In this upsetting and unfair Xi Jinping biopic a cartoon bear wanders around the woods making bad decisions and singing songs. It’s one of the few classic Disney films I hadn’t seen. I thought that watching it would restore my sense of childhood wonder, then I remembered I never had a sense of childhood wonder.
If you’re wondering what constitutes “many”, it’s three. The film contains the featurettes “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree” (1966), “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (1968), and “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” (1974), which hail from the Wolfgang Reitherman era of the company and serve as reasonably accurate adaptations of select AA Milne stories.
The animation has that rough 60s Disney quality, where you can almost see flickers of pencil schmutz. Vocal talent includes Sterling Holloway as Pooh, John Fiegler as Piglet, and Stan Freberg as a “laughing honey pot” (he was not credited for this monumental role, in an injustice Tinseltown has yet to reckon with). The total running time is just 74 minutes. This didn’t seem particularly short in 1977 (Dumbo is exactly an hour and four minutes long), although it does now that multiplex theater timeslots are forged in titanium.
“Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree”: Winnie the Pooh is a revolting fatbody who eats everyone’s honey while remarking that he’s “grumbly in his tumbly (sic)”. He becomes so fat that he gets stuck in Rabbit’s tunnel, and the entire gang (including a gopher who isn’t in the original book) combine their talents to free him. Pooh looks disgusting in his red shirt – buttocks protruding. Very very disrespectful.
I wonder why certain creative decisions were made. Why does Pooh keep his HUNNY on the highest shelf (which he can only reach while standing on a chair?) Is he stupid? Or does it hint at hidden character depth – Pooh subconsciously trying to break his HUNNY addiction, the way a compulsive smoker might “hide” their cigarettes?
The most probable explanation is to fit the music to the action cues. The shot begins with sixteen bars of music remaining (“with a hefty, happy appetite, I’m a hefty, happy Pooh!” x2), and Pooh must waste a few seconds doing something (like fetching a chair) for the song to end at the triumphant moment he grabs the HUNNY.
Also, Pooh can rotate his head 360 degrees. This might have gotten laughs in 1977; now it looks like The Exorcist.
“Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” sees Hundred Acre Wood being flooded by a fierce storm, with all the animals being washed away atop various bits of detritus while regretting their decision to vote for Bush. It contains an eerie dream sequence where Pooh floats out of his body and has a nightmare about heffalumps. Doug Walker used to call these “Big-Lipped Alligator Moments” – animated sequences that are completely pointless, nightmarishly over-the-top, and never referenced again. It’s also notable as the introduction of Tigger, whose name I don’t enjoy typing. My left index finger is millimeters away from an incident. A wiser man would play things safe and call him Tigga, but I persist.
As with Mickey Mouse and the Beanstalk, the film frequently breaks the fourth wall, or rather the fourth page. The narrator will hold conversations with characters in the book, and so forth. This gets tiresome, although it allows for some fun animation.
“Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” is about a bouncing Tigger who bounces too much and gets stuck up a tree at the top of the page. He learns that he’s scared of heights. His friends tell him to stop being a pussy and come down, but he simply can’t, and eventually the narrator intervenes, rescuing poor Tigger by folding the page. There’s another Big-Lipped Alligator Moment. There’s a poignant animated scene that was possibly created for the film’s release (I’m not sure), detailing Christopher Robin’s plans to go to school and perhaps get on lithium to stop his hallucinations of talking animals.
Winnie the Pooh belongs to Disney and will continue to do so until at least 2026, when the character enters the public domain. Pooh’s ownership history is complicated – in 1930 AA Milne sold the character to someone called Stephen Slesinger, who died in 1953, at which point his widow licensed the rights to Disney in exchange for regular royalties. Lawsuits from Slesinger’s estate ensued, alleging that Disney was welshing on said royalties. This resulted in a decades-long legal slapfight that descended into low comedy – apparently Slesinger’s estate literally hired goons to rake through Disney’s trash for shredded documents. Pooh is big business, bringing in billions of dollars a year. It’s entirely likely that Disney would have been bankrupted in the 1980s without the Pooh MUNNY jar.
What led Walt to acquire the rights to AA Milne’s Pooh stories, and thus (probably) save his own company? Apparently, his daughter liked them. That was all it took.
If Diane Disney had possessed different reading tastes, the Disney canon might look totally different. Lady Chatterley and the Tramp, or The Rescuers Down and Out in Paris and London, or Make Mein Kampf, or The Dalmatian With A Hundred and One Young. HP Lovecraft owned a cat. It wasn’t called Tigger.
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“Swifties” (or “Tom Swifties”) are one-line jokes where a quotative adverb relates in an amusingly literal way to the quotation before it. For example:
“‘We must hurry,’ Tom said swiftly.”
They are known for being fun to create and painful to read. Here are some of my own. Be warned that unlicensed manufacture and consumption of Swifties is an indictable offense in 32 countries.
* * *
“We’re just getting more and more lost!” Tom said antipathically.
“I’ve been cast in a Gene Wilder biopic,” Tom said bewilderedly.
“My Hitler mustache is going gray,” Tom said old-fashionedly.
“They should teach flag-recognition at school,” Tom said vexedly.
“I’m feeding my son William weight-gainer shakes so he can play pro football,” Tom said, bulk-billing the NFL.
“I’m in the hull of a Nicaraguan guerilla boat,” Tom said in contrapunt.
“Japanese broth tastes better with alcohol,” Tom said misogynistically.
“People in Minoa are easily scammed,” Θωμάς said concretely.
“My pants have disappeared,” Tom said with embarrassment.
“Just because I’m the original man doesn’t mean I don’t have manners,” Adam said urgently.
“I would prostitute myself for AMD’s new 5650X processor,” Tom said horizontally.
