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Winnie the Pooh: horror icon, self-care advocate, face of the revolution

The anthropomorphic teddy bear is set to star in a gory new slasher movie, but that’s not the weirdest place he’s ended up

Winnie the Pooh is one of the most famous characters in the history of children’s literature. Maybe your first encounter with the walking, talking teddy bear was in the Edenic paradise of AA Milne’s stories set in Hundred Acre Wood, or on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where Pooh was honoured with a star in 2006. Maybe he was on the favourite fridge magnet of your suburban grandmother, underlined with an earnest quote about friendship or the meaning of life, or maybe he was plastered on a placard at a violent anti-authoritarian protest.

You might have noticed that one of these things is not like the others. AA Milne, sentimental pensioners, and human rights protesters are all sincere in their use of Pooh’s likeness – only Disney would ruthlessly exploit it for profit. Just kidding (please don’t sue me). Obviously, the real outlier is the bizarre appropriation of Winnie the Pooh by activists calling for political revolution, a phenomenon that’s emerged during the controversial nine-year rule of China’s president, Xi Jinping. 

Memes calling for the downfall of the Chinese government definitely mark a strange moment in the afterlife of the wholesome cartoon character. However, that’s not even the full extent of his cultural reach. Together with Christopher Robin, Eeyore, Piglet, and his other pals, the silly ol’ bear has secured a surprisingly vast legacy, appearing everywhere from the Winter Olympics to psychology papers in medical journals (plus, of course, the many TV shows and films that Disney has churned out over the years).

Now, this legacy is set to expand even further, as well, since Winnie the Pooh officially entered the public domain on January 1, 2022, 95 years after the character first appeared in 1926. Already, one filmmaker has jumped on the opportunity to use Pooh’s likeness (which is not to be confused with the red t-shirt-wearing character licensed by Disney) in an indie horror titled Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. It’s Peppa Pig the gangster icon all over again.

Below, we explore the most important roles and reinventions of Winnie the Pooh over the course of his almost century-long life in the limelight, and speculate wildly about the teddy bear becoming the face of the Free World.

STAR OF A GRUESOME SLASHER FILM

Filmmaker Rhys Frake-Waterfield must have had his finger on the trigger for some time, waiting for Winnie the Pooh’s copyright term to run its course. According to IMDb, his Pooh-themed directorial debut, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, is already in post-production. A series of teaser images also hint at the film’s horrific take on the cute kids’ character, who lurks in a wrinkled rubber bear mask, while Piglet – transformed into a tusked maniac – stalks bikini-clad young women in a swimming pool scene that seems lifted from a classic slasher movie.

According to an official synopsis: [The film] follows Pooh and Piglet as they go on a rampage after Christopher Robin abandons them.” This is not a Disney film, kids (although it does have the same ~edgy~ vibe as those Tumblr edits of hipster Disney princesses from the mid-2010s). Somewhere, AA Milne is rolling in his grave.

MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE

To be fair, Winnie the Pooh’s twee self-care tips could feel a bit grating if you’re actually dealing with any kind of mental health issues. “Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.” OK? But to be fair he does have some bangers as well, like: “Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along.” That puts Seneca to shame, TBH.

Beyond Pooh’s own philosophical musings, you might also have seen the rumour floating about the internet that suggests each character in AA Milne’s stories represents a different mental health disorder. Winnie the Pooh is a honey addict, for example, while Piglet has anxiety, Tigger has ADHD, and Eeyore – poor, sweet Eeyore – suffers from depression. Is there actually any proof to back this theory up? No, apparently. It was first popularised in a tongue-in-cheek academic paper, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2000. That isn’t going to stop us psychoanalysing the animals of Hundred Acre Wood, though.

CLIMATE CRISIS SURVIVOR

Speaking of Hundred Acre Wood, we’ve got some bad news. Back in April 2019, a sudden blaze tore through the forest – as in, the IRL Ashdown Forest, which served as inspiration for the fictional woods – during the night, Bambi-style, thanks to extremely dry undergrowth. Up to 50 acres were ablaze at the height of the fire, requiring six fire crews to deal with the disaster, and important animal habitats were said to be destroyed.

“All is not lost,” a forest ranger reassured the BBC at the time. “Within four weeks we’ll have grass growing, and in six months you probably won’t know too much has gone on here.” Of course, that’s easy to say when the fire didn’t wreck your home and honey stash. Here’s hoping that someone got Eeyore out in time.

Incidentally, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey was reportedly shot in close proximity to Ashdown Forest, over the course of 10 days. It remains to be seen whether a sub-plot will feature Pooh’s radicalisation as he reckons with the impact of the climate crisis.

FIGURE SKATING STAR

OK, so Pooh isn’t actually a figure skating star, but he is a mascot for the two-time Olympic champion and world-record-breaking figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu. So much so that whenever Hanyu has finished a routine at an international event, a wave of volunteers have to skate onto the ice, to clear up dozens of Winnie the Pooh dolls thrown by the Japanese athlete’s fans (see above). 

Reportedly, this has been happening for more than a decade, and became particularly prominent at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Why does it happen? Well, Hanyu was spotted carrying a tissue box with an illustration of the character in 2010, and things escalated from there. Cute. Suspiciously, a stadium-wide “doll ban” stopped fans throwing Pooh onto the ice at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing…

LEADER OF THE RESISTANCE

One of the most infamous and unexpected places that Winnie the Pooh has popped up, outside of Milne’s books and Disney’s interpretations, is China. Specifically, at the gatherings of the country’s anti-government protesters and dissidents, who first adopted the symbol when they compared a photo of Barack Obama and Xi Jinping to Tigger and Pooh in 2013. The ensuing memes, often paired with derogatory messages about the country’s leadership, have raised a scorching debate about online censorship, often being deleted by authorities as quickly as they’re posted. Even mainstream Winnie the Pooh films have been denied a Chinese release.

In 2019 and 2020, when pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong rallied against China’s national security laws that were being imposed on the region, many also wore Winnie the Pooh masks – alongside other appropriated figures such as Pepe the Frog – as a symbol of resistance. Who knows, now that Pooh Bear is freed from his copyright restrictions, maybe he can finally become the earnest face of the Free World, and usher in a political utopia with his soothing, honeyed voice.