I have never been a fan of the Disney oeuvre, but it is my considered opinion that they have done a great disservice to the public and serious damage to the imaginations of small fry everywhere, with their conception of A.A. Milne's characters. I have a fondness for Pooh (as who does not?) and I loathe almost everything about the Pooh cartoons -- the simplification of Ernest Shepard's charming illustrations, the reduction of the stories from a form that necessitates adult interaction with a child to a smear of bright colors and noise, the dumbing-down of Milne's delightful prose -- but most of all, the voices. Pooh's querulous hesitancy, Piglet's effeminate stutter, Eeyore's moronic drone, Tigger's hyperactive lisp -- no more!
As I've been reading Pooh to the girls for the past several years, I've come up with a set of voices that seem more in line with the characters as written. Pooh, to me, is the quintessential John Bull country squire -- hale, gruff, full of bluster, none too bright but with a certain internal logic that may or may not connect with reality. This Pooh has no truck with apologetic character in the cartoons.
Piglet strikes me as having more than a touch of Bertie Wooster in him. He seems the type of useless young gentleman that one might kicking around a fictional English club (probably the Drones). He may stutter from indignation or surprise, but not because he's a frightened baby. (For the record, Piglet is rarely if ever written as stuttering.)
My model for Eeyore is the sarcastic, sharp, working-class intellectual J.G. Quiggin from A Dance to the Music of Time, or (for those who can't seem to find the time to finish all twelve volumes of that massive work) Barnes, the Captain's bitter valet in Gosford Park. (Coincidentally, Adrian Scarborough, the actor who plays Barnes, also plays Quiggin in the BBC's adaptation of Dance to the Music of Time.) Eeyore may be dour and self-absorbed, but he's not slow. Take his meditation on the letter A:
"I'm telling you. People come and go in the Forest, and they say, 'It's only Eeore, so it doesn't count.' They walk to and fro saying, 'Ha ha!' But do they know anything about A? They don't. It's just three sticks to them. But to the Educated -- mark this, little Piglet -- to the Educated, not meaning Poohs and Piglets, it's a great and glorious A. Not," he added, "just something that anybody can come and breathe on."Tigger's energy and enthusiam make him the perfect candidate for an Australian voice. Think Steve Irwin. Think Crocodile Dundee.
--The House at Pooh Corner
Rabbit is thrifty, sensible, educated but not pretentious. I haven't quite pegged his voice yet, but I think he's Scottish.
Owl is not nearly as smart as Rabbit, but he has gravitas and a certain pomposity. I imagine him posing in a courtroom wearing a large powdered wig and saying "M'Lud". He is slow and grave and rather convinced by his own posturing. His voice is deep and measured and mellifluous.
Darwin and I are divided on the issue of Kanga and Roo. He was raised listening to a Kanga with a Southern accent. That doesn't sound right to me. I haven't placed Kanga in my own mind yet, so I don't have a distinctive voice for her.
One thing is for certain: the Disney cartoons have no place in my house. They may be innocuous entertainment for the young'uns, but one should never make the mistake of confusing blandness with quality.