On playing the movie’s villain, Hilly:
“I literally don’t want to look at it – she’s such a terrible person. What’s interesting when you start doing a role is at first the character is really shocking. But then you play the character 18 hours a day and I’m like – look, I have long hair!”
“It’s really fun to be such a terrible character and the feeling on set is so joyful and we’re having such a wonderful experience together. The book and the script is the same way — It’s like a salacious read and really juicy and it does at moments get really quite heavy. But Tate has created this environment on set of making everyone feel really playful so that in those moments when it’s really intense and obviously incredibly loaded given our history as a country we don’t fall into this lull as actors – oh, my god, this is too much. For that reason, normally a character like this I would not be able to sleep at night, but because of the feeling Tate’s created on set when she’s evil it’s more fun than it is scary.’
On the Southern accent:
“Nadia the dialect coach has been really specific and has recorded people whose dialects were pure according to that time period. It’s a mishmash of a bunch of different recordings. It’s really fun and I love it and look forward to and enjoy it but really appreciate and need the support of a dialect coach. I wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of the nuance. The only other time I’ve done a Southern accent, I played a character in the 1920’s from Memphis – there are some similarities but also some distinct differences.”
On finding a way to make the villain a real character:
“She’s a duplicitous character, there’s always that duality. Someone gave me some great advice about the character. I was doing more of an arch-villain at first. She said, ‘You have to protect these women in this time in all its devastating honesty.’ Most women were definitely not like Hilly. She’s a particular person. It’s important to play that she’s not a two-dimensional character. She believes in certain things. Obviously, it’s not only misguided, it’s evil. But there is an origin for her beliefs. To not just play this crazy character, it’s important to understand the psychology behind it.”
On her research:
“The research that I did was fascinatingly personal. My mom was raised a lot in the South and when she was growing up, she was born in the 50s so in the 60s and 70s she was at times ostracized and called a Northerner. She actually started reading The Help and had to put it down because it was so intense for her. She’s picked it up again and she’s like, ‘It’s such a good book but I can’t read it before bed. I can read Stephen King before bed and Anne Rice before bed, but this is too intense.’”
On her connection to her character:
“Skeeter and I have a lot more in common than I would care to admit. I’m not as brave as she is in what she is taking on. But I do understand being a maybe a little different than your peers. Everyone’s gone through that. I like that she isn’t a martyr and the lessons she learns. I love this girl so I am doing the best I can to accurately bring her to life.”
On what she gets from shooting on location:
“We’re lucky enough to be shooting in the South, which is so great. Being surrounded by Southerners and hearing their stories and watching civil rights history like Eyes on the Prize or books about Jim Crow that kind of helped me with the back story as far as the time period. But as far as being in the South we are so lucky that we’re in Mississippi because I never knew what the real feeling of being in the South was like, the kind of secrecy, the two sides there are to everybody. We’re in a small town. Everyone’s been so nice and so welcoming. They also know everything that’s going on. They know if I had someone over to my house last night! It really informs what’s going on in the movie. The secrecy required for something that’s illegal at the time is – I now understand so much more how quickly word travels in a small town in the South. It’s good to know what it’s like.”
On the relationship of her character to her frenemy, Hilly:
“Bryce has been pretty note-perfect so far. It’s really important to Tate to establish that Hilly and Skeeter were best friends and really did love each other. And they really do love each other underneath it all but they haven’t spent a lot of time together for the past four years. And in those four very formative college years their opinions on things greatly differ and it becomes more apparent now that Hilly is married and has kids. It’s easy for me because the way she’s playing it has been so fantastic. She can switch from sweet as pie to just awful in a heartbeat. She’s figured out the balance really well and it’s my job to react to whatever mood Hilly’s in.”
On being in a women-centered story:
“Everyone is here to make the same movie and no one’s come with an ego – when that’s the case and its women, I don’t want to sound all girl power here but it’s been a nice empowering environment to be in. And Tate’s keeping a calendar of when who is going through any hormonal times, he’s surrounded by nine emotional actress females.”
Disney’s latest film lovingly captures the magic of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories and poems, which have been enchanting children and their parents for 85 years. They were a sort of earlier “Toy Story,” with the adventures of Christopher Robin’s stuffed tiger, kangaroo, donkey, and most of all his bear of very little brain, sometimes known as Edward Bear but known to his friends as Pooh. Milne’s simple prose was a peek into the world of a child’s imagination, including play but also including fear and anxiety and reassurance and friendship. Children enjoyed the fanciful tales but what resonates so compellingly to audiences of all ages is the narrator’s voice, gentle, understanding, and with great affection and acceptance for all of its characters.
