Jim Cummings Interview: Christopher Robin

Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin

Legendary voice actor Jim Cummings has played over 400 roles including Darkwing Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, Dr. Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.  The last two, he reprises in Disney’s newest live action film Christopher Robin, hitting theaters August 3rd.  Cummings voices the soft spoken Pooh and exuberant Tigger opposite Ewan McGregor, as Christopher Robin, and Hayley Atwell, who plays Christopher’s wife Evelyn.

Cummings sat down and talked about the responsibility of voicing characters like Pooh and Tigger, the message of Christopher Robin, and the continued popularity of Darkwing Duck, 25 years after the show ended.

Screen Rant: So, this is going to be super conversational, but first of all, I have to tell you, you are so influential to me. Darkwing Duck is one of my all-time favorite characters. And you just say, I had to get that out of the way.

Jim Cummings: Look at this, guy gave me these about a year and a half ago in New York at New York Comic Con. [Darkwing Duck voice] Let’s get dangerous.

Screen Rant: I love it.

Jim Cummings: I said you gotta be kidding me. Give me those.

Screen Rant: Alright. So, first question I have for you is, Sterling Holloway obviously was the originator of the voice and I know that you said you never got a chance to meet him, but how influential was he, especially part of your early career?

Jim Cummings: Well, I mean, the idea is job one. And it has to sound like him right out of the gate. Number one, people can't be scratching their head in a way that, who’s that? No, that doesn't even sound like him. He's got to sound like him. So, that was the thing right there. And I had so many stories, and so many people, like the late great Hal Smith. He was the original Owl. And he knew Sterling very well. And people have these quirky little stories about him and it was great. I can't really say he was influential in the sense that I met him or anything like that. But he provided the DNA for Winnie the Pooh. And it had to stay true to that. So, in that sense he laid down the law and you had to adhere to it.

Screen Rant: Now somebody that probably was a little bit more influential, directly with you, was Paul Winchell, the original voice of Tigger. Can you talk to me about that relationship? And kind of like the almost, I don't want to say literal passing of the torch, but there was definitely a passing of the torch.

Jim Cummings: Yeah, it was great. And April is a friend of mine, his daughter, to this day. She’s been jokingly saying she's some of my favorite wives, because she's been my wife. She was Pete's wife. On the Bonkers show, she was Dyl Piquel and I was Lucky Piquel.  But Paul and I, and we knew, we met very, very early on. And he was doing Tigger and I was doing Pooh. And as I've said before, he, at the time there was this horrible famine in Africa and he was a genius. He had an idea that you take these little mudskippers that grow down south, and a lot of the rivers down south, that grow on the banks. It's not fine cuisine, but they're kind of like giant salamanders and not quite frogs.  But the thing is, they’re nutritional, they’re high in protein, and why not start a farm, like a fish nursery over there because they're so easy to grow. And so, he would go over and try to develop this, pursue that theory. And then he'd run out of funding and he'd come back for a few months and he'd be Tigger, then he'd go, and I'd be Tigger. And so, as a result, I developed the, and I would be sitting right next to him anyway. And apparently, they were thinking of me for Pooh and Tigger from the very beginning anyway, when the very first auditions came around, if Paul just didn't feel like doing it, or whatever the case may be. Because he was an older fella. He was probably in his seventies even then. So, God bless him as he, as time went on, a few years later, he did have a pretty severe stroke. And it's like I said earlier, he showed me his hands like that, and he said, that's about all I could see that space between my hands. I said, so what does that mean? And he just looked at the floor and put his hand on my shoulder and said, it means I want you to take care of my little buddy for me. So, I hope I am.

Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin

Screen Rant: And you would definitely are. Moving on to Christopher Robin, is there a different approach you have to take playing against an adult Christopher Robin opposed to child Chris Robin?

Jim Cummings: Not really. I don't think so. Because Pooh doesn't differentiate. And he didn't even, I mean he, one of the lines, I don't know, how much of it made it there. But there were a few scenes. It's like, [Christopher Robin voice] how could you possibly know it was me? How could you possibly just look at me? [back to regular voice] And It gets me good.  I’m just so sentimental about it. For Pooh it was Christopher Robin. I said no, I could see you in there. And it's touching. It's part of the charm I think.

