Jim Cummings voices the characters of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger in the upcoming Disney film Christopher Robin. He’s played the characters before, but when we got a chance to speak to Cummings for the film, he told us that this time around, it feels different.
Cummings has voiced pretty much every character you’ve ever loved. The Jungle Book’s King Louie and Kaa, for starters, as well as other Disney characters including Pete and Darkwing Duck, plus Bonkers, Fat Cat and Monterey Jack on Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, and Don Karnage on Tail Spin… and too many more to mention. He’s worked on films including Shrek, Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Furious Five, Hook, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King… get where we’re going? During our chat, the Emmy and Annie Award nominee gave us a peek into his illustrious career, what it takes to voice Pooh and Tigger and why this film was so different for him.
Voicing Pooh and Tigger So Many Times
You might think that for an actor, variety is the spice of life — and that leaving a role to come back to it again later, and then again and again might prove a challenge — in particular, in terms of keeping it fresh. So, is jumping back into the roles of Pooh bear and the boisterous Tigger again difficult?
“It was terribly difficult,” Cummings begins. But he’s joking. “Oh, wait! No, it wasn’t! No, it was like yesterday. I think it’s in my DNA now. Pooh and Tigger are never far away for me. I live in the Hundred Acre Wood.”
Are these little guys his favorite, then? Most of the time, actors won’t admit to which roles they like the most, often comparing the question to choosing their favorite child.
“These guys are extremely special,” said Cummings. “Everyone says, ‘Well, you do a lot of characters, who is your favorite? Who is your all-time favorite?’ Well … if I had two, it would be Pooh and Tigger. They are in a different category. They’re on a different shelf. Everybody else isn’t.”
So, why are they his favorite? Cummings explained: “Well, you know, they’re not tied to a fad. They’re not necessarily on skateboards or hoverboards, There are not pogs involved. They’re not flipping a bottle. There’s nothing. They’re kind of evergreen. They came from literature, and the bedtime stories about Christopher Robin. They just have that timeless quality. It pulls you right back to your childhood. There’s no real fad involved in that type of thing. It’s timeless, I think, for everybody. You can be eight or 88, and it pulls you back to your childhood. It’s that sweet time.”
Why does Cummings return to these roles when other actors are cast in different versions of the other characters from the Hundred Acre Woods?
“Blackmail. I have the goods on everyone!” he laughed. “No, I guess [it’s the] luck of the draw. I’m certainly passionate for it. It matters to me a lot. Maybe that shows. I always say, gosh, 1939, Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind came out, and those could probably be released now and be pretty successful. You just have to care, and I do. I don’t take myself seriously, but I take the work seriously and, God willing, it shows. We all get to hang out and talk about it now.”
Why It’s Different for Christopher Robin
There were a few differences, this time around for Cummings.
“The way we approached it was, we recorded the whole movie upfront, and then they took that to the set to play live with Ewan [McGregor] and Hayley [Atwell] and the gang,” he explained. “It gave them something to act and react to, because acting is reacting. And then we got it back and changed it up all over again. It was kind of looping. A lot of people will see an actor looping before a soundstage, and there will be an animated character. Everyone thinks that that’s how every cartoon is made, but you can’t animate comedic timing, or computer-generated comedic timing, but once you hear it, then you can do it. The process is a little different.
“Poor Ewan, sitting there, talking to a grey lump of semi-doll-shaped Pooh, he was acting. He was earning his money. Just various puppeteers and 14 people standing around, pretending they’re not there. He had a bigger job than me! And then from there, it was just kind of matching the lip flap. Did we get that ‘hoo-hoo’ right? It was a bit challenging in that regard. It was the same characters, a little more pulled back, I think. Less bombastic because it’s not really animation —‘animation’ animation.”
Cummings voiced the Winnie the Pooh lines before the Tigger lines, and here’s why: “The way we do it now, I like to do all the Pooh stuff first, because Tigger is slightly more gruff… so I get Pooh out of the way first.”
Voicing All the Characters You Love
Cummings said that, even with the advent of digital recording, doing voiceovers is largely the same skill as it always was. He said that he misses doing recordings with the entire cast, which doesn’t seem to happen anymore. But the acclaimed voice actor has been with Disney for so many projects, you would imagine that his relationship with the Goliath of animation and beyond is pretty good. And it is.
“It’s great. I’m as happy as I can be,” he said. “The first job I got was Lionel Lion in Dumbo’s Circus in late 1985. The first movie I did was Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I don’t have my shirt anymore, but I have the picture of me with my Mouseketeer shirt on, waiting for Annette [Funicello from The Mickey Mouse Club]. I had my Zorro hat and I still have my Davy Crockett hat from the ’50s. I’ve often said all the ‘Disneyana,’ all the trivia, all the World of Disney and the world of America are woven together in the same fabric. That’s why love coming here to the lot.”
So what appeals to him about doing voiceovers?
“It’s the stuff that used to get me kicked out of class and now it’s pretty cool,” he said. “Doing dolphins sounds… it’s a lot of fun. I played Monopoly and entertained my family for years, doing crazy voices and everything. I remember thinking when I was maybe like four or five — Jack Benny had a show and Mel Blanc was on it. He was one of the regulars on his show. He did Bugs Bunny and Taz and stuff like that. Benny said, ‘You see this guy? He’s the guy who does the voices you hear on Saturday morning.’ I thought, well, he’s not getting into trouble. I’ll be him! Sorta.”
For Cummings, the most difficult character he’s ever voiced is Taz: it causes the most wear and tear on his voice.
“When we did the Taz-Mania show, we did, like, 90 or something episodes,” he said. “I was like, ‘Can we do these on Friday afternoon instead of Monday morning? Have the weekend off?’ [does the voice of Taz]. He’s the anti-Pooh!”
Christopher Robin stars Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell, and features the voices of Cummings, Brad Garrett, Peter Capaldi and Sophie Okonedo. It hits screens in the US on August 3, the UK on August 17 and Australia on September 13.