“Is it that many? I don’t count ’em. God bless those people who do.”
He does voices for animated movies (“The Lion King,” “Pocahontas”) and TV shows (“Lilo & Stitch,” “Teen Titans,” “Clone Wars”) and video games of all types.
And since 1988, Cummings, now 59, has voiced Winnie the Pooh on TV, on videos and in films. He even dropped the voice into an episode of “Family Guy,” the least Pooh-like show on television.
As critic Glenn Kenny noted in his MSNBC.com review for the brand new “Winnie the Pooh” movie, Cummings is “a remarkable sound-alike for Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell,” who originated the roles of the Pooh bear and Tigger back in the 1960s.
“Paul [Winchell] was putting on a little pizazz when performing Tigger, but Sterling Holloway was really just using his normal speaking voice,” Cummings says. “The voices — so distinct — give them these wonderful personalities. Seeing the movie with some of the other voice actors, we realize that it’s those little personality quirks that make these characters endure.”
Holloway, who did other voices for Disney (Kaa in “The Jungle Book,” for instance) “brought this child’s sense of wonder to his voice. It’s an eternal wide-eyed innocence. He made sure we could hear that Pooh looks at the world not through rose-colored glasses, but through honey-colored glasses.”
In Holloway’s vocal hands, Pooh emerged as laid-back and world-weary but still childlike. Cummings does his best to replicate that. A self-confessed class clown (“I prefer the term class wit,” he jokes.), Cummings kicked around in a lot of jobs in his years just out of school before working his way into voice acting.
“I was the kid doing dolphin and squirrel impressions in the back of class.” He switches to a funny nun’s voice. “‘Mr. Cummings, we don’t have dolphins in our classrooms at St. Columba [in Youngstown, Ohio].’ I was always trying something out, doing a little Tigger in the middle of a game of Monopoly we might be playing. ‘Ooooo, I think I’ll take my little car and move it to Boardwalk.’”
Disney and ABC held a casting call in 1987 for a new Pooh TV series, and Cummings landed the job — two jobs, Pooh and Tigger.
For all the effort that goes into getting the voices perfect, Cummings says it’s the interplay between the very familiar characters that has made Pooh endure.
“The way the characters are written, they play off each other so well,” he says. “They give each other a break. They’re children, in a way, who figure out how to think of somebody else’s feelings first.
“It’s sentimental, sure. But true sentiment never goes out of style. It’s like an oasis out there, in a movie world of Nazi zombie ninja death squads from Mars.”