“Swiss particle physicists often have criminal convictions,” Tom said with concern.
“Stay back, or I’ll use my teeth!” Tom said ambitiously.
“I watch The Nanny for the actress’s facial gestures,” Tom said frantically.
“When I wore this skunk costume, I became strangely attracted to women,” Ms Blanchett bifurcated.
“I roll a d20 and stab the orc with a syringe! It does maximum damage!” Tom said hypocritically.
“Your nativity set is missing the three wise men,” Tom said imaginatively.
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I can remain silent no longer on an important topic: glam rock isn’t the same as glam metal. Not at all. Anyone who writes “glam rock/metal” (as though these are fuzzy or interrelated concepts) deserves to feel the sting of the lash across their pitiful shoulders.
“Glam rock” is a style that became popular in Great Britain in the early 70s: think Wizzard, T-Rex, and Roxy Music and also think platform boots, scarves, glitter, and flared jeans. The music was 50s-inspired rock and roll with a warm, summery vibe. Glam rock could be pretentiously analyzed as “radical self-manufacture”: its stars were big and cartoony and fake, but not in an “I’m lying to you” way. It was more like “I’m inviting you into a shared dream”. For a few years, the dream was so compelling that audiences accepted the invitation. You could really believe that David Bowie was an alien, Marc Bolan an elf, and Gary Glitter a good bloke with an unimpeachable internet search history.
Glam rock collapsed after three years, replaced by disco and limp-wristed parodies of itself (Mud, Bay City Rollers, Insert Third Example). Bowie salvaged his career from the glitter-strewn rubble; nobody else did. Look at the post-1975 discography of a middle-of-the-pack glam band you’ll see five or six flop albums in a row (with titles like Remember Us? and We’re Back! and Will This Work? and Our Manager Made Us Hire a Bagpipe Player), followed by a break up, followed by a 2001 nostalgia concert featuring two original members, followed by the end.
That’s glam rock. Glam metal (also known as hair metal) is very different: a variant of NWOBHM that became popular in Los Angeles in the mid-to-late 80s. Famous bands include Motley Crue, Poison, and so forth. Like glam rock it had outrageous fashion sense, but unlike glam rock it was always the same fashion sense. Bolan didn’t look like Bowie who didn’t look like Brian Ferry, but all glam metal bands dressed the same.
Glam metal was ugly, cynical, and had no soul. Track one would be about fisting a hooker’s ass. Track 2 would be an overwrought ballad about the power of love. It was plastic music, totally disingenuous and shameless about it. It snorted rails of coke off the bottom of the barrel. Tucker Max once said there are “beer and girls” people (those who party to have fun) and “coke and strippers” people (those who party as an act of nihilistic self-destruction). Glam metal was the soundtrack for the letter. The music wasn’t feel-good, it was feel-dead, and often become-dead: Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” is about Nikki Sixx being resuscitated after going into drug-induced cardiac arrest. Five years earlier, his singer had killed a man in an alcohol-induced car accident. Were you in an 80s glam metal band? I’m sorry that your music career is over, but at least you now have a tear-jerker biography about overcoming addiction to sell to a major publisher.
So why do I bring all this up in a review of a half-forgotten Slade album? Because they’re notable as one of the few bands that played both styles.
They achieved fame in the 70s as part of the glam rock movement: they had six UK number ones. I don’t know why they’re called Slade. Like many glam bands they had a gimmick: they spelled the names of their songs wrong. “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”, “Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me”…I used to think there was a sharp line between artistic affect and crippling dyslexia, but Slade proves that it’s all just gray.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Slade had the profound misfortune of having “Merry Xmas Everybody” as their biggest chart success. A Christmas song is the worst kind of hit you can have: it means you become pigeonholed as a naff novelty band. It also means the world forgets you exist for 51 weeks out of the year.
After “Merry Xmas Everybody”, glam rock became unpopular and Slade’s number ones (and soon twos, etc) stopped coming. But in 1983 they managed a minor comeback with The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome, which broke them in America with a harder, metal-tinged sound.
It’s a loud, hard-rocking and sleazy record. The guitars are like a brick wall and the vocals are like diamond chainsaw tearing through that wall: I don’t know how Noddy Holder’s voice survived so many years of abuse, but science is still asking that question of Nikki Sixx’s heart. “Run Runaway” is a great song, with Jim Lea somehow making an electric fiddle work in a pop context. “Slam the Hammer Down” could almost be a Chuck Berry song, although 80s technology turns it into a massive steroid-pumped gorilla of a track, almost scary to listen to. You feel as if you could get crushed by it.
When the rock-all-the-time approach gets old, you get the eight-minute-plus “Ready to Explode”, which is a weird metal epic combining Queen, Meat Loaf, The Cars, and Iron Maiden. The band pulls influences from just about anywhere, but surprisingly they make most of them work. “My Oh My” is a power ballad with drums so reverb-drenched they might have been recorded from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It’s like a parody of what music sounded like in the 80s, but it flows nicely and is quite memorable.
“(And Now the Waltz) C’est La Vie” was an odd choice for a single – a Broadway-style ballad with drums that never seem to land where you’d expect. The rest of the album finds the band taking no risks and playing to their strengths, delivering guitar-driven songs with keyboards adding a little color.
Slade wasn’t able to sustain this level of success. Soon they went back being a nostalgia band, and while this isn’t the worst kind of death, it’s a death regardless. Their biggest impact in the 80s might have been the fact that Quiet Riot covered one of their hits. It’s good that they managed this little comeback, but (with typical Slade) bad luck glam metal imploded beneath them just as suddenly as glam rock had. It’s like being aboard a sinking ship and getting rescued by the RMS Titanic.
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