Vinni-Pukh, Russia’s Winnie the Pooh

Between 1969 and 1972, Russian animator and filmmaker Fyodor Khitruk created three short films based on English author A. A. Milne’s beloved Winnie the Pooh character: Winnie Pooh (1969), Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting (1971), and Winnie Pooh and a Busy Day (1972).

The films are drawn in a different style than the well known Disney adaptations, the first of which (Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree) precedes Khitruk’s Winnie Pooh by three years. Notably, Khitruk’s backgrounds are highly stylized, sometimes in distorted perspective and vividly colourful rather than naturalistic; his characters, though easily cross-identifiable with Disney, are distinctly original; and Winnie the Pooh—in particular—has a slightly “off” personality: still cuddly, but less so, and more of a smart schemer than the innocent, yellow-furred, red-shirted “oh, bother” of the American imagination.

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A map of the land, showing the important locations from Khitruk’s triology.

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An early landscape shot from Winnie Pooh. Notice the flatness, the stylization of the paw prints on the winding path, and the mix of perspectives: top-down and side-view.

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Pooh emerges from beyond the trees, singing his way down the path. Also from Winnie Pooh, this is one of the few times Khutrik creates depth.

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A typical—but empty, because Pooh and Piglet haven’t walked into the frame yet—background. Perhaps more spare than most, it demonstrates Khitruk’s use of white as well as his expressive “messy” colouring style.

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Some of the richest drawings are of the characters’ homes. This happens to be Pooh’s. We should be able to recognize the paw-lined path as the one from an earlier image. There’s a large keyhole on the wooden door, as well as flowers and a mushroom growing on the roof. The building is very earthy.

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A similar style of home for Piglet, although more “grounded” in that there’s recognizable ground. Another keyhole adorns the door. On the window: two hearts, perhaps expressing Piglet’s good-natured, loving personality.

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Now to meet the characters! Here’s Pooh—sitting under a tree, using logic to figure out that a buzzing tree means honey above. If you’re familiar with either Milne’s stories or the first Disney film, you’ll remember that Pooh eventually grabs a balloon and pretends to be a floating rain cloud in order to partake of some of that honey, which is guarded by a fearsome gang of bees.

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Hello, Piglet. Notice the similar composition to the previous image: half the screen in white, the other in colour, the character in between.

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Pooh and Piglet together, in one of the nicest shots of the trilogy. The characters and background come together to form an appealing whole. The greens at the top of the frame add a welcome coolness to what would otherwise be too brownish-red.

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In Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting, we also meet Rabbit. Less angry, more dandy than in Disney, Rabbit also has a flower on the roof [of the upper part] of his house.

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Completing Khitruk’s cast of characters are Eeyore and Owl, who both appear in Winnie Pooh and a Busy Day, which is twice as long as each of the first two films. Of all the characters, Eeyore is the most similar to the Eeyore most of us are used to seeing. He’s mopey, of course.

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Still, it’s in his backgrounds that Khutrik most firmly stamps his imagination on the Pooh stories. Here, pink and blue clouds surround a red sun.

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This hill-with-three-trees is particularly beautiful. The grass is divided into shapes of various colours and the branches look like they’re in bloom.

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Something less characteristic is this close up on flowers. Distinct, yet keeping with Khutrik’s style. The dandelion draws the eye, but the richness is in the tangle of colours and pencil strokes behind.

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Indoors are also drawn. In this shot, Pooh and Piglet visit Rabbit’s home in Winnie Pooh Goes Visiting.

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And another home, though the owner will remain a mystery. The drawing is uncharacteristically dark, with few white highlights on the bed. Not ominous—even cozy—but natural, muddy, terrestrial. The textures are rougher than usual, too.

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All good things come to an end: one of the most iconic Pooh illustrations brought to colourful life, as Pooh and Piglet walk hand-in-hand over the hill and far away. Notice the extreme stylization of the clouds, which doesn’t distract at all.

Until we meet again, Hundred Acre Wood.

Fare well.

 

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