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A Pooh for a new century RICHARD CROUSE METRO Published: July 08, 2011

winnie_colebourn_horseWinnie the Pooh has Canadian roots. The beloved A.A. Milne creation, a potbellied bear with a taste for “hunny,” was based on a real-life Canadian black bear that lived at the London Zoo.

Brought to the zoo by Lieutenant Harry Colebourn during the First World War, the bear was named Winnie after the soldier’s hometown of Winnipeg.

It’s fitting, then, that the new Disney Winnie the Pooh movie had many Canadians help bring it to the screen.

“It’s like winning the lottery having worked here,” says Alberta native Brian Ferguson of his 21 years working at the House of Mouse.

His first job after joining the company was animating the company’s mascot in Mickey Mouse’s Prince and the Pauper. “It’s such a simple design,” he says, “but if you get a pencil thickness off in the proportions, it looks wrong.” That’s a lesson he took with him when drawing the classic characters in Winnie the Pooh.

“The people who did the first Winnie the Poohs were masters and the stuff they did then, wow,” he says. “Even as an experienced animator I look at it and go, ‘Oh my goodness, I wouldn’t have thought of that.’ It’s subtle little things that make a character be just a little away from normal. It’s the subtle difference between, ‘I would never have done it that way,’ to ‘I would never have thought to do it that way.’”

Nik Ranieri, a Torontonian with 23 years at the studio, adds that while the classic look of Winnie the Pooh has been maintained in the movie, efforts have been made to update the feel of the film.

“When I watch the film there are some things in there I don’t think you’d see in the old ones,” he says. “Look at the character of Rabbit. Some of those poses and expressions are a little more manic, but it doesn’t take away from the charm of the original. It just adds a little bit of contemporary feel to it.”

For Vancouverite Clio Change, Winnie the Pooh marks a landmark — it’s her first Disney film. “I think I was four when I told my dad I wanted to work here,” she says. “He said, ‘OK, you can sell Coke in the parks in a mouse suit.’ Luckily it was animation instead.”

When I ask her if all the Disney Canucks have their own table in the cafeteria she nods and laughs, “We eat maple cookies and drink syrup.”

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