All of this is beautifully brought to life in this brief 68-minute film that is one of the rare movies genuinely suitable for the whole family. It combines two of the books’ best stories. Eeyore loses his tail. A misunderstanding has the friends worried that Christoper Robin has been kidnapped by a terrible monster called the Backson. In both, the friends work together
The reason that is reassuring on such a deep level is that each of the characters is an aspect of each of us and each of their struggles and mistakes feels very true to us. Eeyore is the pessimistic and insecure voice that represents our worries and Tigger is us at our most ebullient and confident. Piglet is anxious and fearful. Kanga is the loving parent who represents the superego. And Pooh is that most elemental of ids, wanting to do the right thing and be a good friend but always led by his tummy’s love for honey. Their minor struggles are endearing and their support for one another — like the song they sing when it appears one of them has found a tail for Eeyore and won the prize — is heartwarming.
There is some charming music from M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel and an adorable “who’s on first”-style wordplay mix-up. John Cleese provides the narration, Spongebob’s Tom Kinney is the voice of the Owl, and Jim Cummings takes over for both Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell as Pooh and Tigger. It is a pleasure to spend time in the 100 acre woods with these old friends and share their adventures, a welcome reminder that while we must leave childhood, we can come back soon.
Armistead Maupin used this lovely passage for the title of one of his Tales of the City books.
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh,” he whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw, “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
Parents should know that this film includes some very mild peril (mostly imagined by the characters).
Family discussion: How did the animals help and support each other? When did you think something was scary only to find out it was just your imagination? Why does everything look like honey to Pooh?
If you like this, try: the books by A.A. Milne
Mark Henn was supervising animator for the iconic title character in Disney’s new animated feature, “Winnie the Pooh” and for Christopher Robin as well. He is a Disney veteran, having served in the same role for Princess Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog,” helping to design the character and oversee her animation throughout the film, and worked on Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,” Jasmine in “Aladdin,” and young Simba in “The Lion King.” He talked to me about the challenge of taking on Winnie the Pooh, a character the audience knows well and feels very attached to but who has been interpreted by many different artists over the years.
I love the traditional look of this film.
One of the great sources of inspiration for me has been the golden age of illustration. Early in my career here at the studio I discovered people like N.C. Wyeth, Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, E.F. Ward.
It’s always a little tricky when you’re working with something that’s well-established. And certainly, Disney’s Pooh is — most of us grew up with these characters, the original three featurettes produced at the studio in the 1980’s, “Blustery Day,” “Honey Tree,” and “Tigger Too.” We all knew that some of the very best of the studio had the opportunity to animate it. Now for us it was a great opportunity. You could tell these guys had a lot of fun with the characters. It was light, fun, they had these rich characters and charming stories. We had the same idea now that we had a turn. And it was important to go back to the original material. The directors, Steve [Anderson] and Don [Hall], went back to the original stories by A.A. Milne to find elements from previously unused stories to put together our current film. There’s such a charm and sophistication to his story-telling even though it seems very simple. It’s very elegant.
It was a wonderful chance to stand on the shoulders of what has gone before but John Lasseter also encouraged us to make it our own, bring our own sensibilities as artists and animators as well. But for me the biggest compliment is to hear people say, “That’s the Pooh I remember.” Then I feel that I’ve done my job. After all, that’s the Pooh I remember, too!
I was very captivated by the way the characters interacted with the narrator and the actual text.
Again, it goes back to what had been done. We screened the originals several times throughout the production and we all loved that, with the narrator breaking the fourth wall and the characters talking to the narrator. And interacting with the text on the pages — one of my favorites is in “Blustery Day” when the “rain rain rain came down down down” and the lettering gets washed away. We wanted to build on that and we had the chance with the way the story was structured to take advantage of that. For me, in one particular instance, Pooh is dejected and he’s walking out of the woods and the narrator is talking and says he didn’t notice that he walked into the next paragraph. It was just story-boarded that far, with him walking out of the woods. And he says, “What’s a paragraph?” and he finds the yarn that show’s Eeyore’s scarf tail had come unraveled. As I was looking at the sequence in a meeting, thinking about animating the scene and thinking about what would be fun, I said, “How about if he picks up the P for Pooh and says, ‘Is there any honey in this paragraph?'” I liked the idea of his picking up the letter P and looking at it like it might be a box or jar.
It was in everyone’s mind to look at our scenes to see where we could find the entertaining ways to bring these scenes to live within the character and story, which is always the trick.
The backgrounds are beautiful. Were they hand-done?
Yes, but they use a digital paint system. It has the same hand-feel as a brush. It looks like watercolor and the artists still do it by hand but instead of painting on illustration board it’s now done digitally. You hold the stylus in your hand and all the background painters are terrific painters. The head of the background department went to the real 100 acre wood in England on a research trip and did a lot of watercolors on site to capture the feel. They all worked hard to re-create the world that we were so familiar with.
