This year is Winnie the Pooh's 80th birthday. Since the very beginning, all of the Hundred Acre Wood characters have charmed and inspired us, and now is the perfect time to celebrate this wonderful milestone. Frank Nissen, director of Pooh's Heffalump Movie, leads us to the party. He makes a great guide because he knows every nook and cranny in the Hundred Acre Wood, and he's excited to share it with us.
Scholastic Parents: As a child, were you familiar with Winnie the Pooh and his group of lovable friends? Which of their adventures was your favorite?
Nissen: Unfortunately, I did not encounter Pooh and his friends until young adulthood, when I saw the Sheppard illustrations in art school. I love all their adventures equally, but the moment that resonates with me, the moment that best expresses their sensibilities, is the moment when Piglet joins Pooh in circling a small grove of trees in the snow. As they continuously circle, they become convinced that the creatures that are following them are increasing in number.
SP: How have Winnie the Pooh and his friends changed between when you were first introduced to them and now?
Nissen: The animated characters are, in many cases, energized; they are broader versions of the literary characters. This is especially true of Tigger and Rabbit. I understand the process that translates traditionally illustrated characters into animated characters. For practical reasons, a certain amount of simplification is necessary. Also, characters need to have sufficient facial features to express emotions in film. And, whereas in the literature the words are doing most of the work in the reader's imagination, in film, much greater emphasis is put on the visuals. This, for most of us, translates into appeal.
SP: What do you think makes Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood so special and memorable? By working on Heffalump, what did you contribute to this magical world?
Nissen: Pooh and the other characters in the Hundred Acre Wood are loved, and have endured, because they poke gentle fun at how we interact with each other, and with our world. It has been suggested that, combined together, all the characters' personalities make up a complete "person."
On the movie, I had the opportunity to show that, ultimately, they all care about each other. That is what is so special about this Hundred Acre Wood: Despite all the character differences, they are considerate of each other, and they care about each other.
It was great fun to create the Heffalump world as a new part of the Hundred Acre Wood. We thought up a number of ideas about how the Heffalumps live, ideas that helped round out the Heffalump characters who are actually in the film. One idea is that the Heffalumps have a signature call that they perfect only upon reaching maturity. Heffalumps spend part of their childhood working on a unique call. This idea not only provides texture during the main part of the story, but plays a crucial part in the climax of the movie.
SP: Which Winnie the Pooh character is your favorite, and why? Which would you most like to meet in person?
Nissen: I like Winnie the Pooh, himself, the best. He looks at the world in a thoughtful way. He is the quiet center around which all the other characters revolve. I would not like to meet any of the characters in person — I would like them to live in my mind and my heart.
SP: Which character are you most similar to, and how?
Nissen: I think I am most similar to Pooh. I try to think things over; I try to look at the world calmly and thoughtfully, even though I am "...of little brain."
SP: Where are the Woozles? Might we meet any in the future?
Nissen: The Woozles live out beyond Heffalump Hollow, in a very tangled, overgrown part of the Hundred Acre Wood. They are very secretive and wily in their ways. It is anybody's guess if we will ever see them.
SP: What other Disney characters do you love or might you like to work with?
Nissen: I would love to work with Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear and Br'er Rabbit from Song of the South, or the Seven Dwarves from Snow White.
SP: What do you love most about working on children's productions? Can you talk about what you are working on now?
Nissen: Working on projects for young people, you have the opportunity to tell stories that reveal truths in unusual ways: using myth, using magic, using archetypical characters that can be more colorful than would be possible in "adult" projects.
Presently, I am working on a Cinderella sequel, Cinderella III, A Twist In Time. It has the feel of the very first Cinderella movie. It has romance, action, and humor. The Prince is much more interesting as a character in this story.