Exclusive: The Voice of Pooh and Tigger Gives Us His Best Impression

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We all know the beloved characters, but what about the voices behind the animation?  Movie Fanatic got a chance to catch up with the talent behind Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Rabbit.

Winnie the Pooh hits theaters Friday, July 15, 2011.

Jim Cummings has been doing the iconic voice of Pooh since 1987 and Tigger since 2000, taking over from Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell.  Those are both very big shoes to fill and Cummings knows how important it is to get the voices just right.  But can he do it?  Listen below and decide for yourself!

Many Pooh fans know and love the original Pooh from the infamous shorts - all voiced by Sterling Holloway.  But can people notice any difference?  Well he's been doing it since the '80s and many of the Pooh voices you hear is actually him anyway. 

So how did Cummings get such a coveted gig?

"It was just a regular audition process back then. They sent out a call to all the agencies and my agent got the call and it wasn’t even a voice that I had really done or it was just something I would do when playing Monopoly or something [in Pooh voice] I think I will purchase a park please. And it was just one of those guys, those annoying guys in the class that would make weird noises. So I kind of had it, but it was never something I thought much of. So I just kind of went back to the drawing board. I worked at a video store way back when, so I had a lot of Pooh videos, so I just kind of refreshed myself and I snuck in."

It was a bit of a different story of Tom Kenny, who voices Rabbit. He didn't need to be a voice match - and huge Pooh fans will definitely notice a difference.  But Disney didn't think it was a very big deal, so we'll just have to accept it.

Winnie the Pooh and Rabbit

 "What made it very easy for me and a luxury that Jim Cummings didn’t have, since he had to be a voice match for Pooh and Tigger, is that they upfront said, 'we’re not looking for a direct voice match, so don’t worry about that. We’re looking for attitude, we’re looking for personality and we’re looking for comedy,' Kenny describes."I think that the Pooh-niverse is so heavy for people that you can’t really mess with Pooh or Piglet or Eeyore that much, but with characters like Owl and Rabbit the thought was maybe we can tweak them a little bit, so that they can still be recognizable."

We also have a great audio clip of Jim Cummings explaining what he likes best about Pooh.  Can you figure out which very special character pops up in the middle of the interview?  Listen closely!

 

Check out the full interviews with both Jim Cummings and Tom Kenny below.

Tom Kenny (voice of “Rabbit”)

Tom Kenny - Voice of Rabbit

TOM KENNY ON RABBIT REVAMPED:

 The directors said you came in to tone Rabbit down a little bit.

Oh is that what they said? Yeah, Rabbit in this film isn’t quite so cranked up on 10 all the time. When you watch those things, you kind of forget how aggressive and unpleasant Rabbit can come off. The weird thing for me if that I realized that going back and watching the originals two or three shorts from the ‘60s, I remember as a real little kid, and I was probably like six when these things came out, I thought Rabbit was a woman, like an old lady. I guess maybe he was such a fuss-bucket, he just seemed like the cranky old lady down the street, when really he’s the cranky old man down the street.

But really this is  a character that’s existed for 30 plus years in the Disney universe.  So how did you get the sound for Rabbit?

What made it very easy for me and a luxury that Jim Cummings didn’t have, since he had to be a voice match for Pooh and Tigger, is that they upfront said, we’re not looking for a direct voice match, so don’t worry about that. We’re looking for attitude, we’re looking for personality and we’re looking for comedy. I think that the Pooh-niverse is so heavy for people that you can’t really mess with Pooh or Piglet or Eeyore that much, but with characters like Owl and Rabbit the thought was maybe we can tweak them a little bit, so that they can still be recognizable, and maybe get a little more comedic juice out of them because obviously Pooh and Piglet and Eeyore are written in stone and you can’t change them. So it was interesting and basically I went back to, knowing whey they were looking to do with him, I asked myself, who’s fussy and persnickety, but is still likeable. Who would that person be? And Jack Lemmon is who I hit on. So I kind of just took the personality a little bit to Jack Lemmon land without doing a direct impression of him and nobody was more surprised than I was that they said I had got the part.

What parts of Rabbit from the original films were you hoping would make it into the movie?

Rabbit’s just kind of on the outskirts. A lot of the heavy lifting is done by the two leads. So it’s kind of nice to be an ingredient without having to be the whole thing. So I wasn’t too concerned

TOM KENNY ON VOICING ANOTHER ICONIC CHARACTER:

You’re voicing a character right now [Spongebob] that’s up there with Mickey.  What is it like to be part of such a huge phenomenon?