How were you influenced by the original illustrator of the books, E.H. Shepard?
I love his work, I really do. One of the first things we had to do was settle on which Pooh design we wanted to use, proportions and all that. When we looked at the films, we realized that each artist that touched the characters had created a slightly different look. Frank Thomas’ Winnie the Pooh had a slightly different look than Hal Kings, and on down the line. We all kind of agreed that the work that Hal King did on “Honey Tree” was really the definitive model we should use for Pooh. So we had our model sheets built around that, but I took it a step further and went back to Shepard to pull out as many images of his throughout the books and created some inspirational model sheets we had all around and in the office so I could always be reminded of what Shepard had in mind and Pooh-isms and poses.
Before I tell you about this film and about how much I liked it, I want to say thank you to J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers for the care and devotion they gave to this extraordinary story. On the page and on the screen, this tale of The Boy Who Lived, from sleeping in a closet under the stairs and his first days at Hogwarts to the final confrontation with He Who Must Not Be Named (or perhaps He Who Must Be Named to be Confronted), it has been genuinely thrilling, deeply moving, and thoroughly satisfying.
There has never been and may never be again a story so electrifying over so many pages that has been so devotedly and expertly translated to the screen, with, remarkably, the same cast throughout (with the exception of the original Dumbledore, the late Richard Harris) to preserve our sense of seamless immersion in its world. Those of us lucky enough to start at the beginning and follow from the publication of the first book in 1998 (1997 in the UK) can measure our own passage of time against the characters’ as Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the rest grew up with never a false step or disappointment to speak of. The world of Harry Potter puts its surprises in a world that is completely believable because it is so thoroughly imagined. Perhaps the movies’ greatest achievement is in matching the visual detail to not just the descriptions in the books but to the narrative richness of a fully-realized world. Even the 3D glasses are Harry-fied.
And now, eight movies later, it takes us back to where it all began. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is The Boy Who Lived. He was just a baby when his parents were killed protecting him from the Dark Lord known as Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) to those brave enough to whisper his name. Most just call him He Who Must Not Be Named or try not to mention him at all. For seven movies, Voldemort has been getting stronger as Harry has been getting older. Now it is time for them to face each other.
The parallels between them are strong. They both have the rare gift of parseltongue, the ability to understand the language of snakes. The wand that chose Harry was the twin of the one used by Voldemort. In this last chapter, Harry finds out that they share more than he knew and that defeating Voldemort will require him to be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
As we learned in the last chapter, in a sense Voldemort has to be killed seven times. To make himself immortal, he has taken pieces of his soul and placed them in seven different objects, each well hidden and well protected. As this film begins, Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) have made some progress but the most difficult are still ahead. The separation of the soul itself is, for want of a better word, de-humanizing, and as a result of this dis-intigration Voldemort is disfigured inside and out, adding to his ruthlessness and power.
Part of the wonder of the books is the way small details that seemed merely deliciously atmospheric in earlier chapters turn out to be essential foundation for what comes now. We learned early in book one that the most impenetrable place on earth was the Gringott’s bank, run by goblins (those of a certain age might remember Jack Benny’s bank which was similarly, if more humorously, secure). Well, now our heroes have to break into the bank’s vaults and how will they do it?
The use of polyjuice potion is another reference to the first book, then an impetuous adventure, now deadly serious. Helena Bonham-Carter’s palpable pleasure in playing the deranged and evil Bellatrix Lestrange (Rowling has a Dickensian way with names) in the previous films benefits from too many years confined (literally) to corseted tea party roles. It is Bellatrix’s vault they must enter, and so here, Bonham-Carter has to turn herself inside out, playing Hermione disguised as Bellatrix. The balance of tension and comedy is exquisitely nerve-wracking.
Again and again, Rowling brings the story back to its origins and so after a movie away from school we return to Hogwarts, where the great battle begins. The more we remember of what we have seen so far, the deeper our understanding, whether it is the satisfaction of seeing something come together we have waited for or the surprise of seeing someone exceed our expectations by being more than we or even they thought possible. Everyone grows up, and we grow along with them.
Director David Yates moves the story smoothly into 3D, though you won’t miss much if you stick with the 2D version. The battle scenes are well staged and the pacing is excellent. If the final chapter got an unexpected and distracting laugh from the audience, it is a small problem in light of the grand sweep of a thoroughly enthralling epic, seamlessly organic, exciting, romantic, funny, and smart, one of the great cinematic achievements of the studio system. Well done, Harry, and a thousand points to Gryffindor.