There are so many interviews with live action actors that we do in the press field that it’s practically coming out of our ears, so when we get the chance to talk to voice actors it’s quite a thrill. However, when I got the chance to participate in the “Winnie the Pooh” junket, there was one person I was completely excited to talk to. That person was Jim Cummings, a man who’s voiced several Disney characters from the eighties to now including Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Darkwing Duck, Pete, Don Carnage and many others. If you watched at least a couple of Disney shows throughout the nineties, his voice was always there bringing life to a character.
I squealed with excitement on the inside, though I did have some giggle fits on the outside a couple of times, when I finally got to sit down and talk to Jim Cummings. We chat about “Winnie the Pooh,” voicing many characters, the climate for voice actors and even “Steamboat Willie.”
The first half of the interview is video, so be sure to watch that before you start reading the remainder of the piece.
[You can watch this video in our videos section. The info is repeated below.]
Jim Cummings: But yeah, it is an honor, it’s truly an honor. The Disney tradition is so full with just rich, beautiful characterizations and the artwork and the music. It’s Americana and to be a part of it, good stuff. I’ll take it.
ShockYa: Yeah, and I’m one of those who would go up to you on the street. I was born in the eighties and your voice was all in those Disney shows. You’re going off about the voices earlier–
Jim Cummings: You were a “Bonkers” fan I think.
ShockYa: Yes! “Bonkers,” “Talespin,” “Darkwing Duck.”
Jim Cummings; Yeah good, me too!
ShockYa: Was it really refreshing to see that they’re going back with the regular Winnie the Pooh film on the big screen, meaning that it was centered on the whole group and not one particular character for the whole movie like with the Piglet movie?
Jim Cummings: Oh yes, absolutely. You know, it’s like I say, it’s the stuff that we all fell in love with in the first place. It’s a rebooting of it and I think it’s really great because it wasn’t like Pooh and Tigger go to Mars or Hip Hop Pooh. It’s everything that we’ve always loved abou the guys from the Hundred Acre Wood and it’s updated in the sense that the music is great, the music is fresh and the animation is superb. The best people on earth are doing it. I just can’t wait, I hope everybody likes it.
ShockYa: What is it about Winnie the Pooh for you that just remains so iconic?
Jim Cummings: Well, Pooh doesn’t have an agenda. Pooh is kind of like — he sees the world through honey-colored glasses and there’s no subterfuge. You never have to worry what’s on his mind because there isn’t much on his mind anyways.
ShockYa: Well there is honey.
Jim Cummings: Yeah, there’s honey on his mind, that’s true. Somebody said “You know he’s got a substance abuse problem,” I don’t buy it. He’s an aficionado of honey, he’s a connoisseur of honey. It’s his child-like innocence that touches everybody. It’s timeless and it never gets old, there’s no cynicism there and you love it.
ShockYa: You talked about how you have to do the voices of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger one at a time, that you can’t switch back and forth in a snap when you’re recording. Was it daunting in a sense that you realized not only were you going to take over one voice character but two that are very popular?
Jim Cummings: Yeah, I try not to think about it too hard because then you’re going “Ah! Help me!”
ShockYa: Sorry I made you think about it!
Jim Cummings: No, it’s okay. No, I meant in the sense that I can easily be intimidated but honestly I just try to do my best all the time. I don’t ever want to leave the fight in the gym as they say, I swing for a home run every time and I cross my fingers and hope it works. I take the work seriously but you don’t want to take yourself too seriously and that’s part of the answer there, the key for me. I just really, really, really love what I do and I will keep doing these characters as long as they let me. As long as they’ll let me on the lot I’ll be there.
ShockYa: Well you’ve been going there for quite awhile, looks like Disney is totally satisfied with your version of Pooh and other characters like Pete.
Jim Cummings: Yeah, it’s kind of funny. You know everybody always says that Mickey is sort of the original, he’s the oldest, but Pete was in “Steamboat Willie” too. (Whistles the “Steamboat Willie” tune) I’m tied for first place with Mickey.
ShockYa: Yep, and technically you can say, in regards to “Steamboat Willie,” that Mickey was a bit of an a-hole because that was Pete’s boat.
Jim Cummings: Yeah!
Jim Cummings: Yeah! I was just going to say that, good for you! I’m with you! You’re right though, yeah, the little thief.
ShockYa: Yeah, exactly. Earlier you were talking about how tough it was for you to land the role of Ray in “The Princess and the Frog”. That reminds me of “Aladdin,” when it was first being made, and the whole controversy over Robin Williams when he made the huge stink at first over voicing the Genie. What he ended up saying about the voice acting environment kind of came true because now you see all of these animated films headlined by practically nothing but liveaction actors. How do you feel about all of that? Does it make the job a little harder to bag certain roles or…?
Jim Cummings: I would think so, yes, absolutely. I’m just glad that they didn’t decide to get — I always seem to use Brad Pitt, but end up doing something like “Brad Pitt is Tigger.” I think it’s kind of funky in a bit, but from their angle I do understand it. If they get a famous guy — a lot of them are good at it too, like Brad Garrett is on camera and he does a lot of V.O. too. I think if they’re serving their purpose and are getting the job done then that’s great, but other than that, leave us alone! I always joke around about how I would say to Tom Cruise “Tom, I’ll tell you what, I won’t star in ‘Mission: Impossible 4′ if you get your butt out of the Hundred Acre Wood, how’s that?” (Laughs) But the business changes and you’ve got to roll with it. Hopefully there’s enough to go around.
ShockYa: And what’s the one thing you really hope audiences will get out of “Winnie the Pooh”?
Jim Cummings: Well I hope that they go there and enjoy everything that they’ve always enjoyed about the Hundred Acre Wood. I hope they pick up on the beauty of it and every — like I’ve said, every frame is frameable. It’s absolutely gorgeous, you can go there and feel safe with your kids and you won’t be bored. You know, mom and dad can go and they won’t sit there rolling their eyes for an hour and a half, they’ll be enjoying it right along with the kids. There’s really, truly enough there for everyone and no bears were harmed during the making of this film.
ShockYa: Yeah, I noticed at the end it said “No stuffed animals were harmed.”
Jim Cummings: Yes, it’s true, it’s true. Thank you so much!
Hang out with Pooh and his friends this Friday as Walt Disney Pictures’ “Winnie the Pooh” arrives in theaters everywhere.