Well time will tell. I hope he has half those legs. It’s been 13 years and it’s been fun. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do when I was a kid, which is kind of unusual for a person. This was the job I always wanted to do and I don’t want anyone else’s job. I’m smart enough to know that I have the best job in show business. I don’t want to be Tom Cruise and I don’t want to be Jim Carrey and all the voice actors feel this way. We talk about it all the time. It might be the most functional area of show business.

Do you find it easy to transition from Nickelodeon to Disney?

For me the main difference is that most of the shows that I work on are ensemble. Everybody’s there. And because of the schedules involved, you’re working on your lines by workself for this one and for me that was kind of weird, not having other people to bounce off of. It’s something to get used to and I feel like I’ve learned that now. I’ve learned to be better at doing stuff now in a vacuum and just imagining what the others are saying. But it’s nice to have those other people to bounce around too.

TOM KENNY ON HIS FAVORITE CHARACTER:

Of all the characters you’ve voiced over the years, do you have a particular favorite?

Obviously with Sponge I have a soft spot for. I do a preschool show for Playhouse Disney called Handy Manny. There’s a guy on there called Mr. Lopart and he’s kind of a very bizarre character for a preschool show. Very needy and he has a mother fixation, insecure. To me, he’s the freakiest, most complex character on the show and we all lined up speculating about Mr. Lopart on the show. A lot of it is just the creators too. They are so invested in this and they have a love for the material and the original version of it that they’re trying to reboot to a little bit . Anybody that has passion, it’s nice to work on something where the people at the top have a real passion for it. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who have that passion.

Do you ever find yourself talking in character when you’re not at work?

Unconsciously. My kids will catch me. You know where you’ll tell a joke or something and you say it in the voice of the character you want to file it away for. And they’re like ‘dad, you were just talking like Pat the Hammer.’ 

Jim Cummings (voice of Pooh Bear and Tigger)

Jim Cummings - Voice of Pooh

JIM CUMMINGS ON VOICING THE ICONIC POOH:

How did you get the job back in 1987 to play Pooh?

It was just a regular audition process back then.  They sent out a call to all the agencies and my agent got the call and it wasn’t even a voice that I had really done and it was just something I would do when playing Monopoly or something [in Pooh voice] I think I will purchase a park please.  And it was just one of those guys, those annoying guys in the class that would make weird noises.  So I kind of had it, but it was never something I thought much of.  So I just kind of went back to the drawing board.  I worked at a video store way back when, so I had a lot of Pooh videos, so I just kind of refreshed myself and I snuck in.   So just a regular audition process, just like any other project.

You’ve done Pooh for all these different incarnations of it.  Now this is kind of a reboot.   Did you find anything different about doing a classic Pooh by revisiting the shorts?

They kind of never left me. I didn’t have to go back and revisit them. I probably have the whole original movie memorized anyway because I’ve done certain lines for it for projects like toys and little shorts that we would redo for one reason for another. But if you look, cuz I was here earlier, is when Princess and the Frog was winding down, Pooh was just gearing up and it was heavenly timing. Because all the animators from Princess and the Frog, they are the best animators on earth who do this and they were all done, all at the same time. And they’re all sitting on their hands at the same time saying ‘now what?’ Well guess what, we’re all going back to the Hundred Acre Wood and everything you liked about the ones back in the ‘60s, you’re going to love about this one. I say this all the time, every frame I think is farmable. It’s gorgeous. It’s so pretty and they’re better at it now than they were then, so they did all the old stuff that you loved and it looks better now and it pops and sizzles. I’m nuts about it.  I just think it looks amazing. As far as going back and redoing it, it’s there. It’s back and better than ever, I think. It never really left me. I’m kind of in the audience too. I’m a fan.

JIM CUMMINGS ON EVERYDAY LIFE AS POOH:

Do you ever find yourself going into the voices in your everyday life?

I think they’re just right beneath the surface anyway. It’s kind of in my own little mental Rolodex. I just kind of file through there and they pop out. It’s just something that I’m so used to. The only time – there was this toy, and they gave it the most dubious achievement of the year award and it was called “my interactive Pooh.” It was Winnie the Pooh, it was a downloadable, very high tech toy and it was like having someone sit in the room with you. What you would do is you would download your name, your kids names, and if their friends were coming over that day, you would download their names into it. And so, as a result, we did all the stories first – “well one day we were in the hundred acre wood, etc. and my good friend ‘suzie’ [says the name in Pooh voice] would come by…” and on and on. For six months, we started off doing four hour sessions – I was in the D’s for who knows how long. [In Pooh voice], Deshandra, Dechiqua, Desaunaloozie [laughs] and after a while you realize that no one can hear anything anymore and you’re brain has been turned into fudge. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to being insane. 24,860 names in total from all over the world.

