Winnie the Pooh and Tigger have been delighting audiences for generations with their sweet stories and classic charm. Now the old Hundred Acre Wood bunch is entertaining their youngest crop of fans with a new character and a fresh look in Disney's original 3-D animated series, My Friends Tigger & Pooh, which premiered May 12, 2007. In this playful program, your favorite furry friends and their new pal Darby, an inquisitive, endearing 6-year-old girl, encourage young viewers to tackle mysteries, set out on adventures, and "Think, think, think!" Executive producer Brian Hohlfeld fills Parent & Child in on how the show can be both entertaining and edifying.
Parent & Child: What makes "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" different from the other Pooh-related projects on which you've worked in the past?
Brian Hohlfeld: First of all, it's a shorter form — 11-minute episodes as opposed to feature-length films or videos. So it's a bigger challenge to tell a story economically but still serve all the characters. Secondly, introducing the new character of Darby has given us more opportunities for storylines and shifted (in a positive way) the dynamics of character relationships. Also, since this new series is in CG [computer-generated] animation rather than traditional 2-D, there are some technical aspects we have to keep in mind while writing.
P&C: How will this fun series foster learning?
Hohlfeld: Our curriculum stresses reflective thinking. We took Pooh's traditional phrase "Think, think, think," and made it our educational mantra. So while we do have specific natural science or emotional lessons that kids can take away from each episode - for example, what is an echo, or accepting your friend's sad mood — generally, we'd like kids to learn how to approach solving a problem. And sometimes learn that you can't solve every problem, but at least you know how to try.
P&C: How can parents reinforce the educational themes and lessons explored in each episode?
Hohlfeld: As with all TV viewing, if parents watch along with their kids and talk a little about what they just saw, it's invaluable in reinforcing themes and lessons. During testing of episodes, some parents told us that now, when their kids have a question or problem, all they have to do is point to their heads the way Pooh and Tigger do, and the children respond "Think, think, think." Since it's done as a song in every episode, it makes a big impression.
P&C: How do you think parents who watch the show with their kids will respond to Winnie the Pooh's new look and to the new characters that are being introduced?
Hohlfeld: I think they'll be very pleased. The CG brings the Hundred Acre Wood to life, making it more real but at the same time more magical. After watching for a minute or two, you can't imagine it any other way. And the new characters fit into the world so well that it's like having old friends introduce you to someone they're sure you will like.
P&C: Do you have a favorite Winnie the Pooh moment, from either your childhood or professional life?
Hohlfeld: In the old featurettes, I loved it when the characters were suddenly in the book, walking on the letters as the pages turned. It's an imaginative way to tell the story, and for the animators to pay tribute to the literary source. One of my favorite moments from more recent times is the scene in Pooh's Heffalump Movie where Roo first meets Lumpy. It's just very touching and magical, and everything came together — the writing, the artwork, the performances, the music — to make it special.
P&C: Are there any other characters that you were fan of as a child, and would like to reconnect with in your professional life in the future?
Hohlfeld: My absolute favorite book as a kid was If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Seuss. From the books I read my kids, I love Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books, and the Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant and Sucie Stevenson. Years ago I worked on a film adaptation of Barnaby, the comic strip by Crockett Johnson, the author of Harold and the Purple Crayon, one of my all time favorites. I'd love to be able to turn Barnaby into a TV series.