Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2022 Issue

Reimagining Winnie the Pooh - Like You Never Saw Him Before

Piglet and Winnie the Pooh sneak up on the unsuspecting damsel.

The subject of copyrights is back in the news as a bill has been proposed to Congress to reduce the length of copyright protection. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley's legislation has little to do with copyright principles. It is simply an attempt to revoke the Disney Company's copyright protection for Mickey Mouse as punishment for speaking out against anti-LGBTQ legislation. If Senator Hawley was paying attention, he would have known that the Mickey Mouse copyright is going to expire in another year anyway, but perhaps letting it expire naturally would mean missing out on an opportunity for grandstanding. Missed in all of this controversy is that every year copyrighted classics are seeing their copyrights expire naturally, and this year, another, perhaps even more cherished childhood figure, has had its copyright expire. Winnie the Pooh is no longer under copyright. The consequences are such that few would have foretold.


Winnie the Pooh is becoming the star of a new movie, but this time, no approval of a copyright owner will be needed. The filmmaker is free to treat Winnie however he pleases. This version is being made by Jagged Edge Productions, not a big name in the field. They make low-budget films. They have garnered no Oscars, not even a nomination in the past. For a peek at what type of film this may be, among their other films are the classics Easter Bunny Massacre and The Curse of Humpty Dumpty. As you might guess, they make horror movies, but mixed with some humor based on the absurdity of the premise.


Their latest film is titled Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. Jagged Edge Productions has not announced a release date, nor have they said much about the film, though they have released some stills from the trailer. Between what has been released, and an interview of director Rhys Frake-Waterfield in Variety, we have learned a little. Christopher Robin has gone off to college, abandoning his stuffed animals to fend for themselves. Left to their own devices, the they do not work together to resolve their problems. Instead, they devolve, acting like the children from Lord of the Flies. Piglet and Winnie work together as a team, but we learn that by the time the cameras start rolling, they have already killed and eaten Eeyore. Eeyore thought his life was hard before. There are worse things than losing a tail.


Fortunately, Tigger escaped the dynamic duo. It's not because tigers are more dangerous. Tigger came along a little later so he is still under copyright.


As you can see from the photo, Pooh and Piglet do not much look like you remember them. They are not cuddly. As Director Frake-Waterfield explained, they have essentially gone feral. Pooh no longer wears his bright red sweater but there is another reason for this. That appeared in the later Disney version of Winnie the Pooh which is still under copyright. They did not want to use any attributes of the characters that are not in the public domain. The Director points out that no one will confuse his version of the story with Disney's and I agree he has a good point there.


In the scene shown above, the typical horror movie beautiful woman relaxes in a hot tub, unaware of the viscous killers behind her. We learn that they chloroform her, drag her out, and run over her with a car.


“Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh. Tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff. He's Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh. Willy nilly silly old bear.”*




Lyrics copyrighted by the Walt Disney Music Company.

Posted On: 2022-06-01 05:47
User Name: bukowski

Disgraceful butchering of a classic tale by Philistines and charlatans.

Posted On: 2022-06-08 19:54
User Name: drwatson

Can't wait for the next iteration of Lassie.

Posted On: 2022-06-27 00:08
User Name: keeline

This instance has been used by others to say that what a shame it is that some copyrights lapse and items pass into public domain. However, this kind of "adaptation" did not have to wait for a copyright phase to conclude. Under U.S. law it would fall under "Fair Use" as a "parody." Remember that since the "Wind Done Gone" case, it was shown that parodies do not have to be "funny."

There are still trademarks that apply to characters like these and if there is a lawsuit, it will likely be on that basis.

Already some "enterprising" "publishers" have reissued the first books in the Hardy Boys from May 1927. Their copyright does not expire until 1 Jan 2023 so they are about 7 months early but will the copyright and trademark holder (Simon & Schuster) take notice? Perhaps not since they have not exercised any limits on the film and TV adaptations of their properties by WB, Hulu, or especially CW.

As far as the red shirt goes, that is a canard. Yes, it is part of the Disney depiction but it is not unique to them. Other versions have had a red shirt before the Disney animation.

Is this an "in your face" because the producer/director does not like the fact that copyright expire — after 95 very long years? Or is it something else?

Remember that many of these properties are Public Domain in the UK and Commonwealth countries based on the death dates of Milne and Shepard. Similar is true for A.C. Doyle and the Fleming Bond novels. Only in the U.S. do we have the impossibly long terms for these works.

Plus, at the time they were produced, the absolute maximum the creators and publishers could expect was 56 years — a 28-year first term with a renewal term of 28 years more IF a form was filled out and a fee paid. In the 1970s and 1990s publishing interests got Congress to unfairly extend these by nearly 4 decades more.

If one cannot make a living in 56 years from a property, how is 95 years for a work for hire going to encourage anyone to do more work. Remember that you can't encourage a dead person to make more works.

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