How much say did you have in what was kept in as opposed to what pushed the boundaries?

The truer to the tradition, the better for me. In recent years, if they wanted to do something and it’s okay with the Disney guys, it’s okay with me. But I really enjoyed going back to the original because it’s the stuff we all know and it’s the one everybody liked from day one, so you can’t go wrong. I was very happy. I like going back to the original. It’s stuff we all liked anyway.

Why do you think Pooh resonates with people?

I’ve thought about that a lot. There’s no fad there. There’s no trend. They’ll always be room in your heart for sweet heartfelt compassion and friendship and love and all of these things. They’re not pogs or any other kind of fad. They’re not care bears or cabbage patch kids that come and go with the trends. They’re evergreens. Little ones and big ones will always have a place in their heart for fantasy and compassion and love and these guys are the embodiment of it. They’re heartfelt, but they’re not corny. They’re sentimental, but they’re not sappy. And it’s just true. It’s good stuff. A Winnie the Pooh generation isn’t 25 years like a normal generation. We’re making fresh Pooh fans all the time. 

Have there been conversations about doing another movie if this one does well?

I don’t know. I hope so.

JIM CUMMINGS ON HIS FAVORITE DISNEY CHARACTERS:

So you voiced all these great Disney characters over the years, do you have a particular favorite?

Don Carnage is actually one of them. And Darkwing Duck, and Pooh and Tigger are kind of in their own category. For me, I feel like I’m a torch-bearer. It’s an honor really. I don’t take myself very seriously, but I sure do take the work seriously because they live forever. Snow White was what, 1939? And she’s still going strong. So some of them really pop out, like Darkwing Duck. It’s different with some of them, like Ray and Don Carnage. They were guys that came from me, so there’s that aspect of it. And then with Pooh and Tigger, they were established. They were here before me and the trick with them is to be true to the tradition. You have to sound like the originals right off the bat, so you have to get that going. You also stay true to the character. You update it here and there. I’ve done things with Tigger that were never done before, but that’s okay. You got to bring it up to speed. It’s like Zoe Deschanel doing Winnie the Pooh and it’s the song you always loved, but it’s a little hipper now, it’s a little cooler. So you’re serving the tradition, but you’re not stagnating.

Which of the characters that you voiced are you most like?

Probably Tigger and Darkwing. And Tazmanian Devil – although he’s not Disney. I always joke that I’m Winnie the Pooh and the anti-Pooh. Tazmanian Devil is about as far away from Pooh as you can get.

JIM CUMMINGS ON SURPRISING KIDS WITH POOH:

Because you’re a voice actor, you can move anonymously through the world, but at the same time, do you ever bring Pooh out for a moment to surprise a child or anything like that?

Oh sure. Yeah. A lot of times, their parents will ask me too. And I’ve horrified kids too. They’ll scream or something – ‘It’s some guy talking like – he ate Winnie the Pooh!’ When we first started, my hair was a lot longer and darker and I at a radio show. Kids called in and we had all the normal stuff we did on the show. And I hear the host call in the parking lot and say ‘that was great! That was Jim Cummings, he’s the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger and he’s been this and that and I’ve got to tell you, he kind of looks like a biker. Sorry kids. ‘ So I whip it out here and there, but I’m very popular at kids parties and schools. I read at a lot of schools. My girls, I’ve got four daughters, and Dad’s easily tapped. Once they find out, they’re like ‘we’ve got to get this guy in here to read.’ And it’s great. I love it.

What’s you’re favorite part of doing Winnie the Pooh?

Well there’s like a million of them, but I always like it when you can employ some Pooh logic. Things make sense to him in his world

[In Pooh voice] ‘What is that buzzing noise? Well the only reason for making a buzzing noise if because you’re a bee. And the only reason to be a bee is the make honey. And the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.

And one of the other one is – I’m thinking of a flower, I’m thinking of the this and that. And Pooh’s line was “I think that I’m thinking of’ – cuz he wasn’t sure. Had to use that Pooh logic to get there. So Pooh logic is always fun!

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