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Winnie the Pooh is an American Walt Disney Company franchise, based on animated fictional characters who have been featured as part of the Disney character line-up. The Winnie the Pooh franchise is based on the book by A. A. Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh (with hyphenation), is the first volume of stories about a bear of the same name, by A. A. Milne, from 1926, upon which the franchise is based.
The Disney adaption of Pooh was originally voiced by Sterling Holloway, who voiced the character from 1966 to 1977. Hal Smith took over in the early-mid 1980s, until Jim Cummings began voicing Pooh in The New Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh (1988-91). Cummings continues to voice Pooh (as well as Tigger) to this day.
Development by Disney
In 1961, Walt Disney Productions licensed certain film and other rights to the characters, stories and trademarks from Stephen Slesinger, Inc., and The Estate of A. A. Milne and made a series of cartoon films about him. The early cartoons were based on several of the original stories and the distinctive images made popular by Stephen Slesinger, Inc. during the 1930s through 1960s. Alongside the cartoon versions, which Disney adapted from Slesinger, Slesinger's simplified lines and pastel color adaptations of Shepard's classical drawings are now marketed under the description "Classic Pooh".
In 1977, Disney released the animated feature The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, introducing a new character named Gopher, which Disney acknowledged by having Gopher proclaim, "I'm not in the book, you know!" This movie features three segments that were originally released separately as featurettes: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1968), and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too! (1974). This feature version featured new bridging material and a new ending, as it had been Walt Disney's original intention to make a feature. In 1983, a fourth featurette, Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore, was released.
In 1988, Disney launched the animated series The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which aired from 1988 to 1991 with a total of 83 episodes.
In 2000, Disney released the full-length film The Tigger Movie in which the character of Tigger played the leading role. Due to its success, two more feature-length Pooh movies based on other characters were released to theaters: Piglet's Big Movie in 2003 and Pooh's Heffalump Movie in 2005.
Winnie the Pooh was the next Pooh feature film to be released, on July 15, 2011.
Disney has also changed Pooh's world a bit, by changing the characters' clothes and adding many new characters, such as Gopher.
Ownership controversy and drastic changes
During his lifetime, Milne was liberal with his grant of rights. At times he licensed the same exclusive rights to more than one entity.
In the United States, Dutton publishers acquired exclusive volume publication rights and Stephen Slesinger, Inc., acquired sole and exclusive rights to virtually all uses outside of the Dutton books as well as rights to any sorts of future uses. Beginning in 1930 Stephen Slesinger created all of the distinctive and colorful images of Pooh outside of the books. Under license from Slesinger, Pooh made his debuts in radio, film, animation, children's theatre, advertising and a host of consumer products and services protected by trademark. Outside of the U.S. and Canada, Milne retained most of his literary copyright rights which he left to four beneficiaries of his trust: The Garrick Club, Westminster School, The Royal Literary Fund and the A. A. Milne Family. By direction of Milne's will, the Pooh Properties Trust was formed. Mrs. Milne, trustee of the Milne Estate and Spencer Curtis Brown, Trustee, licensed certain exclusive film rights to Disney in 1961. Christopher Robin Milne sold his rights to the other copyright holders, in order to raise money to support his daughter, before his death in 1996.
Sometime around 2000, the Pooh Properties Trust licensed additional rights to Disney and accepted a buyout from of their claims to royalties as defined in a 1991 lawsuit brought by Stephen Slesinger, Inc. Although Slesinger's rights are arguably more valuable, the combined value paid by Disney to The Pooh Properties Trust is said to be approximately $300 million for Milne's portion of those rights.
To further minimize Disney's legal exposure to Slesinger, Disney paid money to the Pooh Properties attorneys and trusts to use the name of Clare Milne, daughter of Christopher Robin, in an attempt to terminate certain of the copyright rights of Stephen Slesinger Inc, in the wake of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The district court found in favour of Stephen Slesinger, Inc., and as did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On Monday, June 26, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, thus sustaining the Appeals Court ruling.
In December 2005, Disney announced that Pooh's friend and owner Christopher Robin would be replaced by a six-year-old "tomboyish" red-haired girl named Darby for the Disney Channel animated television series, My Friends Tigger & Pooh. Christopher Robin appeared intermittently in the series.