Screen Rant: Yeah, it's funny you bring that up because you touch on it on a great moment. It's almost like I relate this to a pet with unconditional love. Where he looks at him and says, did you forget me? And it almost tore me up just hearing that, right, because Pooh is such a lovable character. So, the complexity of this script and storytelling, when you opened the script and you actually got to read everything how everything was going to play out. What was your initial reaction?

Jim Cummings: Oh gosh.  I was thinking, God, we can't blow this one [LAUGHTER]. No, it was just such a beautiful idea. You know, the fact that we, because we all do. We all grew up and we all lose our sense of that childlike sense of wonder and what made life special. The world intrudes itself upon us. So, what time is it? Let's go. We got to get going. We got to get to get to work. We got to. Where’s that nine to five, punch that time card. No matter what you do, you're doing it in some fashion. And you do forget that. And next thing you know, you're married, and you have a family, and you're still punching that time card. You're still pursuing the almighty dollar. And you stop, and every now and then. And it was so beautiful because I think Pooh, Tigger, and the gang finally had a chance to save Christopher Robin and pull him back down to Earth and in so doing, he helped him all around, not just with getting back home to read stories to Madeline, but, even at work. So, it worked.

Screen Rant: Right. And one thing that is also iconic in this is we talked about, or just a second ago, is Tigger. I know another actor was originally playing Tigger, but when after they heard the original, well I don't say the original, but the most iconic, for me. Because you were only expected to play Pooh at that point.

Jim Cummings: Yeah, in the beginning. Yeah.

Screen Rant: Was it a kind of like a welcome call? Like, oh, I get to revise my old buddy, Tigger.

Jim Cummings: Oh, I just loved it. Yeah. When Marc said, I think that we would like to talk about Tigger now,. Jim. And I go, I think we would [LAUGHTER]. We very much would. So, yeah, it was a beautiful thing. My little girl, my daughter Gracie, she was happy because we saw it. And it's weird, but it's, there was nothing bad. It wasn't…Chris O’Dowd is this great actor. It's like, go get them, do that. Yeah. All right. I just think it was different enough that they thought… this movie so special and everything. I thought, geez, we can't throw curve balls. I think.

Screen Rant: No, I think you're right. I think you hit it right on the head. Because these characters are so iconic with their sound. It's just a little strange when it's twisted just a little bit.

Jim Cummings: Yeah. Yeah. And so, I'm grateful.

Screen Rant: With this being obviously a huge film. Do you take the, is it different for you, doing it this way instead of like doing it as an animated series at all, or show?

Jim Cummings: One hundred percent. I mean, the mechanics are a little bit different, but the characters remain. It's just the recording process itself was a bit different. We recorded everything upfront and then they use that as a template to take back, literally to the woods, for Ewan and Hailey and the rest of the cast to just relate to and bounce off of. But even at that point it was, there were play show or gray dolls if you will. The sort of the dummies there that in turn they too would be animated eventually. And then they finally added the characters. And it wasn't the final cut, wasn't the final product yet. But it was sufficient to get in there and tweak the lips and [Winnie the Pooh voice] Oh! [back to normal voice] had to make that oh sound long enough and that type of thing. And we did just, pretty much did it line by line. And just constructed the whole thing and then watch it back. Did you like that one? Do you like that? You know, it was fine too.

Screen Rant: So, you have a pretty good grasp on these characters, obviously for over thirty years voicing them. When you read the script, were you surprised how well they nailed those characters to you? Like because they stay pretty faithful to what they were.

Jim Cummings: Sure. Oh yes. Yeah, absolutely. I think that was a given. You have to do that.  It couldn't be, you wouldn't take her to meet Abbott and Costello. The zombie Nazi biker Martians, we can't do it that way. Got to get in that Hundred Acre Wood. Yeah.  But it was, honestly, one of the cool things about it was seeing the Hundred Acre Wood as imagined and then seeing it realized. You know, I love that tree. I want to go hang out. I wanted to live in Pooh’s house. If I could, I would. And Piglet’s and Owl’s and Tigger’s. I mean, it was great. Maybe not so much Eeyore’s.

