never surprised at anyone who gravitates towards one or the other. I do find that people, when quizzed about who you are or who you like best in Pooh’s world always have an answer. You have the wonderful pessimism and depressiveness of Eeyore, which describes a lot of friends that we all have. You have the unbound energy and certitude of Tigger, which is extremely fun. Then you have that sanguine Zen quality of Pooh. And then of course, Piglet, which is the timidity and fearfulness, as well as the loyalty and friendship.
John Bucher: Why do you think this story seems so appropriate for our world and our time right now?
Brigham Taylor: If you can tell a story with Pooh at the center, it’s never a wrong time. I also agree with you that right now, it is a tumultuous time, more so for many of us who have been around long enough to compare and contrast. It does feel like there’s a shrill discourse that’s pervading a lot of conversations. The idea of restoring, in this funny, weird way, some civility, some kindness, some gentility, it’s a great antidote. To slow down and to listen — which is a big part of the journey for Christopher in this movie — is something that would be a great message at any moment, any year. But it feels like right now, even more valuable.
John Bucher: A lot of those in our audience are writers themselves that desire to tell stories that have the sort of resonance that this one does, throughout time and history. Any last bits of advice you can give to creators and writers out there that want to tell stories like this?
Brigham Taylor: I’m not a writer myself, but my job is to work with them and try to identify stories that can hold up. To me, it’s finding this intersection between a really memorable character — which Pooh definitely is, and that has to do with the specificity of who he is and right down to the syntax of how he talks and how he communicates — but the intersection between a unique character and a story that’s going to resonate.
I think that by that, I mean you want to find something — and there’s all kinds of stories to tell — but I think we generally come back to the ones that inspire us for some reason. I’m a fan of all kinds of movies, and there are movies that teach through extremely negative example or sometimes are there to shock or alienate or scare you. I’m not saying those films aren’t with value, but for me, especially working here at this company, it’s about finding something that can move and inspire you emotionally. To me, that’s what’s at the heart and essence of Pooh and these characters — that inherent goodness and generosity and kindness that triumphs all the other issues that befall us. It’s certainly not the only way to capture something as a writer. But to me, those aren’t bad ingredients to think about.
Christopher Robin hits theaters nationwide August 3, 2018.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.