Screen Rant: Yeah, right. Maybe not so much.  Marc [Forster] talked a lot about, having Peter Capaldi and a few others ad lib their lines.  Just putting a microphone up to them and doing that. Did you get an opportunity to do that as well?

Jim Cummings: Uh, I kind of do it anyway [LAUGHS]. So, probably, the answer is yes. But the thing is, it has to be in service to the storyline. It has to be in service to the scene, to the characters. Mel Brooks had a line, I'm going to slaughter it, if it's wit it’s shit. If it's not in the story… You don't want the ad lib to pop up and just derail the moment and stop out. And go, okay, well let's forget about what we're talking about. Okay. That was funny. Now, where were we? It has to contribute. It has to be in the moment and it has to push the story forward. So, anything you can come up with that does that is fine, and if it doesn't, stick to, well, okay, I'll say it the way you wrote it [LAUGHS].

Screen Rant: Yeah. You have such a great grasp on these characters, that I'm sure that whatever you're going to come up with, it's going to be pretty faithful to what they were saying. Services story.

Jim Cummings: Hopefully.

Screen Rant: I got to ask about Darkwing Duck.

Jim Cummings: Oh, yes.

Screen Rant: My favorite, favorite…probably my favorite Disney character of all time. I grew up on the show and I know that DuckTales is made a resurgence as of late. It's one of my favorite karaoke songs to do.

Jim Cummings: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. No, that's really--

Screen Rant: But it's made it--

Jim Cummings: A-woohoo.

Screen Rant: So, I got to ask if there's any plans at all for DuckTales.

Jim Cummings: You mean Darkwing?

Screen Rant: Yeah, a Darkwing show.

Jim Cummings: There are if you ask me, but I'm not the producer. I'm not the… Tad Stones. I don't even think he's at DIsney anymore. And I think if they were going to… I think people… kind of the Scuttlebutt is that, if DuckTales comes back and makes a big splash, which I think it did.

Screen Rant: Yeah, absolutely.

Jim Cummings: I mean, from over here in the cheap seats, it's full speed ahead. We're not waiting on me.

Screen Rant: Well listen. I'm excited if that gets…

Jim Cummings: Yeah, I can't even believe. I mean I'm so honored and happy that he is as popular as he is. I've said it earlier, I do some conventions here and there, and seven-year-old kids are cosplaying Darkwing. And how could that be? And apparently that, then dad will say, well here's a DVD.   So, they're sitting around watching Darkwing Duck DVDs of the shows and he's popular with seven-year-olds. The day they were born, the show had been off the air for fifteen years. So…

Screen Rant: Funny story, actually. I have, you actually signed my Darkwing Duck t-shirt, at Long Beach Comic Con, I was such a big fan.

Jim Cummings: Oh, great.

Screen Rant: I was going to wear it to Winnie the Pooh events. I decided not to.

Jim Cummings: Right, right. Well, I got my Darkwing Duck drumsticks.

Screen Rant: I'm a huge fan of Darkwing and a huge fan of your work in general. What's the last takeaway that you want an audience to kind of take away from this film, of Christopher Robin?

Jim Cummings: Well, I can tell you, there's the expression, stop and smell the roses. And don't let the world get you down. Don't forget where you came from. Don't forget what gave you that original child-like wonder. It's kind of like Pooh and Tigger and Owl and the rest, Piglet, that they all came alive through Christopher's imagination and that child-like lens that he saw the world through. And then that same imagination ends up saving him in the end. And I'm sure there's no coincidence there.

Screen Rant: Right. Well, Jim, thank you so much for your time.

Jim Cummings: Same here.

MORE: Read Screen Rant's Christopher Robin Review

Key Release Dates
  • Disney's Christopher Robin (2018) release date: Aug 03, 2018
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